Paleontologist Quotes (19 quotes)
As long as museums and universities send out expeditions to bring to light new forms of living and extinct animals and new data illustrating the interrelations of organisms and their environments, as long as anatomists desire a broad comparative basis human for anatomy, as long as even a few students feel a strong curiosity to learn about the course of evolution and relationships of animals, the old problems of taxonomy, phylogeny and evolution will gradually reassert themselves even in competition with brilliant and highly fruitful laboratory studies in cytology, genetics and physiological chemistry.
Experimental geology has this in common with all other branches of our science, petrology and palaeontology included, that in the long run it withers indoors.
I don’t like to say bad things about paleontologists, but they’re really not very good scientists. They’re more like stamp collectors.
I view the major features of my own odyssey as a set of mostly fortunate contingencies. I was not destined by inherited mentality or family tradition to become a paleontologist. I can locate no tradition for scientific or intellectual careers anywhere on either side of my eastern European Jewish background ... I view my serious and lifelong commitment to baseball in entirely the same manner: purely as a contingent circumstance of numerous, albeit not entirely capricious, accidents.
In a manner which matches the fortuity, if not the consequence, of Archimedes’ bath and Newton’s apple, the [3.6 million year old] fossil footprints were eventually noticed one evening in September 1976 by the paleontologist Andrew Hill, who fell while avoiding a ball of elephant dung hurled at him by the ecologist David Western.
In order to survive, an animal must be born into a favoring or at least tolerant environment. Similarly, in order to achieve preservation and recognition, a specimen of fossil man must be discovered in intelligence, attested by scientific knowledge, and interpreted by evolutionary experience. These rigorous prerequisites have undoubtedly caused many still-births in human palaeontology and are partly responsible for the high infant mortality of discoveries of geologically ancient man.
It may be said of many palaeontologists, as Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper said recently of 18th century historians: “Their most serious error was to measure the past by the present”.
I’m not an historian but I can get interested—obsessively interested—with any aspect of the past, whether it’s palaeontology or archaeology or the very recent past.
Mary Anning [is] probably the most important unsung (or inadequately sung) collecting force in the history of paleontology.
Palaeontologists cannot live by uniformitarianism alone. This may be termed the Phenomenon of the Fallibility of the Fossil Record.
Palaeontology is the Aladdin’s lamp of the most deserted and lifeless regions of the earth; it touches the rocks and there spring forth in orderly succession the monarchs of the past and the ancient river streams and savannahs wherein they flourished. The rocks usually hide their story in the most difficult and inaccessible places.
Paleontology is a very visual inquiry. All paleontologists scribble on napkins at coffee breaks, making sketches to explain their thinking
Perhaps the majority of paleontologists of the present time, who believe in orthogenesis, the irreversibility of evolution and the polyphyletic origin families, will assume that a short molar must keep on getting shorter, that it can never get longer and then again grow relatively shorter and therefore that Propliopithecus with its extremely short third molar and Dryopithecus its long m3 are alike excluded from ancestry of the Gorilla, in which the is a slight retrogression in length of m3. After many years reflection and constant study of the evolution of the vertebrates however, I conclude that 'orthogenesis' should mean solely that structures and races evolve in a certain direction, or toward a certain goal, only until the direction of evolution shifts toward some other goal. I believe that the 'irreversibility of evolution' means only that past changes irreversibly limit and condition future possibilities, and that, as a matter of experience, if an organ is once lost the same (homogenous) organ can be regained, although nature is fertile in substituting imitations. But this not mean, in my judgement, that if one tooth is smaller than its fellows it will in all cases continue to grow smaller.
Several very eminent living paleontologists frequently emphasise the abruptness of some of the major changes that have occurred, and seek for an external cause. This is a heady wine and has intoxicated palaeontologists since the days when they could blame it all on Noah's flood. In fact, books are still being published by the lunatic fringe with the same explanation. In case this book should be read by some fundamentalist searching for straws to prop up his prejudices, let me state categorically that all my experience (such as it is) has led me to an unqualified acceptance of evolution by natural selection as a sufficient explanation for what I have seen in the fossil record
The attempted synthesis of paleontology and genetics, an essential part of the present study, may be particularly surprising and possibly hazardous. Not long ago, paleontologists felt that a geneticist was a person who shut himself in a room, pulled down the shades, watched small flies disporting themselves in milk bottles, and thought that he was studying nature. A pursuit so removed from the realities of life, they said, had no significance for the true biologist. On the other hand, the geneticists said that paleontology had no further contributions to make to biology, that its only point had been the completed demonstration of the truth of evolution, and that it was a subject too purely descriptive to merit the name 'science'. The paleontologist, they believed, is like a man who undertakes to study the principles of the internal combustion engine by standing on a street corner and watching the motor cars whiz by.
The geologist strides across the landscape to get the big picture, but the paleontologist stays at one spot or shuffles along looking at the ground for his pet objects.
The observer listens to nature: the experimenter questions and forces her to reveal herself.
Where, then, must we look for primaeval Man? Was the oldest Homo sapiens pliocene or miocene, or yet more ancient? In still older strata do the fossilized bones of an ape more anthropoid, or a Man more pithecoid, than any yet known await the researches of some unborn paleontologist?
You will never convince some palaeontologists that an impact killed the dinosaurs unless you find a dinosaur skeleton with a crushed skull and a ring of iridium round the hole.