We are human!

One think that often seems to come up in discussions of science or the work of scientists is the idea that we are, well, all like this. There’s the underlying assumption that all we care about and think about is data. Sure, the vast majority of us are nerds and geeks to a greater extent (we are, after all, professional scientists, it’s our *job* to spot errors and know and understand science) but that doesn’t mean that this is all we are, or more importantly, that there is no artistry in science.

This for me was brought home by comments on a piece about my UV work. People (understandably) find it hard to adjust to the idea that many theropods were feathered and want their mind’s eye scaly dinos ‘back’. We are to blame for doing, well, science and showing this is not true. OK, so the comments were obviously tongue-in-cheek and no actual criticism was being leveled at the research, but what I find odd is that the scientists themselves are never put in this bracket.

*I* find it weird to think of thinks like tyrannosaurs and even oviraptorosaurs and dromaeosaurs with feathers. I find it really, really strange that when I feed the ducks on the canal by my house that these are actually theropods. I *am* feeding dinosaurs. For real. That’s *strange*. I work on dinosaurs and feathers and the transition to birds and it still regularly fries my brain that there are dinosaurs everywhere I look  flitting from tree to tree.

In short yeah, we are scientists. But trite and obvious though this is to my audience here, we are people too. And there can be some real art and poetry in science from awesome looking photographs to beautifully crafted taxonomic names and descriptions. I just wish a few non-scientists would credit us with not being automatons on occasion.

5 Responses to “We are human!”


  1. 1 dmaas 23/01/2011 at 11:23 am

    In the vfx branch, a perception shift like the one you are describing has once occurred – in recognition of the creativity involved in technical graphics development. The term “technical director” has become a more differentiated realm, now complimented with “technical artist”. The original “td” is now a technical artist who is managing others. A very valid differentiation as animation productions are much more reliant on the creative input of all its team members, particularly those working on the technical aspects of look and workflow.

  2. 2 Marc Vincent 23/01/2011 at 8:48 pm

    Even without meeting scientists in person, the fact that they are not Frinkian stereotypes is made very clear in a number of excellent blogs, like this one in fact [/brown nosing]. So there’s no excuse!

    And yeah, birds are dinosaurs. A big shock when you first hear about it, but eventually just makes so much sense (and more importantly, is scientifically sound).

  3. 3 Heinrich Mallison 24/01/2011 at 9:08 am

    Recently, a reviewer wanted to strike the words “extant dinosaurs” from a manuscript of mine, and replace it with “birds”. If at least he had opted for “extant birds” (the focus was on animals we can watch, to assess behavior)! This incidence made me realize that, for some really strange reason, I do not feel the mental schism between fossil and living theropods the way 99% of all people have – and, as you point out researchers. Maybe I should see a shrink.

    Similarly, I have no problem with feathered Mesozoic theropods at all – and then it breaks down: a downy(*) prosauropod hatchling, though possible, is beyond my imagination. So maybe I just have a shift, not lack, of the mental separation.

    (*) note that downy is not supposed to mean they may have had proper down feather, just some sort of potentially fluffy cover remotely related to scales. Think of psittaocsaurs and their bristles. Maybe some sort of long, thin mini-spikes?

  4. 4 Mark Robinson 24/01/2011 at 10:32 am

    Methinks Dave doth protest too much! If you guys were really human, you wouldn’t have killed Brontosaurus or stuck feathers on reptiles to support your satanic theory of evilution. Then only last year one of your lot nearly killed Triceratops! Please, please don’t get rid of Tyrannosaurus too.

    Or put feathers on it.


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