The incredible links across science

A few days ago I discovered that the paper on the flexion of theropod wrists in the ancestors of birds I contributed to has been cited in a journal I would never have expected. Namely ‘Frontiers in Psychology’ and then intriguingly title paper “Sea Slugs, Subliminal Pictures, and Vegetative State Patients: Boundaries of Consciousness in Classical Conditioning”. The paper appears to be open access so you can read it here if you so wish. Naturally this is quite cool and odd, but it does make the point about just how connected very disparate bits of science can be. When we wrote the paper we were thinking purely in terms of bird anatomy, evolution and behaviour and no thought ever passed that this would be linked to sea slugs let alone psychology.

I’ve been asked enough times (generally in a friendly, rather than confrontational manner) why we should fund palaeontology etc. with no apparent applications to mankind. Three are two stock answers to this. First that knowledge should be cherished in its own right and we should try and learn about or world and it’s past, present and future. The second, which I think is more intriguing, is that it’s hard, even impossible, to see how some bits of science might fit together. I’d never have predicted our work would be used to make a point in a psychology paper.

This does show just how interlinked very different branches of science can be and how they can interrelate. Ultimately all science is linked of course, but it need not be just by the obvious slight overlaps between say dinosaurs and fossil birds to living birds to flight to biomechanics to aerodynamics to physics etc. but that huge leaps across the science network are possible, even if they’re not that common.



2 Responses to “The incredible links across science”

  1. 1 TB 20/02/2012 at 4:34 pm

    “I’ve been asked enough times (generally in a friendly, rather than confrontational manner) why we should fund palaeontology etc. with no apparent applications to mankind.”

    Oddly enough this was pretty much the exact thought that buzzed in my head as I started reading the blog post… (Not that I thought we shouldn’t.) Might have been subconsciously induced by the title somehow.

    But that’s pretty cool, in any case. 🙂

  2. 2 Mickey Mortimer 21/02/2012 at 2:19 am

    Though as might be expected from anyone citing an article from outside their area of expertise, Sullivan et al. (2010) isn’t really a great citation for the point Bekinschtein et al. wanted to make. They just needed a reference for flight evolving in dinosaurs, because the they propose conditioning could have evolved multiple times, just as flight has evolved multiple times. Yet Sullivan et al. is about how radiale morphology affects wrist folding, so while it’s an excellent resource for radiale angles, it’s not a basic reference for the evolution of flight.

    If I were them, I would have cited something more generic like Dececchi and Larsson’s 2009 “Patristic evolutionary rates suggest a punctuated pattern in forelimb evolution before and after the origin of birds”, Padian’s 2001 “Stages in the origin of bird flight: beyond the arboreal-cursorial dichotomy”, Ostrom’s 1995 “Wing biomechanics and the origin of bird flight”, or Gauthier and Padian’s 1985 “Phylogenetic, functional, and aerodynamic analyses of the origins of birds and their flight.” But it’s not like I’d have the easiest time finding the basic reference for learning flexibility in insects or the molecular basis of memory association in sea slugs…

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