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RE: Sue on ABC
Tom Mitchell wrote:
What do I think of the press coverage? Well, I think it confirms your
intuition that "folklore and legend" vastly outweigh scientific interest in
the story of Sue. But I don't find this surprising since, as I argued in
the Last (!) Dinosaur Book, dinosaurs are totem animals for modern
societies. Anthropomorphism, fantasy and speculation, metaphoric
associations, and the repetition of certain rituals of rebirth,
resurrection, and renewal are endemic to the dinosaur cult. I don't say
this to question the real science that goes into dinosaur research, but to
apply some hard-headed cultural science to the phenomena of dinomania.
Good to hear from you again, Tom.
As a card-carrying member of the press, I think the press is picking
up the rituals of anthropomorphism, fantasy, etc. as a mirror of how
they see public interest in dinosaurs. It's easier for them to cover
than the science. It's also a reaction to the big public-relations
push around the dinosaur.
As a journalist writing for a general science magazine, I haven't
seen much new science of interest to our audience in Sue. She adds
some details to our understanding of T. rex that are important to
serious dinophiles and paleontologists. The real news has been the
FBI's seizure of the fossil, the surrealistic legal maneuvering, and
the staggering price the fossil brought at auction. The tale of the
fossil's discovery is a nice human-interest tale, but doesn't add
anything to the science.
I hope to see more interesting science come out because the skeleton
is exceptionally complete, but so far we're seeing only ritual
dinosaur worship because that's all the press or general public
understands. It's the sheer scale of the beast that impresses them
with awe, and they already knew about T. rex (though few have
actually seen one).
-- Jeff Hecht
Jeff Hecht Boston Correspondent New Scientist magazine
525 Auburn St., Auburndale, MA 02466 USA
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