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Re: The (long) future of paleontology
> --- Ursprüngliche Nachricht ---
> Von: firstname.lastname@example.org
> Datum: Tue, 17 Jan 2006 09:20:19 +1000
> such practically 'useless' fields as palaeontology (which will never
> cure dieases, feed the starving, etc) that rely more on satisfying
> human curosity than need.
Don't you say that.
Think of paleoclimatology. What is the world like when it is, say, on
average 5 °C warmer than today? A very big part of the answer is to look
back instead of forwards, _find_ some time in Earth history which was that
warm, and research it. Will the deserts disappear? Did they disappear the
last 10 times? ...
Or think of evolution. Pathogens and food crops evolve. Paleontology tells
us a lot about evolution, such as whether supposed internal driving
mechanisms like the Cope-Depéret "law" are real (kindly note the blatant
Paleontology is basic research. Its useful outcomes are unpredictable. Do
you know the story how we got radio and TV? A theoretical physicist named
Hertz knew that Maxwell's equations of electromagnetics predicted, among
lots of known effects, the existence of electromagnetic waves -- bizarre
things that propagate through vacuum -- and wanted to put the last little
building block into the theory. So he conducted a little experiment that
looked pretty useless -- who's interested in the oddities of math (aka
"higher nonsense"). Indeed he found the waves... I don't know who got the
idea of using them.
On this computer a program called Bone Profiler is installed. You give it
a black-and-white picture of the cross-section of a bone shaft, and it
gives you a lot of measurements on the compacticity and other mathematical
properties of the bone. It is currently in use to infer the lifestyle
(from aquatic to terrestrial) of fossil tetrapods. Off the top of my head
I'll just say "osteoporosis".
(As for feeding the starving... remember that the UN found out just a few
months ago that there's currently enough food in the world for TWELVE
billion people -- a number that we _won't_ reach at least within this
century. What is missing is not food for the starving but _money_ for the
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