Academics on archosaurs: Heinrich Mallison

Heinrich Mallison, Researcher, Museum für Naturkunde – Leibniz Institute for Research on Evolution and Biodiversity at the Humboldt University Berlin.
I’m a geologist/palaeontologist trying hard to use digital techniques to unlock the remaining secrets of dinosaur locomotion.

1. What first got you interested or involved in your research field?

I guess – but given my age of roughly 6 years back then it’s kinda hard to tell – I guess it was a dinosaur book my Dad bought me in the Stuttgart Zoo’s shop (no idea why a dinosaur book).

2. What is your favourite piece of research?

The speedwalking dinosaur hypothesis I still need to publish.

3. What do you think is the most interesting or important discovery in your field in recent years?

That basal dinosaurs, and even basal dinosauromorphs, were so much more bird-like [and, by convergence, mammal-like]  with regards to lungs, metabolism, bone growth, etc. then previously imagined. Suddenly, many questions resolve themselves into a fitting picture, and many supposed/questionable convergences default into shared inheritance!

4. What do you think is the biggest unanswered question in your field right now?

Funding – when will politicians understand that basic research is more important than a short-time blip in the GNP?

5. What advice would you give to students about research?

Palaeontology is a true multidisciplinary science. Therefore, it does not matter what you study officially (geology, palaeontology, zoology, botany, climate research, physics, veterinary of human medicine, engineering, etc.) – you have to do them all anyway! Find a subject what can feed you if there is no research funding for dinosaurs.

8 Responses to “Academics on archosaurs: Heinrich Mallison”

  1. 1 Kilian Hekhuis 23/05/2012 at 8:21 am

    Hope to hear more about that “speedwalking dinosaur hypothesis”.

  2. 4 Robert A. Sloan 23/05/2012 at 9:37 pm

    Basic research actually pays off for the tax base. First off, the researchers have an income sufficient to their needs and they buy all the equipment and services needed to do the research. That’s stimulus. Then you have the possibility in every dinosaur dig or study of turning up something newsworthy that makes its way into the entertainment sphere, generating still more jobs and capital. And of course it leads to other discoveries that can lead to innovation and new products, something invented for paleontologists can find its way into the campsites of vacationers just because it’s an improvement.

    The idea that science is a luxury is ridiculous. I can’t think of a science that doesn’t actually benefit society at many steps along the way. It’s the same with the arts. The people funding stuff forget that these things lead to real jobs that are good jobs. But the people who get a job as research assistant or vehicle driver or even the ones working the camping goods store or scientific supply house that gets more hours, they do notice a big difference.

    There’s what I’d say to anyone who’s cutting funding for science. It’s not a waste and it’s not a frivolity. It’s a way to gain real benefits from meaningful work that benefits everyone both short term and long term.

    • 5 David Hone 23/05/2012 at 10:09 pm

      I did see something a couple of years back at the height of the money crisis that investment in science was the most consistent returner of money. For every pound invested, the economy saw back two pounds each year (so 2 quid the next year and the year after that etc.). Nope, no source at all, sorry, just memory. But when you think about things like the LHC which has developed whole new technologies you can see just how productive science can be. Sure, palaeo is at the low end of that – it’s return is, on average, not going to be competing with people working on cancer or robotics, but you can’t predict where the return will come, and all sorts of people are involved in work that could bring interesting and odd spin offs. Certainly it was notable that when the real cuts hit, a lot of countries actually increased their science funding. Well, not the UK, obviously, but the US, Germany, China and France all upped their investments I remember.

      • 6 Heinrich Mallison 23/05/2012 at 10:12 pm

        and as a result, we see a brain drain happening!
        In fact, though, German research spending did not really increase; it just got a very reasonable correction for inflation.

  3. 7 Herman Diaz 24/05/2012 at 1:53 am

    “Suddenly, many questions resolve themselves into a fitting picture, and many supposed/questionable convergences default into shared inheritance!”

    I’d like to hear more about that.

  4. 8 Mark Robinson 24/05/2012 at 5:13 am

    Speed-walking dinosaurs: I’ve just had a vision of what Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurs would’ve used those feathers for – hot-pants and leg warmers!

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