It will do that by taking you through my own voyage of discovery. I'm taking a jump from a standing start: as I write these words of introduction, I am a dinosaur novice. I've read half a dozen ``popular'' dinosaur books, but now that I have started to dip my toes in the deeper waters of real dinosaur science, I am painfully aware of just how much I don't know. So nearly all of the questions this document answers will be the questions that I'm asking over the next few months as I gradually come up to speed.
If I'm such a novice, where will the expertise come from? I'll be asking the questions on the DINOSAUR mailing list (www.dinosaurmailinglist.org), collating and integrating replies from some of the most respected and influential dinosaur experts on the net. This should make it possible for the answers to cover all the various angles of contentious subjects like dinosaur metabolism, extinction theories, and whether commercial fossil hunters help or hinder science.
Most of the questions are generic - they investigate the sciences of classification and mechanics, discuss the history of palaeontology, etc. In among these questions are a few oddities - issues that just happen to intrigue me. I'm including on these the basis that if I find them interesting, so will others. So as well as the more foundational discussions, there are questions about the kink in Seismosaurus's tail, the Archaeopteryx hoax and of course, that old chestnut, which dinosaur was the biggest?
I'm Mike Taylor, a computer guy in his early thirties with a passionate sideline in dinosaurs (and a lot of other sidelines too). Very married with two children (both boys.) If for any reason you'd like to know more, or see some of my other writings, feel free to take a look at my web site, which is at http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/
What qualifications do I have? None whatsoever. That's what makes me so well suited to the job. Only a true novice can ask the questions that other novices need to know the answers to - if an expert tries to do it, he or she will inevitably make assumptions about what people know.
Apart from my ignorance, the only assets I bring to this project are a desire to do it, the ability to learn from the answers I get, and experience in writing half-decent prose. I hope that combining these attributes with the expertise of others will yield a uniquely helpful and comprehensive resource for everyone who wants to learn about the most wonderful creatures ever to walk God's earth.
Having said that, there should come a point where this document attains sufficient maturity that it can be seen as a comprehensive introduction to dinosaurs - a sort of tutorial on where we are now and how we got here.
At that point, I have vague plans to turn the whole thing into a book (you know, the old-fashioned sort made out of dead trees.) At the moment, that's as specific as my plans get; but as soon as I start to have more coherent ideas on how, when and indeed whether this is likely to happen, I'll post them here.
One thing to say is that if the book idea gets off the gound, I'll still keep maintaining the on-line version during and after publication, so as to keep it up to date in the way that no print publication ever can be. I'm also passionately committed to keeping this resource free for anyone who wants it. The book, if it happens, will be offered as an alternative to the on-line version rather than a replacement for it.
If you're a dinosaur novice, then I need your help with the questions. By far the greatest service you can perform for this document is just to read it and let me know which parts you found helpful and unhelpful. In particular, if there are any questions you'd hoped to see addressed here which aren't, please tell me! Also, I need to know if there are any places where the answers make unwarranted assumptions about what you already know.
On the other hand, if you're an expert, then you can help by providing me with the raw material from which to construct the answers. In particular, if you have any comments on the answers that are here already, please send them in!
All feedback, whether from novices or experts, should be sent to the DinoFAQ mailing list - email@example.com - which I set up for precisely this purpose. I will read everything posted to this list, as may anyone else who wishes to do so: if you want to be involved in discussions of FAQ material before I write answers around it, then you should probably join this list, which you can most conveniently do at the list's home page, http://www.indexdata.dk/mailman/listinfo/dinofaq (This page also has links to complete archives of earlier such discussions.)
Comment for those who care: the reason I set up the DinoFAQ list rather than simply inviting people to send comments to the existing DINOSAUR list is a reluctance to flood that wonderful low-bandwidth, high-quality list with a lot of discussion of issues that most subscribers will have done to death many times. This way, only people who want to be involved in this discussion will be sent the messages.
To avoid getting deluged by an absolute flood of correspondance in one chunk, I propose to bring new questions to the table one or two at a time: that way I should be able to follow and summarise all the contributions, while continuing to integrate any tail-ender comments on older questions. So please don't send me unsolicited answers to the questions which I have not yet opened to debate.
If you want to know when new questions are launched, they you should subscribe either to the DinoFAQ email list described above or the main DINOSAUR list. (Come to think of it, you should be reading the DINOSAUR list anyway!) I'll post to both of those lists each time I launch a new question; in the mean time, you can get an idea of where we're likely to be headed by viewing the existing list of questions.
I'm pretty thick-skinned, so you're welcome to be as abusive as you wish when you email me. Just be sure that if you do this, you include some useful correction along with the abuse!
Mike, you utter cretin! Everyone but the crassest fool knows that Compsognathus wasn't the heaviest dinosaur. Are you out of your tiny mind?!
Mike, you utter cretin! Everyone but the crassest fool knows that Compsognathus wasn't the heaviest dinosaur. Are you out of your tiny mind?! Compsognathus was tiny; Sauropods were the heaviest genera.
Mike, Compsognathus wasn't the heaviest dinosaur. Compsognathus was tiny; Sauropods were the heaviest genera. Check out this link for more information: http://somwhere.useful.com/appropriate/page.html
But I really don't what mind what tone you take so long as you ``give me the facts, ma'am.''
Most useful are answers that contain references to fuller discussions elsewhere on the web; then I can link to that discussion. Otherwise, messages that summarise both sides of a debate will help me enormously (though I can synthesise such a summary myself, of course, if such a debate breaks out on the DinoFAQ list.)
Despite my best efforts, I'm bound to perpetrate typos, mis-spellings, grammar errors and clunky prose style. If you notice any of these, please drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org - no need to bother the DinoFAQ mailing list with this sort of thing.