Re: [asa] How paleontology works

From: <>
Date: Mon Sep 11 2006 - 19:07:08 EDT

The little bit of paleontology that I studied as an
undergraduate was not really oriented toward "predictions"
per se. I think this is a more recent development brought
on by noise from creationists. Indeed, the whole
matter of evolution "making predictions" was not really
a big deal until recently and I never saw it as any problem
with the science.

At any rate, I made a lot of careful drawings of fossils
so I could identify them, and it was certainly clear, even
at that time, that there was some sense of development
with organisms for which a long time line existed. Most
visible were things like the trilobites. You could see
a lot of difference between the Ordovician types and the
Permian types. The same with bivalves.

Granted, an undergraduate course would only expose me to
the textbook examples. I did take the time to look at some of
the things that the paleontologists were really working on too.
Even with more fragmented examples, there was good reason to
accept the general claim -- though perhaps quarrelers can find
something to bicker about on some small patch of ground
somewhere I suppose.

On the field level, my impression was that you work much
like a detective, analyzing the current site, looking for
clues, and eventually, after a lot of study, connecting
the dots (at least as best you could). It was not easy
work, neither the prospecting, analyzing the stratigraphy,
or connecting the dots. But it was honest work, and I
found little reason to question the conclusions.

I don't expect that any of those people I knew at that
time would make anything big on the "prediction" issue,
but as to their ability to do science, I think I benefited
greatly from their insights, and it has contributed to my
work in science many light years away from paleontology.

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Received on Mon Sep 11 19:07:34 2006

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