Welcome to Superoceras, a blog about science and natural history, slightly biased towards paleontology and zoology, but inclusive of all sciences. Started in October of 2009, my goal is to communicate scientific knowledge (and the occasional piece of nonsense) in an informative and entertaining manner. Feel free to contact me with questions, comments, concerns, or criticism at superoceras(at)gmail(dot)com, and follow me on Twitter @Superoceras for all that and more in 140 characters or less!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

SVP 2011 (Prologue): Paleontology in Paris

It may have taken most of the day to get here, but the girlfriend and I arrived at the hotel Paris in the late afternoon on Tuesday.  After settling in our room and hitting up the registration table, we set out to the Las Vegas strip to get our bearings.  I'm sad to report that our wanderings and the distractions of the city caused me to miss the media workshop that the SVP Media Liaison Committee sponsored.  But I'm happy to report that, almost immediately, we encountered our first dinosaur of the trip!

Fulica americana, the American coot, in front of a prominent Las Vegas casino and hotel.  I'm remiss to say that I had to travel all the way to Nevada to see my first coot in the "wild".
If you're still one of those people that doesn't accept that birds like the one above are in dinosaurs, perhaps you should have attended the talk by Jack Horner last night (which Brian Switek of Laelaps dissects over at Dinosaur Tracking).  He spoke about dinosaurs and the proofs of evolution, and while the talk was, as per his admission, meant for a more generalized public (as opposed to a room full of paleontologists), he still brought home some very important points.  Whether or not any paleontologist in the room is going to agree with one another on certain aspects of the science of paleontology (species designation, anagenesis v. cladogenesis, etc.), there is one thing that (most) do agree on: evolution.  

There is no argument over the idea that generation after generation, traits accumulate in a lineage of organisms, that over time, result in the "birth" of new organisms.  And we can see this idea proven in a number of ways.  Selective breeding of domesticated animals results in these very changes, over relatively short spans of time.  The presence of vestigial body parts shows that, at one point, an organisms ancestors must have had those body parts, and they were reduced over time with each generation. The rock record shows a real succession of living beings over massive spans of time.  Modern genetics allows us to learn things that the rock record never could.  We can now tell, with little doubt, how closely related living organisms are by looking at their genomes.  And maybe one day, we'll be able to do the same thing with extinct animals. So like it or not, the evidence for evolution is there.  And as Horner put it, if you can prove otherwise, you'll easily become the most famous person in the world, ever.  Good luck with that.

Stay tuned for more from SVP all week.  I managed to find the free Wi-Fi.  Huzzah!

Referenced Talks

Horner, J.  2011.  Dinosaurs and the proofs of evolution. Presented at the 71st Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, Tuesday, 01 November, 2011, at 7:30PM.

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