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Re: In (premature) defense of the USNM

I visited the National Museum of Natural History today with my young son, and we looked at both the main dinosaur hall and the Dinotopia exhibition.

Before anybody gets too concerned about the impact of the Dinotopia display on an innocent public, I should point out that only a few determined people are likely to find it. It is tucked away in a remote corner of the West Wing, and most of the guides did not seem to know where it was (you need to go all the way to the back of Beatrix Potter and turn left at the wall-mounted marlin).

As for the misleading depiction of dinosaurs - most of the Dinotopia display consists of Gurney's paintings of dinosaurs and people together. These are clearly painted in a style reminiscent of the Victorian classicist (aka Olympian) movement, and nobody is going to treat them as definitive depictions of actual dinosaurs. There are two models of dinosaurs from the miniseries in the display - an adult and a hatchling Triceratops. Both of these have been rendered in an unpleasantly "cute" style, and are more likely to undermine Gurney's credibility as a dinosaur artist (not his fault) than confuse visitors.

The greatest risk of misinformation on dinosaurs being given to visitors to the NMNH comes from the dinosaur hall itself - I am thinking of the outdated dioramas and the inaccurately reconstructed Stegosaurus (yes there is a panel explaining more up-to-date ideas about the arrangement of the plates, but I didn't see anyone reading it). I fear that the casual visitor (which most of them are) is not going to learn about feathered theropods until a few imaginitively mounted skeletons and brightly coloured pictures (sorry HP Ford) are put front and centre in the dinosaur hall, and Safari start to produce a few feathered models for children to take home.


philidor11 wrote:

You observed:
<Gurney's creation is a fictional world and while it is appealing to many of
us with a common interest in dinosaurs, it still should be separated from
the science.
For example, as has been pointed out on this list, Jim elects to render
small theropods as unfeathered ( which suits the characters, as he's
developed them ), however, when these images appear in the context of a
science exhibit, they to a degree "undermine" the perception of small
theropods having a feathery integument.  In Jim's
"world" this is fine, but to onlookers who see his reasonably portrayed
"naked" small theropods in relatively close proximity to a display that is
teaching people about an insulating covering on small theropods, there is
then ambiguity ( not to "us" who have a working knowledge of such things,
but to the public who don't necessarily).>

The 'feathery integument' on many small theropods (those not discovered with
impressions of integument) is also conjectural.  If one alternative
conjecture is to be permitted, why not the other?
In fact, it's arguable that a 'naked' theropod is more consistent with the
observed facts than a covered one.
A recent speculation onlist concerned whether averting boredom might not be
a cause for activity producing physical changes.  The idea was denigrated,
but social factors including behaviors are known to encourage physical
changes and intelligence seems to be encouraged by play. Why should any
variety of speculation, particularly one with contemporary equivalents, be
rejected out of hand?