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It’s the beginning of December and more than a month since we’ve had a Forum Friday, but since most people were either still enjoying their Thanksgiving dinners or fighting through crowds of shoppers, I opted for a Monday meeting. October was a busy month and November followed suit. Most of what we posted on Paleoaerie since the last Forum was a rundown of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting in Los Angeles. A huge amount of material was presented at the meeting, of which we barely scratched the surface. We also reviewed The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs, a great book for elementary kids.
We covered a lot on the Facebook page. Evolution in medicine got a lot of attention, including a whole online, open-access journal about it. We learned about evolutionary theory being used in the fight against the flu, malaria, HIV, and cancer, twice, no three times! We even learned why we have allergies, and if that isn’t enough for you, we found a whole series of papers on evolutionary theory in medicine for you.
Studies of human evolution had a good showing this month, starting with a new skull of Homo erectus changing our views of our ancestors and a book called “Shaping Humanity: how science, art, and imagination help us understand our origins.” We learned how women compete with other women and how natural selection can be tracked through human populations.
Modern experimentation has demonstrated how life may have gotten started chemically and how clay hydrogels may have helped. We watched the evolution of bacteria in a lab over 25 years. We also learned how evolution can evolve evolvability.
Evolution outdid itself with deep sea animals eating land plants and an amazing mimicry display. We learned why bigger isn’t necessarily better, why monkeys have colorful faces, and that large canines can be sexy.
In addition to all the news from SVP, we learned about two new giant theropods, the tyrannosaur Lythronax and the allosauroid Siats. We also learned about the toothed bird, Pelagornis and pachycephalosaurs. We also learned about research on what modern animals tell us about dinosaur brains. We also saw evidence that the Mesozoic may not have had as much oxygen as we thought.
Dinosaurs weren’t the only fossils of interest to be announced. A new unicellular organism is providing insights into the evolution of multicellularity. The oldest fossil of a big cat and a suction-feeding turtle were found, as well as the oldest known fossil ever, providing evidence of life almost 3.5 billion years ago. We read the beginning of a series on the evolution of whales and how the first tetrapods crawled onto the land. We learned about fossil giant mushrooms and watched the Red Queen drive mammals to extinction.
Putting 3D images of fossils on paleoaerie has always been one of the goals of the site and the potential for this to revolutionize geology has not gone unnoticed. The Smithsonian has taken up the challenge. If you want to learn how to do it, here is the paper for you.
We celebrated Alfred Russell Wallace and American Education Week. Along the way, we listened to the great David Attenborough describe the history of life and Zach Kopplin tell us about his efforts to keep creationism out of public schools in Louisiana.
For educational techniques and resources, we looked at BrainU and a website by the ADE and AETN. We examined the usefulness and pitfalls of gamification. We saw how to build your own sensors and use them in class. We discussed how to change people’s idea of change through business concepts the truth about climate change. We even saw doctoral dissertations via interpretive dance.
Do you have any gift ideas to share? Any of the stories particularly pique your interest? Let us know. Don’t just talk amongst yourselves, talk to us.
Paleoaerie is off to Los Angeles next week to attend the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology. If it has a backbone, it will be discussed there (if it is still alive, the discussion will be linked to fossil relatives, but I didn’t want to unnecessarily limit it, because I’ve seen gators, chickens, dogs, sharks, and everything in between discussed there in relation to their fossil ancestors; I’ve even heard and presented on bacteria, insofar as they help make fossils).
As a result, I’ve only done one blog post on Paleoaerie since last Forum Friday and I won’t be able to post anything other than maybe comments about the meeting next week, so I wanted to get a forum post out before I go, although I realize that some of you reading this may not see it before Monday, what with the lateness of the hour this got posted.
So without further ado, here we go. On Paleoaerie, we talked about the book, Scaly spotted feathered frilled: how do we know what dinosaurs really looked like?” by Catherine Thimmesh, a great book for any budding paleoartist you know.
Over on Facebook, we celebrated Member Night at Mid-America Museum and their new dinosaur exhibit, Reptile Awareness Day, and Geologic Map Day. We learned about the Backfire Effect and why telling people facts is not always convincing and ways to frame your arguments that may work better. We warned against the ResponsiveEd curriculum, as well as Stephen Meyer’s book, Darwin’s Doubt, with some interesting new studies on the preCambrian life leading up to the Cambrian explosion.
We learned more about Tyrannosaurus rex and what we still have to learn, and we met Joe the dinosaur, the most open-access dinosaur ever. We learned how rapid evolution in one organism can cause a cascade of reactions throughout the ecosystem.
We saw a whole host of dinosaurs in 3D, as well as horses and a lot of cool videos from the Science Studio. We saw a new animation explaining how the evolution of life affected the early atmosphere, oceans, and which rocks were formed.
We learned about the usefulness of evolution in medicine, how allergies can save your life, and that sharks, contrary to popular opinion, suffer from cancer just like the rest of us. We also saw a robot made completely out of prosthetics made for humans. Where will we go from here and how much farther can we go?
May your Halloween be filled with spooky fun!
Time for another Forum Friday! As always, please leave comments about what you liked and what you would like to see more about. What did you think about our stories? Do you have a book or show you want reviewed? Have any resources you would like to see discussed? Have you made an interactive or other resource that you think might be beneficial to others? Let us know.
On Facebook we celebrated National Fossil Day and Earth Science Week, looking at fossilized arthropod brains, new skulls of Homo erectus and what that means to our understanding of human evolution, how cartilage helped dinosaurs get so big, and learned about the origin of flowering plants. We learned a website letting you make your own geologic time chart. We found a great video discussing what phylogenetic trees are and how to interpret them.
Going along with Earth Science Week, we found special Earth Science Week resources and a STEM Student Research Handbook put out by the NSTA, as well as resources available at Scitable. We discussed the pros and cons of the NGSS and the benefits of preschool education.
We learned about unusual deep sea creatures off the East Coast, more ways to tell moths and butterflies apart, how Black Skimmer birds can skim, and how the arapaima’s armor protects them from piranha. We saw how color evolved and its role in mimicry, how hands came before bipedalism, and how epigenetics affects evolution (it’s not just about mutations).
It’s your turn. What do you want to talk about?
Time for another Forum Friday. Since last time, we learned that our grants did not come through, so our search for funding to expand the site continues and the teacher training programs and other events remain in the planning stages. We hope to see those ideas come to fruition, but for now, this site will continue to expand, just not at the rate we hoped.
Since the last Forum Friday, we have reviewed Dr. Holtz’s Dinosaurs: the most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages, and Dr. Sampson’s Dinosaur Odyssey, both of which come highly recommended. We also learned about the Cambrian rocks of Arkansas and the dinosaurs of Arkansas. We also learned how scientists really define dinosaurs and why most people’s conceptions about what dinosaurs are is incorrect.
We learned about dinosaur egg-laying, how pterosaurs could fly and be so big, and Arkansas trace fossils. We saw pictures of dinosaur feathers in amber and how to identify a fossil. We learned the Cambrian Explosion was caused by multiple factors and what the earth in the paleozoic looked like, along with how to visualize geologic time.
Speaking of new ways to look at things, we saw an evolution cartoon by paleontologist Matt Bonnan and art in science. We heard about Using rap music to teach the history of science and a song about evidence-based medicine. But we also saw why good intentions to help the oceans don’t help when you don’t know what you are talking about. Among problems in science education, we learned about unicorns and the dragons of inaction. Biology textbooks are written for pre-meds, providing short shrift for evolution and ecology. On the plus side, we also saw students fighting bad science and why generosity beats greed in the long run.
We found free tech, iPad apps for the classroom, an iTunes earthviewer, online modules to teach ecology and evolution, among other topics, and educational videos for the classroom, as well as brain-training to cut through bias. We found Citizen science opportunities for the classroom. Although we had to warn against the Exploring the Environment website. We also saw why simply asking students to write scientists without oversight is wrong and some resources to help.
We learned about the evolution of the avian flu, insects evolving gears, why asexual populations fare poorly, and how to breed a better cat. We saw how fish survive icy water by evolving antifreeze, adapt to puddles, and learned to walk on land. Finally, we saw that humans are still evolving and why being smart is cool.
So what was your favorite story? Did you have any questions, comments, complaints? Feel free to share.
Dinosaur Odyssey: Fossil Threads in the Web of Life
By Scott D. Sampson
Publication date 2009 (hardback) 2011 (paperback). 332 pg. University of California Press. ISBN: 978-0-520-24163-3.
Suitable for junior high students and up.
Author: Dr. Sampson is best known these days as Dr. Scott the Paleontologist, from Dinosaur Train on PBS KIDS (a children’s show I can recommend). But he doesn’t just play one on TV, he is a real-life paleontologist, and a well-respected one at that, best known for his work on late Cretaceous dinosaurs in Madagascar and the Grand Staircase-Escalante national Monument. He is Chief Curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. He has a blog called Whirlpool of Life and can be found on Facebook. Dr. Sampson has had a longstanding interest in public science education, particularly about connecting children with nature. That interest is clearly evident in Dinosaur Odyssey.
This book has been out a few years, but its main message is more deeply relevant now than ever before. This book is not really about dinosaurs. It is about the interconnectedness of all things. Dinosaurs are simply a fascinating hook for discussing ideas about evolution and ecology. If you are looking for a book that just talks about dinosaurs, look elsewhere. But if you want a book that puts dinosaurs in context as part of a complete and ever-changing ecosystem, if you want to learn about the Mesozoic world as a stage upon which dinosaurs are only a part, however awe-inspiring and prominent, of a much larger web of life, this book is for you. In Dr. Sampson’s hands, dinosaurs are not skeletons of bizarre creatures, they are living organisms interacting with others, changing and being changed by their environment. In a similar vein, our ideas about them are neither set in stone nor idle speculation, they are dynamic and changing, based on new discoveries and scientific understanding, circling ever closer towards a deeper understanding.
The book is written for someone with decent reading ability, but not a dinosaur aficionado. No real prior scientific knowledge is required, simply a desire to learn about the natural world. For those who want more, or find some of the terminology daunting, there is a wealth of notes and references at the end, along with a substantial glossary. The book begins with a short history of the scientific study of life and Sampson’s personal experiences searching for dinosaurs in Madagascar, which led to some of his thinking for the book as an introduction to what follows. Throughout the book, he uses his personal experiences to enrich the scientific discussions, making it a personal story, not just an academic one. Chapter two is an ambitious glimpse at the history of the universe until the dinosaurs appear, along with a short discussion of the geological principles forming the foundations of our understanding of geologic time. Chapter three introduces the dinosaurs, defining what is meant when a scientist talks about dinosaurs and the different groups of dinosaurs. Along the way, he discusses what species are, how they are named, and how we figure out relationships, although not in detail, just enough for a non-science person to understand the broad concepts. Chapter four discusses the physical world of the Mesozoic in terms of plate tectonics and how the movement of the continents shaped the world and thus the evolutionary history of dinosaurs. He even discusses the role of the atmosphere and oceans in climate. Chapter five builds the basics of ecosystems and nutrient flow, chapter six provides a background in evolutionary theory, chapter seven discusses how dinosaurian herbivores adapted to changing plant communities and how the dinosaur and plant communities may have co-evolved, each influencing the other. Chapter eight adds predators to the mix and chapter nine finishes the ecological chain with decomposers. Chapters ten and eleven discuss sexual selection and metabolism in dinosaurs.
The chapters to this point built up how dinosaurs fit into the ecosystem and the workings of evolutionary theory. The next three chapters then take that information and discuss the dinosaurs rise to prominence in the Triassic, development of dinosaur ecosystems in the Jurassic, and their ultimate development through the Cretaceous period. Chapter fifteen, as might be expected, discusses the extinction ending the Mesozoic Era and the dominance of dinosaurs as major players on the world stage.
One might think the book would end at this point. But Sampson has one final chapter to go, which is probably the most important message in the book. He finishes the book by discussing why dinosaurs are important today. We are facing an extinction event equal to the end of the Cretaceous in terms of biodiversity loss, yet few people seem to notice just how comparatively depauperate our global ecosystems are becoming. Because dinosaurs draw peoples’ attention, they are the perfect tool to discuss evolutionary and ecological issues. In this chapter, Sampson discusses how to use dinosaurs to reach people and teach them about our own ecosystems, how we are affecting it and the problems we are facing. In this way, looking at our past through a dinosaurian lens can help us find our way forward.
In the final analysis, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in the natural world and how it works, especially if they love dinosaurs.