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Re: Making Paleontology Popular
<You're presenting to an audience, and some audiences'
prior knowledge does not include the premises
necessary for evaluation. Nothing wrong with that; not
everyone is like you, or you couldn't tell them
but articles usually require a hook (the biggest, the
smallest, the best example) and a simple qed
explication, implying that the answer is more than the
relatively best. This is frequently annoying to me,
but it does get the point across. People learn to
discount asserted correctness, sometimes even when
they should not.
I am, of course, leaving out the 'dumbing down' which
occurs simply because of the opinion that the victims
are not very smart, and have to feel good about
I don't think you're wrong in your observations, just
a bit oversimplified. Shows you were communicating
well, anyway, don't it?!>
Perhaps for some venues, it is easy to say they are
speaking to a less knowledgable reader-group. I
couldn't agree more that this popular style is in
effect educating or providing some small smidgeon of
data to allow the reader the chance to excercise
interest in pursuing the topic. _Scientific American_
provides references at the end of each article, and
_Natural History_ a "For further reading" section. I
applaud that. But they also publish more techinical
and reader-based articles that are close to the term
"paper" to be written in that style, almost. Essays by
Gould are an example.
I like articles in _Nat. Hist._, _Nat. Geo._
(believe it or not), and _Sci. Amer._; I often wonder
what an experienced author could do in these venues,
and Gould and Zimmer and Morell have shown they have
the generalized and specific knowledge base to work on
this field. I do not agree, however, that this is true
for some other venues, which are simply uneducated or
truly intent on presenting the simplest and in fact
crudest version of the data; where you have to remind
grown men that a sauropod is one of the long-necked
things you saw in "Land Before Time" or what not. Even
the PBS, Discovery and Discovery: Science programs are
better in explaination than that....
A kid's book has been published recently on
*Apatosaurus* that has listed the NHM mount of
*Diplodocus* as Apato, but has otherwise presented
some pretty accurate data on it, aside from the
representation of illustrations that appear to be
based on some one else's. The author or artist did not
do the footwork to present reasonably accurate data
that they could have.
This is what I mean by "dumbing down." But
essentially, I agree that there is often an
inadverdent or intentional presentation to uninformed
that is prevalent. It is the few I am irrate about,
that make little attempt to be accurate or certain.
The Ruben et al., Jones et al., Hou et al. references
I listed previously are examples, if I would venture
to say, of papers presented so that they could get
air-time in a reasonably easy way. Then they could
write up a more popular article in _Discover_ that
would then combine all these. In fact, an article by
Morell in 1996 in _Sci. Amer._ I believe listed some
of Ruben et al.'s discussion. Chiappe and Padian in
1998? presented a similar paper on dino-birds in
_Natural History_; popularization of opinions.
Jaime "James" A. Headden
Dinosaurs are horrible, terrible creatures! Even the
fluffy ones, the snuggle-up-at-night-with ones. You think
they're fun and sweet, but watch out for that stray tail
spike! Down, gaston, down, boy! No, not on top of Momma!
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