Paleontology : A study of Scientific Imagination

I had the privilege of attending Consensus Science Talks at the London Excel on the 16th of November.

The line-up of talks included: Renowned Stand-up Comic Bill Baily, Palaeontologist Richard Fortly, Physiologist and Magician Richard Wiseman and the internationally renowned Richard Dawkins.

The event focused on the Life and work of Alfred Russell Wallace and looked to attain more academic and cultural credit to his unacknowledged role if forming the theory of evolution.

All of the speakers delivered outstanding presentations however the session that I feel really captivated the audience was not from the one of the main draws of Bill Baily or Richard Dawkins but form the modest Richard Fortly and his presentation explaining the relevance of old school palaeontology in the modern era of DNA and molecular biology.

Palaeontology is innately fascinating because it is a rare and potent fusion of both logical and imaginative thinking which is rarely seen in other scientific disciplines.

Any piece of paleontological evidence is only one tiny segment of an impossibly large jigsaw that we strive to complete within our minds eye. With ever new piece of jigsaw we gain a better picture of a puzzle that has been lost quite literally in the sands of time.

It could be speculated that this is the reason behind Dinosaurs being the only enduring fad in child culture that has been able to transcend generations. From Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the Power Rangers (showing my age here) the T.V and toy industry has managed to forge incredibly popular brands of child culture, which are ruthlessly marketed year round to generate profits to keep the UK £2.96 Billion a year industry afloat.

However despite launches of old toy brands like Transformers and My Little Pony (not the most gender neutral brands!) none of these brands can reach the popularity or the longevity between generations as children’s fascination with Dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs appeal directly to both the inquisitive and the imaginative nature of children and because palaeontology is an actual science parents are more likely to support and nourish their interest in it over whatever the new cool toy is.

And if these Dinosaur crazy children make it into the academic field of Planetology in there later years they will harness the same logical and imaginative abilities to make their contribution to our ever expanding knowledge of the prehistoric world.

Other scientific disciplines may laugh at the extrapolations palaeontologists make with the smallest bit of evidence, the apparent discovery of a gigantic 3 foot Duck Billed Platypus that made news headlines because they found a single large tooth springs to mind (hardly the 5 sigma required for the Higgs Boson).

However imagination is just as integral an element as good old fashioned scientific data and evidence in the world of palaeontology and they can be forgiven for the occasional overzealous speculation.