Time Bomb Wipes Out One-Third of All Dinosaur Species in the Past

Well, sort of…

PhysOrg.com reports:

A new ten-year study by US paleontologists suggests that up to a third of dinosaur fossils may have been incorrectly identified as new species, when they are actually juveniles of species in which there was a dramatic change as they developed.

33% — that’s a pretty high percentage!  If you’re the type to find news like that interesting (like I am), click on over to read the article.  They do note there (and, I do here) that “the conclusions of the study are controversial” and that they are hard to verify or disprove “because there are not enough available fossils.”

News like this used to bother me a bit when I was much younger, when much of my faith was given over to the mythical institution of capital-S “Science” (as opposed to the idea of science as a wonderfully human endeavor, with all that entails) and to science-related documentaries on PBS which tend to speak of many things we don’t really know with certainty as if we do know them with certainty.

(A post — or, perhaps, rant — related to the latter point can be found here: “Dinodocudramas: Let’s Learn Some Non-Facts!”; and a discussion related to the former point is here: “Putting ‘Peer Review’ and ‘Scientific Consensus’ in Perspective”.  If you poke around long enough on this blog, you might find similarly themed posts…)

Now, though, I tend to enjoy stories like this.  For one thing, they illustrate the generally self-correcting nature of scientific endeavor, which is one of its strengths.  (Not a “bulletproof” strength, mind you, but a marvelous strength, still.)  Also, it helps to remind us of the power that the Tyranny of Assumptions continues to wield in human thought.  Science should have no “sacred cows,” no matter how many beckoning beatific bovines abound…

From now on, when I talk to my kids about what wiped out the dinosaurs, joining the discussion of possibilities alongside ambling asteroids, climate change, and divine destruction will be “a time bomb created by U.S. paleontologists in 2009.”  🙂

5 thoughts on “Time Bomb Wipes Out One-Third of All Dinosaur Species in the Past

  1. On the other hand, only science (or even Science) accepts data and resulting change in theory. Religion is not usually that flexible.

  2. Greetings, gls, and thanks for writing! Believe it or not, I do not greatly disagree with you (and the qualifier “usually” is appreciated, though I would place it in both sentences rather than just the second). As I mentioned in the post, the ability to correct itself — however slowly it may take in some cases — is one of the great strengths of real science. And in my religion, I want something similar: a religion that will change if it finds the data indicates that it is teaching something wrong. Of course, I would include the Bible as a source of legitimate data and, like most scientists, I have a set of time-tested fundamental principles that are not (and should not be) easily discarded which guide the processing and interpretation of that data.

  3. Norbert

    I found the movie Jurassic Park inspirational; it’s not as if Someone doesn’t know how to sequence and stitch their DNA together or to design a vast variety of eco-systems that would cover the entire face of a planet.

    And it would not be too hard to imagine and reasonable to assume that the interaction between life within the planet would always have certain behavioral characteristics in common, whether its way back then or as it is now. A person may just wonder how the phrase “there is nothing new under the sun” could also apply to eco-systems. That the species may be a complete change but how different would the interaction be between plant and animal life? Would the specific and varying capabilities given to each species be all that different?

    I knew someone who scoffed at the thought when that movie presented an idea within a scene, showing a Velociraptor would have the intelligence to be able to open a closed door by turning the knob! Although there is no way to show that they actually would be capable of doing that, how entirely impossible is it? Seeing I own a parrot with less than a walnut sized brain that is quite capable of opening a complex latch to her cage if I didn’t secure it with a lock and key. I could only guess.

    In a way much of what science can observe and put on paper is simply astounding. It can make a person take pause and wonder. What is also astounding is the ultimate conclusion most scientists reach. 🙂

  4. Howdy, Norbert, and thanks for your comments! I, too, found Jurassic Park inspirational in many ways. It was the sort of movie (other than severed limbs and such) that I could only dream about as a kid.

    Just to make sure I was not unclear in my “Dinodocudrama” post, I’m not against imagining all sorts of wonderful things. Fact-based speculation is a lot of fun, whether scientific or biblical, as long as it is kept in perspective and the line between speculation and fact is not confused.

  5. Lyndell

    I was bothered by the stupidity and weak design of the habitats in the Jurasic Park movie. Zoos and dams can contain much. But the containment failure did create the man vs nature conflict and the sabatog the man vs man conflict. Without these you’d just have a home video of a trip to the zoo.

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