Mammoths: The Misunderstood Giants

As someone who works on Silurian age fossils, I can't help but be jealous every time a new mammoth...

Let's hope we don't have another Archaeoraptor on our hands

I mentioned at the end of last week's post about the new "earliest bird" that there were murmurs...

The Earliest Bird: How A Toe Bone Can Change History

Do you know, my original title for this was "The Early Bird Gets the PR". I hastily changed it...

New fossil arthropod named after Johnny Depp

There a lot of rules governing how you name new species. But that doesn't mean that fun things...

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Oliver KnevittRSS Feed of this column.

In a nutshell: I like fossils. But even more than than that, I like arguments about fossils. Which is why my current occupation as a PhD researcher in paleontology suits me well. My research is... Read More »

Everyone's heard of the Darwin Awards, right? It's where some poor soul dies in such a monumentally stupid way that it can be considered that they have done the human gene pool a great favour by inadvertantly altruistically killing themselves and removing their genes. Well, I have a candidate from the fossil record; a late famennian placoderm, that definitely deserves such an accolade.

Firstly though, a quick primer on placoderms. In short, they were big armoured predatory fishes that were widespread in the Devonian. But, by big, I mean really big. Some of these dudes were as big as a double decker bus and would have pretty happily chomped through a car like it was a ham sandwich.
Not particularly earth-shattering, this, but mildly bloggable nonetheless!

People wrote the bible, we all know that. But for the most part, we really don't know who. Many books have their origins in traditional verses, others the work of individuals, but in most cases it is so heavily edited that we have little chance of identifying the original source*.

Whilst we wouldn't want to go citing the bible as a reliable scientific source (it must be said that the bible makes a fair few unsubstantiated claims!) there is actually one - only one - clear reference to a scientific work that we can trace, found in the New Testament.
Does anybody remember that film, Mission to Mars? Its a good one. Basically, this band of astronauts tootle off to Mars to find their buddy, against all odds find him and, moreover, find that he seems to be doing just fine by growing tomatoes in a make-shift greenhouse. They then all decide to pop out to see the Face of Mars after he recounts having heard a weird sound near there.

(By the way, there's a bit of a spoiler alert coming, but it is 10 or so years after the film came out, so it's fair game!)

So, moving on, they go to the face and, lo and behold, the face opens, and they step inside.
Popular science writing today can be hit and miss. It can be truly awful; such as Brian Greene’s immensely dull Elegant Universe, Stephen Jay Gould’s idiosyncratically waffley Rocks of Ages, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb's misguided and rushed Black Swan (in my humble opinion). But it can be utterly sublime, such as Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestors Tale (his magum opus, in my opinion), Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of time, and Carl Sagan’s The Cosmic Connection.

Good popular science books like these are engaging, unpretentious, and inspirational, but most  of all, clever, witty, and humorous. You could argue with me on this one, but simply saying that the science will speak for itself is not good enough. I could just as well go read a nice thick textbook.
Faked fossils hold up science; there’s no two ways about it. Palaeontologists need a thick skin to realize that sometimes, those hours spent examining and interpreting a fossil may have been entirely wasted.

Sometimes, although the fossil may have been tampered with, the work may not have been wholly in vain, and there may be still viable science that can be done. And sometimes, like in this week's hoaxed fossil, there can be a whole new family of dinosaurs to describe.
The comments thread for an article that I wrote a couple of weeks ago has suddenly been swamped by the replies of a young-earth creationist. Perhaps I should have expected it, with an article about hoaxed fossils. He presents an orgy of anecdotes that he claims (I assume it's a he) debunks my evolutionist agenda.