Why study dinosaurs?

27th August 2002

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Life is short, there's too much to do, and the world is full of fascinating things. Of all the things I might decide to plough my meagre spare time into, why would I choose dinosaurs?


If you need to ask this, then why are you reading this document? :-)

There are at least four reasons why dinosaurs are worth learning about.

1. You Can Learn Quickly

In most sciences, it takes years of dedicated study to get the point where you can even understand the state of the art, let alone make any contribution to it. Physics, for example, has reached such absurd levels of specialisation that one graduate student may be totally incapable of understanding another graduate student's thesis.

Fortunately, there are still a few sciences left in which it's possible to come quickly up to speed with the core subjects, and vertebrate palaeontology is one of them. To quote from Chris Brochu's recent message on the DINOSAUR mailing list:

Date: Sun, 19 Nov 2000 17:46:24 -0500 From: chris brochu To: dinosaur@usc.edu Subject: Re: A Bambiraptor/Dinofest Question [...] the number of sciences where serious nonprofessionals can make a real contribution is relatively small. Paleontology is one; others include archaeology, herpetology (range extensions are often published in things like _Herpetological Review_), ornithology (Christmas counts are an important source of ecological information), and astronomy (many, maybe most, asteroids and comets are first spotted in backyard observatories).

The document is here to help you. By the time it's finished, it should have told you all you need to know to be able to read and understand current research papers.

... and then, you can write some :-)

2. Palaeontology is a Living Science

The state of the art in palaeontology moves perhaps faster than in any other science. It seems that hardly a week goes by without some important new discovery being made. Books written twenty and even ten years ago can be embarrassingly out of date. Statements like ``everything you know [about T. rex] is wrong'' are commonplace.

Whether you consider this A Good Thing or not depends on your personal inclination. It can be frustrating to wade through a fascinating book only to find a few weeks later that most of what you learned from it is no longer considered likely to be true. But it's certainly exciting!

3. Dinosaur People Are Good People

I don't know why it should be true, but it is: dinosaur people are almost without exception helpful, polite, patient, hospitable and tolerant. It's a joy to share a mailing list with them. Pretty much every dumb question I have sent out to the various individuals on this list has received a prompt, helpful reply - even from people who have never heard of me, and often going into levels of detail far deeper than I had anticipated.

Even when an argument breaks out on the list (which happens all the time), disagreement is generally expressed politely, with arguments always centering on issues rather than personalities. It's a breath of fresh air. You could hardly wish to find a more pleasant bunch of people.

4. Dinosaurs Are Wonderful

They're marvellous! They're gorgeous! They're wonderful and beautiful and breathtaking and staggering! They make me happy and excited and enthusiastic, they fill me with amazement and awe. When you deal with dinosaurs, you can touch the bones of an animal that lived two hundred million years ago! You can see the skeletons of animals that weighed 75 tonnes! You can see predators fifteen times as big as the most massive predators that still walk the earth!

Even the names of dinosaurs and their groupings are strangely compelling. Giganotosaurus; Coelurosaria; Daspletosaurus; Therizinosaurus; Zuniceratops; Macronaria; Sauroposeidon; Ornithischia; Ornithodira; Tetanurae; Thyreophora; Mamenchisaurus; Parasaurolophus. Aren't these just gorgeous words? Don't they flow across the tongue like warm honey? Mmmm ... Nice!

The bottom line is, dinosaurs are cool, and you know it!

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