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RE: The Last Dinosaur Book



Dear Dinogeorge:  While we're nitpicking, how about learning to read?  I'm
not trying to decipher the "Jungian psyche" of the public.  That was Steve
Gould's idea, and I explicitly differ with him on that point, arguing that
eternal archetypes won't help us understand a specifically modern historical
phenomenon.  As for the definition of the word dinosaur.  So far as I can
tell, this is still a matter of scientific dispute, and it would have been
unprofessional of me to pretend that the matter had been settled in some
final, absolute fashion.  I tried to reflect on some the most important
debates on the definition, not to take sides.  More to the point, I have a
whole discussion of "folk taxonomy," based in Scott Atran's marvelous
research in ethnozoology and ethnobotany.  Dinosaurs are a folk taxon.  They
have been adopted by the public as a vernacular animal group.  (That's why
the "mistake" of calling Pterodactyl a dinosaur has become so firmly
installed in public consciousness.  No doubt you will now attribute that
mistake to me, and ignore my own explicit discussion of what the mistake
means).   You may not like it that dinosaurs are a folk taxon, but it is a
fact, just as hard and reliable as any bone you might dig out of the ground.
I never say that dinosaurs are any fossil you might find, and you cannot
foist on my book some view you overheard in the Denver Museum.

As for my "mistake" about dinosaurs at La Brea Tarpits.  Sorry once again,
George.  I say that the tarpits have authentic mastodons and "life-size
robotic dinosaur models." I do not say they have dinosaur fossils.  Where's
the mistake?

Niles Eldridge of the American Museum recently reviewed "The Last Dinosaur
Book" in TLS and urged dinoscientists to read it with an open mind.  Why
don't you give that a try?  Tom Mitchell

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-dinosaur@usc.edu [mailto:owner-dinosaur@usc.edu]On Behalf Of
Dinogeorge@aol.com
Sent: Thursday, April 29, 1999 12:13 PM
To: 102354.2222@compuserve.com; dinosaur@usc.edu
Subject: Re: The Last Dinosaur Book


In a message dated 4/29/99 8:36:07 AM EST, 102354.2222@compuserve.com
writes:

<< Ah yes, but you forget that Dr. Mitchell explicity explained in the
 book (or maybe you haven't gotten there yet) that his definition of the
 word "dinosaur," in order to use it in the term in the identical fashion as
 the general public whose Jungian psyche he's trying to understand, has the
 same definition as the word "fossil."  We had some people come through the
 Denver Museum several years ago who, while going through the old fossil
 mammal hall, were heard to explain "Here's the rhinoceros dinosaur, and
 here's the elephant dinosaur," etc., etc.  Thus, for the purposes of the
 book, _any_ fossil organism is a dinosaur. >>

I haven't come across this peculiar notion in the book--yet. If I do, I
guess
it would have to fall into that category of "little, nitpicky" errors that I
complained about in the post to which you responded. I just finished the
book's chapter on dinosaurs as a monophyletic group, however, and at least
in
that chapter he more or less explicitly deals with dinosaurs as a
>particular< group of organisms. This means that he knows, more or less,
what
dinosaurs are in a scientific sense, which is not consistent with the above
"definition" of dinosaurs as any fossil whatsoever. In any case, however,
the
sentence about La Brea could have been written without the error and without
losing its impact, and insofar as it was not, it's a mistake.