Dialogue 2012 #3
Most people recognize that it is more fun to read a story than to plow through a text-book! Usually however the objectives of the two genres are different: the story is for enjoyment and the text for learning. There have been many stories written, however, to communicate an important message. Charles Dickens’ novels like Great Expectations, for example, spring to mind. So it is with Michael and Beverly Oard’s book Uncovering the Mysterious Woolly Mammoth: Life at the End of the Great Ice Age.
No sea animal elicits such fear and terror in the common people as do sharks. Gruesome shark attacks on humans are part of both the folklore and history of many cultures, including our own. Their predatory skill both fascinates and frightens us. Even though sharks rarely attack humans, when an attack occurs, it tends to be widely publicized by the mass media. Ironically, their very survival is now threatened by human-related activities, such as net fishing.
The experiment with fruit flies was basically uncomplicated. Any university student could have carried it out providing they could identify and count the various mutant forms. But there was more to the issue than mere counts of fruit fly offspring. The study was supposed to, and had long been considered that it in fact did, support a key idea of Charles Darwin. More than sixty years had passed since the fruit fly work was published. Subsequent to publication in the new journal Heredity in 1948, few people paid much attention to the study until it was quoted favourably in 1972 and 1994 as supporting Darwin’s idea of sexual selection. Those references conferred celebrity status on the work and many citations followed. But then in 2012 a study was published which questioned not only the 1948 work, but also a major component of Darwin’s theory of evolution. However the reasons and issues surrounding the new study are not what we might hope or expect. It is important to remember that scientists draw conclusions in keeping with their world view and there is more diversity in world views in science than one might imagine.
It is interesting how dinosaur artifacts continue to amaze us. For example, in 1961, petroleum geologist R. L. Liscomb discovered a large bone bed on the banks of the Colville River in Alaska, not far from the Arctic Ocean. Since the bones were not perminieralized (fossilized), he assumed they were recent bison bones. He deposited some in a museum and for twenty years nobody gave the bones another thought. Then somebody noticed that these were Edmontosaurus bones (duckbill dinosaur). In 1985 palaeontologist William A. Clemens reported abundant dinosaur bones at the Liscomb site and in 1987 associate Kyle L. Davies described the condition of the dinosaur bones: “The quality of preservation is remarkable. The bones are stained a dark red brown but otherwise display little permineralization, crushing or distortion.” (J. Paleontology 61 #1 p. 198). Could such bones really be millions of years old as many scientists now supposed?