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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

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