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Trusting science and the loss of the brontosaurus

When I was a child the movie Jurassic Park drew my attention to the vast world of dinosaurs. Among the vast trove of confusing dinosaur names swimming in my 10 year old head, there was the brontosaurus. But it wasn’t until years later that I discovered the truth. Brontosaurus had never existed.

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By Anthony Biondi (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: January 11, 2012

Dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, but the brontosaurus was not among those that became extinct. What happened to the poor creature anyway? Did it live on in the jungles of Africa, occasionally seen by its natives? Did it evolve into a sub aquatic creature that occasionally terrorizes the folk in Scotland? Nope. The brontosaurus didn’t die out, because it never existed in the first place.

When I was a child the movie Jurassic Park drew my attention to the vast world of dinosaurs. To put it simply I became obsessed. Among the vast trove of confusing dinosaur names swimming in my 10 year old head, there was the brontosaurus. But at one point in my youth I was informed that it had been renamed to Apatosaurus. Why? I wondered. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered the truth. Brontosaurus had never existed.

Apparently a man by the name of Othniel Charles Marsh, a paleontologist in the early 1900s, was racing to discover more species than a rival paleontologist by the name of Edward Drinker Cope. This resulted in what I would call “fudged science.” Marsh announced the Brontosaurus as a new species, despite its skeleton being that of a young Apatosaur with some other dinosaur’s skull on it. The completeness of the lie was not even uncovered until the 1970s, over half a decade since the brontosaurus’s “discovery”.

One has to wonder then, if sheer competition could lead to fudged science what other lies are being told to us? The Brontosaurus could only be the beginning. Around the same time another hoax of a similar nature was perpetrated. Some may recall the famous Piltdown man from the early 1900s – the false discovery of a species of early man. The discovery included a skull with an odd jaw. It was revealed as a hoax some decades later when it was found to be merely a human skull with an Orangutan’s jawbone. Thankfully, this false discovery didn’t take as long to uncover as the Brontosaurus. If it had, it may have thrown off all our perceptions of human evolution.

And this trend of false science isn’t exclusively a thing of the past. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) published a study on the effects of global warming on the glaciers in the Himalayas. It was claimed that the glaciers will be depleted by global warming by 2035. A few years later, one of the scientists on the IPCC research team came forward in an interview with The Daily Mail UK to admit the falsity of the results. It states in The Daily Mail article that the study came up with false results – in order to put pressure on political leaders to take action against global warming.

When I read things like this I begin to wonder: how much science can we believe? As a man who has spent much of his time taking interest in biology and paleontology, I want to put faith in science. I just don’t know how many more brontosaurus-esque tales I can hear about before that faith starts to dwindle. It’s ultimately important to review facts, and make sure that what you know is the truth. Perhaps in this day and age, we need to investigate what is said to us more often. In this age of hoaxes, perhaps it is now the audience’s responsibility to put more effort in to getting it right.

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