Laelaps

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Dr. Robert Bakker is one of the most famous paleontologists working today, an iconoclastic figure who has played a leading role of rehabilitating our understanding of dinosaurs from the inception of the “Dinosaur Renaissance” through the present. He is currently the curator of paleontology for the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Director of the Morrison Natural History Museum in Colorado, and has recently been involved in the study of the hadrosaur mummy “Leonardo.” In 1986 he published the classic book The Dinosaur Heresies, fully bringing his revolutionized vision of dinosaurs to the public, and he has appeared in countless documentaries about prehistoric life. Recently I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his work, and what follows are his responses to my e-mail interview;

  • [Brian Switek] When I was growing up, I’d see interviews with you on almost every documentary about dinosaurs, and you were even caricatured in the Jurassic Park sequel The Lost World. Has it been difficult, as a working paleontologist, to be so well known as a controversial scientist in the popular media? What are some of the challenges faced by scientists that are not only researchers but also effective popularizers of science?
  • [Dr. Robert Bakker] Fame is a funny thing. Because my tv appearances are repeated on the tube, my bearded, bewhiskered visage is recycled every couple of months. The latest television documentary, being shot by Discovery Canada, covers the five-year analysis of the duck-bill mummy nicknamed “Leonardo”. This splendid specimen, complete with its last meals preserved in stomach and intestines, is about to go on exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in September of this year. After a year, Leonardo will return to its home in the museum at Malta, Montana, while a traveling exhibit shares the mummy secrets all over North America.

    While trotting through Texas airports, I am recognized by dino-fans, usually in the second-grade to fifth-grade cohort, but sometimes among teachers and high school administrators. It’s still a jolt. Once, in a north Texas Safeway, I was shopping for my field crew when I saw a five-year-old pointing silently at me. I was about to become creeped out when the Mom appeared. “Excuse me…but my daughter says you’re the…..ahem….Dino-Guy.”

    I chatted with Mom and daughter and discovered that the child was reading three grades above her level at school. All us dino-scientists have similar experiences. Dinosaurs get kids to read books and think about science. Not just paleo-science but basic chemistry and physics too – plus math and ecology. And history.

    Tv appearances help. We can stoke the fires of intellectual curiosity and send kids to the library to find out more. E.g.: Some dino bones are black, some are red – and the contrast should make kids wonder about iron in Jurassic soils, in oxidation, and in how colors are produced by different kinds of ground-water, stagnant versus clean and free-flowing.

    • [Switek] At the last SVP meeting in Texas, Jack Horner, Holly Woodward, and Mark Goodwin proposed that the pachycephalosaurs Stygimoloch and Dracorex (which you described in 2006 with other researchers) were really just juvenile representatives of Pachycephalosaurus. What do you think about the hypothesis?
  • [Bakker] When I first heard Jack explain his extraordinary theory of how “butt-head” dinosaurs changed as they grew from egg to adulthood, I must admit I was thrilled. Here was a story never before told for any dinosaur – or for any land vertebrate animal of any sort. The transformation suffered by the pachycephalosaur skull was so great that no living species could come close to the degree of re-structuring. No antelope, no rhino, no moose, no ground iguana today undergoes such a remodeling of horns and skull roof and openings for jaw muscles (temporal fenestrae).

    According to Jack, great, long, sharply-pointed horns could grow out the rear of a bone-head dinosaur for the first half of its life – then, in a complete ontogenetic reversal, these horns would die back, being reduced to tiny remnants as sexual maturity was reached.

    Then, as horns disappeared, the flat forehead would begin to grow upward, expanding into a solid dome of bone that rose high over the original skull surface. All the small bones around the eye would be distorted by the dome-growth. Meanwhile, huge temporal openings in the skull would close quickly, so that there was no visible remnant.

    If I believed Jack’s theory, three strikingly different skull styles would be merely stages during growth. Dracorex displays no dome, large horns and wide opened temporal holes – therefore it would be a half-grown juvenile. Stygimoloch, has long, curved horns and little dome, and so would be three-quarters grown. And, finally, Pachycephalosaurus with tiny horns and a great, tall, solid dome, would be the ultimate growth stage of the adult.

    I’ve been studying horn and dome growth in modern-day critters that butt heads – muskoxen, giraffes, African Water Buffalo. None show anything close to the complete reversal of horn development Jack claimed for butt-headed dinosaurs. And neither did well known horned dinosaurs. Jack had just scored a major coup by discovering a very young Triceratops, a skull that showed the growth trajectory. Triceratops does show dramatic shape changed – but, unlike the pachycephalosaur theory, there was no reversal. Triceratops horns start out small, then grow larger and larger and larger. Triceratops horns never reverse; the horns do not resorb in adulthood, shrinking back to remnants the way Jack thought pachycephalosaur horns shrank.

    I brought a bunch of pachy skulls with me to SVP last Fall, new specimens that we are studying. We have a genuine juvenile Pachycephalosaurus, barely two-thirds the length of an adult. According to Jack’s theory, this head should look like a Dracorex, with no dome and long horns. But the juvenile skull has a shape that’s 95% like the adult stage. The horns are small. The temporal holes are gone. And the dome is huge and dome development has distorted the neighboring bones above the eye.

    This juvie Pachycephalosaurus is just as small as the Dracorex skull at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. But the juvenile Pachycephalosaurus had already acquired the definitive Pachycepahlosaurus head structure – it doesn’t look anything like a Dracorex. We have new Stygimoloch skulls too, the same size as the Dracorex. These stygi skulls are not intermediate is shape. They have a small dome and large horns – the diagnostic Stygimoloch cranial configuration.

    So……..though electrifying in its novelty, Jack’s theory simply doesn’t work. Pachycephalosaur dinosaurs did grow like Triceratops – or like muskoxen. Bumps and horns simply got bigger and thicker all through life. There was no sudden, dramatic growth reversal. By the time an individual pachy had achieved half-grown size, its dome and horns were taking on the shape that was very close to what the adult would have.

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    • [Switek] Horner has also been a vocal advocate of the idea that Tyrannosaurus was a scavenger rather than an active hunter. You hold an opposing view of the hunting habits of T. rex and the evolutionary interactions it had with its potential meals. Can you expand the idea of Tyrannosaurus as a fearsome predator?

    [Bakker] Jack and my crew are engaged in a friendly rivalry about Cretaceous dinosaurs. Jack’s lab argues that T. rex was a passive predator – an opportunistic scavenger that rarely attacked a healthy, full grown duck-bill or Triceratops. I see it oppositely. Our recent studies of T. rex teeth indicate very unusual adaptations for piercing the armor of horned dinosaurs and ankylosaurs. Most dino-meat-eaters have a long row of sharp teeth, with a few gaps where an old tooth has been shed and a new crown is growing in. T. rex is different. Tooth crowns are immensely swollen and reinforced. Crown replacement patterns produce a snaggle-toothed pattern where single crowns are isolated, with no crown ahead or behind. Result: a rex bite is delivered by a few thick tooth crowns, not a long row of equally tall dental blades.

    The rex bite is unique among better known dinosaurs. Instead of inflicting a long, shallow wound, rex jaws would thrust a few crowns deep into bone armor, killing a Triceratops with a single blow. We see close-linked co-evolution here, a terminal Cretaceous arms race. Triceratops is the commonest horned dino of the time, the final dinosaurian Age, the Lancian. T’tops departs from the ceratopsian tradition of frill construction. Torosaurus, very rare during the Lancian Age of the Cretaceous, retains that basic design: the frill is composed of thin bone rods that make a frame, with huge holes in the middle. Triceratops fills in the holes with greatly thickened bone.

    Why would Triceratops invest in five times as much bone volume in its frill? Well…to me the answer is obvious. Because the commonest predator has evolved great, armor-penetrating teeth. The argument goes in the other direction – T. rex evolved swollen, tall tooth crowns to deal with the unusual protection of the commonest horned herbivore.

    Rexian armor-penetrating teeth would also be useful in overcoming the ankylosaurians – Ankylosaurus itself is twice the body bulk of its ancestors in the American Cretaceous.

    Our view of active rexes is paralleled by our interpretation of pachycephalosaurs. The Bozeman group of scholars have concluded that butt-heads din not butt; the cranial extravaganzas – domes and spikes – were merely for visual show. But we find that the neck muscles of all pachy’s are far too strong to be explained by simple passive display. For its body size, Dracorex or Stygimoloch has more strength for dorsi-flexion than a water-buffalo and equal to that of muskoxen. Dorsi-flexion is the action that pulls the head and neck up or resists forces that would shove the head downward. Muskoxen need strong dorsi-flexion because these herbivores ram each other at a full gallop. The tremendous power in dorsi-flexion of pachycephalosaurs demands a theory of kinetic collision.

    • [Switek] The recent symposium book Feathered Dragons featured a wonderful essay you wrote about Edward Hitchcock, the man who turned paleoichnology into a science through his studies of dinosaur tracks in the Connecticut Valley. What makes Hitchcock such an important figure in paleontology?

    [Bakker] I do have one hero among the early bone-hunters: Edward Hitchcock, President of Amherst and first Director of the Massachusetts Geological Survey. I met him early in my Freshman year, in 1963. I was sitting in the cozy sanctuary at the base of Harkness tower, the Romanesque building that houses the carillon. Carved into the hardwood bas-relief was the unmistakable form of a dinosaur footprint – what was called Grallator by the Reverend in 1836-42.

    I knew that Hitchcock was a comic character, so said my dinosaur books. He had “mistaken” dinosaur tracks for those of great prehistoric birds – tee hee! Supposedly he had been deluded by his orthodox Congregationalist beliefs……but…

    I got Hitchcock’s original books, his great monograph on Triassic-Jurassic tracks, and I found that his reputation had been twisted. Hitchcock was the first footprint experimentalist for the Jurassic. He ran all manner of beasts, furry, scaly and feathery, over fresh mud to examine their tracks. He scoured the zoo-podiatrical literature, collating all the data on the feet of extant species. No pun intended here – but by 1840, the Reverend knew more about the sole in organic Creation than any other scholar.

    Hitchcock was never, ever “mistaken” about dino-tracks. He didn’t assume that the Jurassic footprints were those of birds. He proved that they were birds. Without a single set of fossil foot bones, Hitchcock worked out the number of toes and the number of toe bones and the manner of locomotion among early dinosaurs. His key animal was Anomoepus. Not a theropod predator, but what we now call an herbivorous ornithopod dinosaur, a small, fleet-footed species close in design to that of Hypsilophodon and our Drinker from Como Bluff.

    Hitchcock’s diagram of toe joints in Jurassic dinos was computed from the cushiony pads that supported each joint. Each pad marked where two toe bones came together. The number of toe bones, going from inside to outside in the hind foot, was: 2,3,4,5,0. That toe-bone formula marks one and only one Class today: the Aves. Birds.

    Hitchcock was the first to show that dinosaurs had small hands with clawed fingers (Anomoepus). And that dinosaurs ran around with high average speed, often in packs. And that the posture was like that of birds – ankles off the ground.

    The Reverend never used the word “dinosaur” for his track-makers because the ruling paradigm of the time was that dinosaurs were flat-footed quadrupeds, with rhino-bear-lizard posture. But Hitchcock’s reconstruction in fact matched the real nature of the dino skeleton. The Reverend would have been pleased as punch when the first Laoning skeletons showed that “raptor”-type dinosaurs were, indeed, covered with feathers.

    • [Switek] Finally, as someone who works with the “bones of contention” and the fossil record, what do you think about the current controversy surrounding evolution in the United States? How can we do a better job of communicating science to the public?

    [Bakker] We dino-scientists have a great responsibility: our subject matter attracts kids better than any other, except rocket-science. What’s the greatest enemy of science education in the U.S.?

    Militant Creationism?

    No way. It’s the loud, strident, elitist anti-creationists. The likes of Richard Dawkins and his colleagues.

    These shrill uber-Darwinists come across as insultingly dismissive of any and all religious traditions. If you’re not an atheist, then you must be illiterate or stupid and, possibly, a danger to yourself and others.

    As many commentators have noted, in televised debates, these Darwinists seem devoid of joy or humor, except a haughty delight in looking down their noses. Dawkinsian screeds are sermons to the choir; the message pleases only those already convinced. Dawkins wins no converts from the majority of U.S. parents who still honor a Biblical tradition. Hitchcock is a far better model. He had his battles with skepticism. He did worry that the discovery of Deep Time would upset the good people of his congregation. But Hitchcock could view three thousand years of scriptural tradition and see much of value – and much concordance with Jurassic geology.

    Read his “Religion of Geology“. It’s a lovely contemplation of how Old Testament and New deal with the beauty in Nature. And the horror. Why is there pain and death among deer and lions? Why is there pain among humans? These questions are of little interest for the Dawkinsians, but trouble most Americans. Hitchcock found no easy answers. But he saw a Plan nevertheless. Millions of years of geological time, with waves after waves of predator and prey, punctuated by extinctions, were recorded in the sedimentary annals.

    Careful study of fossil history gave Hitchcock a sense of awe – and privilege. He was a human being during the scientific revolution, fortunate to live at a time when society was awakening to the possibilities of understanding past ecosystems. Petrified jaws and teeth did prove that Nature was always regulated by attack and defense, pain and death. But the net result was extraordinary beauty that could be made intelligible by the human mind.

    Comments

    1. #1 Archaeozoo
      April 7, 2008

      What a great interview. It was fascinating to see what he thought about some current debates. What would be even more interesting would be if you could get a similar interview with Horner and get both sides of the story.

    2. #2 Melanie
      April 7, 2008

      Wonderful interview, Brian! Thanks so much for undertaking this series. I loved it. Bakker is really well spoke and engaging, even via email.

      I especially agreed with this:

      “It’s the loud, strident, elitist anti-creationists. The likes of Richard Dawkins and his colleagues.

      These shrill uber-Darwinists come across as insultingly dismissive of any and all religious traditions. If you’re not an atheist, then you must be illiterate or stupid and, possibly, a danger to yourself and others.”

      It always seemed to me that this approach was the same as taken by Creationists: implying someone is dumb for holding belief X. There are a lot of religious people who aren’t creationists, but this type of attitude alienates them as well.

      I look forward to the next interview!

    3. #3 Wendy
      April 7, 2008

      Fantastic interview! I’ve been a fangirl of Bakker’s since I saw him speak sometime in the mid-90s (in South Bend, Indiana, IIRC). He’s a funny, articulate man who draws great cartoons and has a wonderful way with children.

      Also, I’ll second Melanie’s sentiment about the anti-creationist comment. So very true. And just a bit relevant to some of the recent discussion on Scienceblogs. :D

      Thanks!

    4. #4 Amber
      April 7, 2008

      Great interview, it’s nice to hear from Dr. Bakker again. I found myself nodding along with his points…except for that last part concerning “shrill uber-Darwinists”. I could not disagree more forcefully without self-combusting.

    5. #5 ScienceWoman
      April 7, 2008

      What a fantastic interview. I’ve been a Bakker fan since I was a little kid. He gave a public talk at my mom’s university and I got to meet him and ended up with a wall-sized drawing of a triceratops. And now I finally have a wall big enough to display it on.

    6. #6 H.H.
      April 7, 2008

      What’s the greatest enemy of science education in the U.S.? Militant Creationism? No way. It’s the loud, strident, elitist anti-creationists. The likes of Richard Dawkins and his colleagues.

      AGI pumps out scientific misinformation on a daily basis. Ken Ham travels the country giving bogus lectures to school children. His ministry actually raised enough cash to build –debt free– a private museum dedicated to promulgating lies and falsehoods. Hundreds of other creationist books and websites pass on arguments which have been debunked for years, sometimes decades. Recently, religious ideologues have made a blatant propaganda film which promotes the despicable lie that the theory of evolution was a necessary component in the Holocaust.

      But it’s all the atheists’ fault?

      Excuse me while I roll my eyes and point out, for all Bakker’s wonderful and important contributions of the field of paleontology, he’s also a Pentecostal minister. I think his biases are showing.

    7. #7 Zach Miller
      April 7, 2008

      I, too, have an enormous wall-sized butcher-paper drawing by Dr. Bakker. It’s an Allosaurus, and while it’s sitting in my closet right now (my Godzilla posters are getting a turn), I love it very much.

      Bakker is a great paleontologist, and a fantastic public figure. I’ve always wanted to meet him. His enthusiasm is unmatched! I’m happy to see the Dracorex/Pachycephalosaur controversy “put to rest.” I’ll have to change my own theories about pachys.

      I agree that Dawkins & Co. give religion an OVERLY bad name. There are times where they protest too much. That’s not to say I don’t AGREE with them, but protest often causes those being protested against to cling to their beliefs ever tighter. And Bakker is right about kids and paleontology, and it’s something I’ve agreed with for YEARS: We have a responsibility to educate kids, adults, whoever, with the RIGHT information. No more “mammal-like reptiles” or “Brontosaurus” or whatnot.

      Great interview, Brian! I look forward to many more!

    8. #8 Blake Stacey
      April 7, 2008

      What H.H. said. My own high-school biology class was dreadful, and not just because the teacher was a basketball coach shanghaied into the science wing to fill an empty slot. Evolution was “too controversial”, period, so he didn’t teach it, and to paraphrase Dobzhansky, without that light, nothing in biology made sense.

      Note that my ninth-grade bio class happened years before atheism hit it big in the hardcover market. Science education sucked then, and it continues to suck now; the problems we had then, we continue to have now. Whatever new irritants have appeared in the intervening years, appeals to emotions and prejudices are not enough to demonstrate that they are, in fact, worse than the problems we inherited.

    9. #9 Adam Pritchard
      April 7, 2008

      Thank you so much for getting this interview series together. This one was great fun, and I can’t wait to read what is to come.

    10. #10 Peter McGrath
      April 7, 2008

      Brilliant stuff, Brian. The Dinosaur Heresies is one of my all-time favourite books and about every two years I settle down for a joyous re-read. That puts it up there with the Lord of the Rings, and Dr. Bakker (if your reading) that ain’t bad.

    11. #11 JJ Anderson
      April 8, 2008

      Zach Miller said:

      We have a responsibility to educate kids, adults, whoever, with the RIGHT information. No more “mammal-like reptiles” or “Brontosaurus” or whatnot.

      Is it really a problem if we use the term “mammal-like reptiles”? The term “reptile”, if used at all, should perhaps be restricted to diapsids such as dinosaurs, lizards and snakes, but before we synapsids were mammals we would have looked very similar to lizards back in the Carboniferous Period. So what should we call the synapsids as they were evolving into mammals during the Permian and Triassic Periods?

    12. #12 Christophe Thill
      April 8, 2008

      I love Bakker, his hat, his whiskers and his heresies. Thanks, Brian, for this great interview.

      But I’d disagree on his critic of the “shrill uber-Darwinists”. Concerning the famous “Dawkinsian” PZ Myers, I’ll remark that anyone who reads his blog knows that, from time to time, wonderful articles about science are there to be found. OK, you have to read it. Perhaps PZ should write a little popular science book, condensing all the best things he’s said so far about science.

      “And the horror. Why is there pain and death among deer and lions? Why is there pain among humans? These questions are of little interest for the Dawkinsians, but trouble most Americans. Hitchcock found no easy answers.”

      Yes, these questions are of little interest to anyone thinking from the scientific point of view. They make sense for an uninformed mind. They make sense for a mind informed by religion. But for the scientific mind, they’re meaningless. Pain and death just are. As the phrase goes: deal with it. The fact that “most Americans” feel troubled only goes to show that science is a foreign language to them. If it wasn’t, they’d feel differently. Whatever you might think of it, science tends to destroy a view of the world that’s informed by religious tradition. The “Dawkinsians” only carry this idea to its logical end…

    13. #13 Amanda
      April 8, 2008

      Wow! This was fantastic! Thank you so much, Brian!

      It was really nice to hear about Edward Hitchcock…I grew up in Connecticut and frequented Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, where Hitchcock’s Eubrontes tracks reside.

      As someone who’s not been able to dig too deeply into paleo, it’s nice to hear, in layman’s terms, about the subject. It’s like having a translator on hand :)

      Thanks again…I really really enjoyed reading this.

    14. #14 The Flying Trilobite
      April 8, 2008

      Bakker is a giant.

      Like Mr. McGrath, I agree The Dinosaur Heresies deserves to be re-read time and again. The illustrations go far beyond his clever cartoons, and are simply amazing and expressive. The scientific rigor in that book changed some of my views of the world.

      And so do the insights and cleverness in Dawkins’ books. For me, the two sit on my shelf, side-by-side inspiring my artwork and giving me that same sense of awe of living in a scientific revolution.

      Great photo with the rainbow, and an excellent interview, Brian!

    15. #15 BrettBooth
      April 8, 2008

      Great interview, thanks so much!

      Best,

      Brett

    16. #16 Laelaps
      April 8, 2008

      Thanks for the comments/compliments, everyone. I’m glad that most of you enjoyed the interview. I don’t know who I’ll have next, but I’ll make an announcement when I know.

      As for the last part, I’m working on a post that I may or may not publish about the whole militant atheist thing. It’s difficult to find the right words since it’s a topic that obviously stirs the emotions of many, but I fall somewhere in the middle, I guess. I’m not a fan of Richard Dawkins, but I don’t think he should just shut up and go away, either.

      Finally, Christophe wrote (quoting Bakker);

      “‘And the horror. Why is there pain and death among deer and lions? Why is there pain among humans? These questions are of little interest for the Dawkinsians, but trouble most Americans. Hitchcock found no easy answers.’

      Yes, these questions are of little interest to anyone thinking from the scientific point of view. They make sense for an uninformed mind. They make sense for a mind informed by religion. But for the scientific mind, they’re meaningless.”

      I think this is a little condescending. Uninformed? This is making the assumption (which Bakker rightly points out) that religious people are not inherently stupid, ignorant, or uninformed. If you believe in God then this question does have some important theological consequences, and even if you don’t it still can be looked at somewhat scientifically. Why do we die? What causes death? What influences longevity? Why do we feel pain? How and why did that evolve? Why is it beneficial? etc. These might seem like “simple” questions, but they still can be appreciated from a scientific and philosophical standpoint.

    17. #17 John Conway
      April 8, 2008

      That was a really interesting interview. Bakker got me into science, age twelve, with The Dinosaur Heresies. I found his answer to the last question particularly interesting–I’d be interested in a follow-up interview on his religious beliefs and how they fit with his scientific ones.

    18. #18 David Marjanovi?
      April 8, 2008

      So what should we call the synapsids as they were evolving into mammals during the Permian and Triassic Periods?

      Think about how few occasions there are when you really need a term that covers all of them but excludes precisely mammals (…never mind under which definition of Mammalia). I think you’ll be surprised.

      Hitchcock’s diagram of toe joints in Jurassic dinos was computed from the cushiony pads that supported each joint. Each pad marked where two toe bones came together. The number of toe bones, going from inside to outside in the hind foot, was: 2,3,4,5,0. That toe-bone formula marks one and only one Class today: the Aves. Birds.

      And the crocodiles, by convergence. But never mind. :-) BTW, Liaoning.

      Horner has also been a vocal advocate of the idea that Tyrannosaurus was a scavenger rather than an active hunter. You hold an opposing view of the hunting habits of T. rex and the evolutionary interactions it had with its potential meals. Can you expand the idea of Tyrannosaurus as a fearsome predator?

      To be fair, absolutely everyone except Horner is with Bakker on this point. Some have even doubted whether Horner is even serious, or whether he just wants to attract money to paleontology (in which case, those same people say, more power to him…).

      No pun intended here – but by 1840, the Reverend knew more about the sole in organic Creation than any other scholar.

      LOL!

    19. #19 Zach Miller
      April 8, 2008

      Amniota is split into two main groups: Synapsida and Reptilia. You could just say “mammal-like synapsids.” It’s not difficult!

    20. #20 neil
      April 8, 2008

      Quite the journalistic coup Brian, congrats! Personally I tend to be skeptical that the whole Science v. Religion death match thing serves science very well, though I do think that your average creationist spends much more time attacking science than vice versa (of course there are notable exceptions). Still, I find it quite curious, and frankly disappointing, that Bakker trots out “Darwinist” as a pejorative. I bet Chuck D., up in heaven, shed a single tear.

    21. #21 neil
      April 8, 2008

      Oh yeah, and can I put in a request for Karen Chin? I always enjoy her unique perspective and it’s nice to show that paleontology isn’t just a bunch bearded white dudes arguing about T. rex (as charismatic and entertaining as some of those dudes are!)

    22. #22 H.H.
      April 8, 2008

      As for the last part, I’m working on a post that I may or may not publish about the whole militant atheist thing. It’s difficult to find the right words since it’s a topic that obviously stirs the emotions of many, but I fall somewhere in the middle, I guess. I’m not a fan of Richard Dawkins, but I don’t think he should just shut up and go away, either.

      I would look forward to such a post. While it is often a contentious topic, it is still an important one nevertheless. And most complaints about Dawkins’ criticisms of religion that I’ve seen almost invariably tend to be people who have never read The God Delusion. At best they latch onto a few out-of-context quotes, at worse they rely totally on secondhand accounts. And many people criticize his “shrill” or “arrogant” language, yet as Dawkins himself points out, his criticisms are often far less severely worded than the average food critic’s. Personally, I find Dawkins to be almost overly polite, in that very British way. So, he’s a popular scapegoat, but one who’s often unfairly demonized by people who wish to make their own positions seem moderate by contrast. I look forward to a honest treatment of his position, and I’ll save any further comments for that future thread.

    23. #23 Jamie Stearns
      April 9, 2008

      Regarding the bit about Dracorex, Stygimoloch, and Pachycephalosaurus, the thin-sectioning does show that the horns were dying off in Stygimoloch, and I asked Bakker what he thought about the thin-sectioning evidence at SVp. He simply dodged the question by saying “The biggest stygis have the biggest horns”.

      With that out of the way, though, I’d like to say that I’m definitely not a Bakker-hater. True, he does have a notorious tendency to break genera into pieces, but he’s also been largely responsible for correcting the misconceptions people have had for so many years, such as aquatic sauropods and the Morrison as a giant swamp.

      His work on Morrison dinosaurs has also helped with a lot of the projects I’ve been working on lately. His 1998 allosaur paper was brilliant in that it answered the question of why Allosaurus had such a weak bite and how it could have taken sauropods more easily than other Morrison theropods, all of which makes a lot of sense even before taking Rayfield’s finite element analysis into account.

      Plus, I respect him as one of the few religious people aside from myself to have taken an active interest in paleontology since the rise of fundamentalism.

    24. #24 Christophe Thill
      April 9, 2008

      “I think this is a little condescending. Uninformed? This is making the assumption (which Bakker rightly points out) that religious people are not inherently stupid, ignorant, or uninformed.”

      This is not exactly what I meant. I wasn’t positing “uninformed” and “informed by religion” as equivalent, but as a sort of “step 1″ and “step 2″. I imagine a kind of “primitive” view of the world, with no structured framework to order it (be it religion or science). Eyes open on the world, lots of questions, and no ready answers. Organised religion comes only after that. (I mean it in a logical rather than historical way). Is that condescending ? I don’t know, but I don’t feel it this way.

    25. #25 Der Bruno Stroszek
      April 9, 2008

      With regards to the comments on Dawkins and his associates being uninterested in emotional issues; is that even true? I would say that Dawkins and Sue Blackmore’s work on memetics has done more than any other branch of science to fit human emotions into a reasonable scientific framework.

      The thing is, for many people, reading a rational explanation of why people feel a certain way does not engender that emotion, that it feels cold and detatched. I don’t agree, but I can definitely understand people being more enchanted by Bakker’s work than Dawkins’s. But that’s an argument in favour of them being read side-by-side, rather than pitted against each other.

    26. #26 Sven DiMilo
      April 9, 2008

      I have a fair amount of respect for Bakker too; he’s an accomplished scientist with obvious integrity, Heresies was certainly provocative, and I even got a kick out of Raptor Red.
      But for the record, a lot of people (physiologists moreso than paleontologists, it seems to me) think that a lot of his ideas are wrong. A few links with both sides of the story and references:
      http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/diapsids/metabolism.html
      http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/dino/faq/s-misc/metab/index.html
      http://www.geol.umd.edu/~tholtz/G104/10430endo.htm
      http://wiki.cotch.net/index.php/A_Reply_to_Ruben_on_Theropod_Physiology

      And here’s an interesting tidbit (from here) that sheds some light on those anti-Dawkins comments:

      Dr. Bob, The Creation Scientist!
      � Answers In Creation
      Dr. Bob Bakker,* famous for being one of the most recognized dinosaur experts of our time, is currently working on a theological book, tentatively titled “Bones, Bibles, and Creation.” He is most well known for two theories which have become widely accepted in paleontology. First is his theory that dinosaurs were warm blooded, and second is dinosaur to bird evolution.
      Lesser known is the fact that he is a Pentecostal preacher who believes in theistic evolution.
      * Dr. Bakker is not associated with Old Earth Ministries / Answers In Creation

    27. #27 rockhead
      April 11, 2008

      oh please….Darwinists??? Coming from a paleontologist?

    28. #28 Joshua Ludtke
      April 11, 2008

      Re: uber-Darwinists…

      On the one hand, I think Bob is correct is laying some blame on the feet of non-religious scientists for why the American public has such a strong opposition to evolution education. A lot of religious people think that evolution says negative things about their god(s), and thus they don’t want their kids or themselves exposed to it. They see a causal link between science/evolution education and atheism. Dawkins, or rather the caricature of Dawkins that people are being made to be familiar with, helps them believe in that link.

      OTOH, I fail to see how that detracts any blame away from the militant creationists, who are intentionally investing huge amounts of money into destroying science education, and who actively promote creationists to be placed into school boards across the country, where they can control which textbooks are taught and do other forms of harm.

    29. #29 Ian
      April 11, 2008

      Tha’s a great picture of him, too. He looks just the same as the last time I saw his picture (no, it’s not the same picture!). Horner, on the other hand, looks really different. I’m just about to read both blogs. Thanks for putting them up.

      So are you going to get long hair, a beard and a hat as you progress thru your career?!

    30. #30 Laelaps
      April 11, 2008

      Ian; I can go about five days without shaving before the stubble gets too itchy and I have to shave it off. Should I ever get to do some long-term field work, though, I’m either going to have to cultivate a beard or learn to use a straight razor. Perhaps I’ll have to push past the 5 day barrier and see how it works out, though. Hmm…

    31. #31 LOL
      April 12, 2008

      Let’s be honest. Bakker helped *popularize* certain revolutionary ideas. He put some on a firmer scientific footing. He’s a great paleontologist and a decent artist, but there are many that fit that bill in paleo. At the same time, he’s put forward some rather strange suggestions – from sauropods with elephant-like trunks, to incredibly fast tyrannosaurids. I would rather see other paleontologists fill the role of “grandmaster ultra-expert” in paleo programs….and to see Dawkin’s tear into him for what he stated here. I bet that if you asked Bakker what (specifically) makes Dawkins an atheistic bad guy, he would be at a loss for words.

    32. #32 Bertram Cabot, Jr.
      April 16, 2008

      The New Atheists tell Christians they are delusional (Dawkins), can be killed for their beliefs (Harris), and that they belong in zoos (Dennet.)

      The really stupid think is that these men have told people what they want to do to them BEFORE they have the politcal power to do it.

      All they are doing is ensuring that atheists will not get political power in this generation.

      We have a group in Kansas City like this.

      The Lord works in mysterious ways…he let them expose themselves too soon!

      Bahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

    33. #33 SLC
      May 8, 2008

      Before lavishing too much praise on Prof. Bakker, it should be noted that he is one of the last holdouts disputing the Alvarez asteroid collision theory of the extinction of the dinosaurs.

    34. #34 Brownian
      May 8, 2008

      Nice quote-mining, Bertram. Are you just as selective in which quotes you read from your Bible?

      Wait, don’t bother. We already know the answer to that.

    35. #35 Laelaps
      May 8, 2008

      SLC; So what? That doesn’t automatically discredit any other concepts that Bakker has addressed. I don’t agree with his conclusions on a number of issues, and not all paleontologists agree that dinosaurs were wiped out by the asteroid impact ~65 mya. We still don’t know for sure whether the end-Cretaceous extinction was gradual or rapid among the groups that went extinct, and while the asteroid impact is certainly promising, we shouldn’t assume that everything is solved just because we know such an impact occurred.

      I asked him a question about the extinction of dinosaurs but he did not provide a reply so I really don’t know what his current line of thought on the subject is. Given that, I’d rather talk about what he did say in this interview and elsewhere rather than denigrate him for opinions that he hasn’t fully explained.

    36. #36 SLC
      May 8, 2008

      Re Laelaps

      Excuse me, I have seen a number of interviews with Prof. Bakker on the Discovery Channel and there is no question that he has steadfastly rejected the asteroid collision theory. To the best of my knowledge, he continues to do so. Now I am not a paleontologist or geologist (my PhD is in physics) but I have read a number of articles about the Cretaceous extinction event and it is my understanding that the overwhelming scientific consensus, as we sit here today, is in agreement with the collision theory. Of course, like any scientific theory, it is subject to modification or rejection if negative evidence is found in the future.

      This is not to say that Prof. Bakker is not a competent paleontologist, just because he may be wrong about a particular theory. As Enrico Fermi once said, a scientist who is never wrong is a scientist who never advances the state of knowledge. For example, the three most important scientists who ever lived, at least in the Common Era were occasionally wrong. Newton was wrong about his corpuscular theory of light being able to explain diffraction. Darwin was wrong about inheritance being an analog process. Einstein was wrong about the existence of black holes.

    37. #37 TomJoe
      May 19, 2008

      SLC – So what is it? Newton, Darwin and Einstein were all wrong on some issues, yet they’re obviously deserving of lavish praise … but Dr. Bakker isn’t? I think the man’s CV speaks for itself.

    38. #38 Hank Fox
      May 19, 2008

      So Bakker finds Richard Dawkins (practically the defining example of the sedate intellectual) “loud, strident, elitist”? A “shrill uber-Darwinist”?

      Dang. Well, Robert, way to draw the line, guy. You’ll have the nice Christians just lining up to study paleontology, I’ll bet, now that you and they have a common enemy.

    39. #39 Alexander Vargas
      May 20, 2008

      As a paleobiologist, my greater concern is with understanding evolution. So I don’t care what Dawkins does on other fronts. Scientifically, he sucks, and I hate to see people misled into cartoonish views of evolution.
      I am an atheist but I have this to say:
      Viva Bakker!!

    40. #40 Alexander Vargas
      May 20, 2008

      Plus, Dawkins hasn’t done a bit of good, hard-working empirical research in decades, if he ever has in his life. Quite unlike our Dr. Bakker, figurehead of dinosaur renaissance!!!
      Not Dawkins… Dawkins just went straight for the podium

    41. #41 themadlolscientist
      May 20, 2008

      The clean-shaven Laelaps sez:

      I can go about five days without shaving before the stubble gets too itchy and I have to shave it off. […] Perhaps I’ll have to push past the 5 day barrier and see how it works out, though.

      I don’t care what the fashion fools say. Stubble is totally unsexy. It looks icky and it’s scratchy. Sometimes I’d like to shoot Don Johnson. :-)

      Having said that……. It takes at least 2-3 weeks to grow a beard to the point where it isn’t scratchy any more. A month is even better. If you can hold out that long, you’ve pretty much got it made. (OTOH, you really should keep it trimmed once it fills out. Scraggy isn’t sexy either.)

      Just 2 brass farthings’ worth from a woman who digs furry-faced men ;-)

    42. #42 Alexander Vargas
      May 20, 2008

      “If you’re not an atheist, then you must be illiterate or stupid and, possibly, a danger to yourself and others”

      That is a quite precise characterization of Dawkin’s paranoid and exaggerated brand of antireligion.

      Being antireligious is not “doing science”, nor does it even convey the true spirit of atheism.

    43. #43 Sampo Rassi
      May 21, 2008

      With all due respect to your credentials and your ability to judge Professor Dawkins on his professional merits, Mr. Vargas, but do you not feel that your gross generalizations of Dawkins’ ideas are doing a disservice to the truth and the quality of discourse on the media?

      Also, is “good, hard-working empirical research” the only yardstick of science? Presumably, Carl Sagan could’ve done some really cracking empirical stuff in the 1980s. Instead, he did “Cosmos”, one of the most influential documentaries ever made on the subject of science, an inspiration to an entire generation of young scientists. Dawkins has written several books that have evoked discussion both in professional realms and with laymen. Is this not a value in itself?

      The fact that this discussion is taking place is a benefit for the pursuit of truth. Were everyone of one mind, progress would be either impossible or unlikely.

    44. #44 Alexander Vargas
      May 22, 2008

      “Dawkins has written several books that have evoked discussion both in professional realms and with laymen. Is this not a value in itself?”

      I guess. His evolutionary views evoke discussion, specially in places like the london school of economics (“africa is poor becuase the poeple there are dumb” kinda hypotheses”), and among “evolutionary psychologists” who make up evolutionary hypotheses of selection for genes that make men prefer blondes. Any crap with wheels, goes.
      Thes epopel are alos specially fond of measuring IQ and beliving in the gentic determinatio of intelligence. i am sure dawkins is an elitist, since he usually speaks of people that disagree with him as if they were mentally ill.
      I think, Dawkins thinks he has some super good “intelligence genes” (yet, STILL, no gene has been shown to significantly increase intelligence)

      It does matter that dawkins has never had to deal with a true scientific investigation. One thing is to read how does a car work in a book; another thing is fixing the car.
      I think dawkins cartoonish views of genetic hegemony and “lumbering robots”, ” altruism is convenience” etc. are just silly and not sciece at all. He would not know what decent science is; he’s never done any. He’s only had silly fun with cheesy and useless metaphors and speculation. And, of course, heavy preaching against religion.

    45. #45 Sampo Rassi
      May 22, 2008

      I’m sorry, then. It was reading Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene” and “Unweaving the Rainbow” that got me interested in biology at all. I doubt we have any grounds for continued discussion, as I’m starting from such a deluded premise.

      I am not a scientist. I am not qualified to debate or discuss these issues. My understanding of even the basic concepts of biology and evolution is flawed in the extreme. As such, I recant any comments I may or may not have made w.r.t. Dawkins’ work, the popularization of science and/or the value of empirical research.

    46. #46 Alexander Vargas
      May 22, 2008

      “shrug” hey, I don’t demand surrendering. Juts venting my feelings about this. Most dawkin’s fans read no other author in biology: that’s becuase their interest in evolution is insofar it relates to atheism and preachy “rationalism”. They are not interested in Biology for itself.

      There is a saying “it is worse to have read only one book than none at all”

    47. #47 H.H.
      May 29, 2008

      Alexander Vargas said:

      “If you’re not an atheist, then you must be illiterate or stupid and, possibly, a danger to yourself and others”

      That is a quite precise characterization of Dawkin’s paranoid and exaggerated brand of antireligion.

      No it isn’t. You’ll never find anything similar to that in Dawkins’ writings. The closest he comes is when he criticizes young-Earth creationists for ignoring scientific evidence, but I would assume any scientist would be equally appalled at such blatant dishonesty. However, you do have the common mischaracterization of Dawkins down pat. Anyone unfamiliar with his writing and ideologically opposed to his work would be blindly high-fiving you right now. Sorry if I don’t oblige. In fact, I know you to be a liar.

      Of course, if you believe I libel you, please quote Dawkins saying anything that could parse into “if you’re not an atheist then you must be illiterate or stupid and, possibly, a danger to yourself and others.” I mean, you found that “quite precise,” so it shouldn’t be hard to find numerous examples.

    48. #48 Alexander Vargas
      May 29, 2008

      Knock yourself out:

      http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/quotes/dawkins.htm

      I find most of these quotes to be increbibly silly and obnoxious, but of course, it is possible that to you, being a Dawkins fan, these quotes are all perfectly acceptable. That’s your mentality.

      I think dawkins plays easy shock-jock cards. It is easy , for instance, to balem religion for that little squirmish in the middle east and related terrorism is all about religion.

      I happen to think, understanding oil and 2nd world war history is more sexplains much more tha mere demonization of religion.

      In fact, religon here becomes a scapegoat for easy demonization and never confronting the real issues and unjustices behind. Right-wing conservatives use the word “islamofascists” all the time. What dawkins does is comparable to O’reilly blaming mexican immigrants for everything: It’s called paranoia.

      “Sorry if I don’t oblige. In fact, I know you to be a liar”

      Pffft. What on earth would you trust me on, that it would actually work for me to fool you with a lie?

      Do I inspire you with fear and mistrust? Looks like you’re just being paranoid.

      Don’t be silly.

    49. #49 Joe Vallo
      June 5, 2008

      I am trying to make contact with Bob Bakker. My son is about to recieve his Eagle Scout Award. I have had the pleasure of having my sone enjoy Bob from when my sson was about 3 years old. I would be the biggest thrill for Bob to send a letter of recognition for my son. My son, Joey VAllo, is currently involved in a Marine Biology program through his High School in Toms River, NJ. He has nearly every Biology & Animal Science Merit badge in Scouts and has volunteered at the Nature Center at Island Beach State park on the Jersey Shore, where he will be working this summer. HE is looking to go into the US Coast Guard with the Marine Biology Division when he attends college. We have visited museums all up and down the east coast espscially those with dinosaurs The American Museum of NAtural history is like a second home. It is there actually that I am inquiring to present his Eagle Scout award.
      Bob has been truly inspirational to my son. He was one of the driving forces that kept my son interested in the sciences. It would be wonderful if I could make contact with him so that he could make this token jesture that would be truly treasured. I know Bob is a “Jersey Boy” but is literaly all over the map. If I could have some help in locating him it would be greatly appriciated.
      Joe VAllo
      SandfleaJ@aol.com

    50. #50 Pat
      July 11, 2008

      You may be able to contact him through the Houston Museum of Natural Science website: http://www.hmns.org.

    51. #51 BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th)
      July 15, 2008

      Dawkins, Myers & their Fanboyz are the Fundamentalists of Atheism and OR Darwinism(not that I am equating the two).

      We see that example above, with the Dawkins Fan who claims with a straight face Dawkins has never insulted religious people & a quick scan of Dawkin’s website is more then suficient to put the lie to that.

      Anyway I am skeptical of Darwinism & am open to ID. I am also skeptical of ID & am open to Darwin. I believe in God & I could give a Rat’s behind wuither He created the Universe in 4004 BC or 13,000,000,000 BC. I’m just happy to be here guy.:-)

    52. #52 Susie Frail
      January 7, 2009

      Why don’t you ask him questios like “How did your family influence you?” because kids these days have to research these scientists and these are the questions they need answered!

    53. #53 Raymond Minton
      January 8, 2009

      Bakker is a mixed bag, at his best flawlessly logical, at his worst going off on unsupportable tangents and confusing speculation with fact. But he’s a fascinating figure, and more than once was right when almost everyone else was wrong (dinosaurs comprising a single biological order, sauropods weren’t swamp-dwelling mush eaters, etc.) What is more, his books are fascinating to read! I hope he’s active in the paleontology field for some time to come.

    54. #54 iddaa
      June 16, 2009

      4

      Nice quote-mining, Bertram. Are you just as selective in which quotes you read from your Bible?

      Wait, don’t bother. We already know the answer to that.

    55. #55 Mike Keesey
      October 12, 2009

      JJ Anderson

      So what should we call the synapsids as they were evolving into mammals during the Permian and Triassic Periods?

      First of all, they weren’t all evolving into mammals. In fact, the vast majority of them were not.

      Secondly, the best term, in my opinion, is “stem-mammals”. This describes exactly what they are: the mammalian stem group (i.e., the total group minus the crown group). Similarly, the classic dinosaurs are stem-avians (as are pterosaurs, probably, and basal birds, “lagosuchids”, silesaurids, etc.). The “stem-” prefix can be appended to the name of any crown group (formal or vernacular).

    56. #56 Amin
      April 24, 2010

      Dr. Robert Bakker
      dimetrodon can not stand up biped. what is your opinion? what is your reasons for your answer?

      Amin Khaleghparast (from IRAN)

      please answer to my question.
      please send to my email your valuable answers and reasons.

    57. #57 Michelle
      December 31, 2010

      Is Dr. Robert T Bakker still alive?

    58. #58 scott peterson
      March 8, 2011

      I enjoyed raptor red and the heresies books. i would love to volunteer for a dig . i reading dawkins now and find him disagreeable, at best. iread mike baigent’ s books on how jesus christ’s message was twisted by council of nicea, and the damage that has caused women , jews and just about everyone else, esp mary magdalene. truth is very hard to find when money, power etc. ride on every decision. the far right of all the major religions is taking us down the road to armageddon.

    59. #59 Richard Harrison
      April 7, 2011

      Dear Dr. Bakker

      I have been looking at the possibilities that gravity may have had on the extinction theory of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. I know that space expands. Is it possible that 200 million years ago the earth was in a closer orbit to the sun compared to its position today? And would that have an affect on a species deriving from more or less gravity?

      Yours In The Quest
      Richard

    60. #60 Melissa Furrow
      April 12, 2011

      Dear Mr. Switek,
      My name is Melissa Furrow and I am a seventh grade student in the Spring Branch Independent School District, Houston Texas. I am currently working on a project in which I need an interview on a paleontologist. I have been searching for some way to contact Mr. Bakker, but have found no way possible. Is there any way that you can direct me toward him?

      Thank you for your time and consideration.

      Sincerely,
      Melissa Furrow

    61. #61 Wesley Parish
      November 20, 2011

      I’ve enjoyed Dr Bakker’s style – and that of Gregory paul’s – ever since I found their books in the local bookshops and libraries, and read them from cover to cover.

      Right now I’d like to pass on a question to him: In dinosaur Heresies, Dr Bakker, you mentioned the puzzle of the duckbill dinos having no anti-predator defenses, and you wondered how they survived. (pg 272).

      As part of the research for an SF novel I started way back in the late 90s, I read extensively on various mammal predators and their relations to their prey species – I chose the hyena as the basis for alterations to the human frame, instead of using the boring old (and misunderstood) wolf aka werewolf – and in Hans Kruuk’s books on the spotted hyena, I read some incidental details about the wildebeest – incidental details because Hans Kruuk was primarily studying the hyena, not the wildebeest.

      And that is I think, the answer. The wildebeest has vertually no antipredator defenses, except sheer numbers – r, not K. It outbreeds the predation. Could you pass my suggestion on to him? I would appreciate it greatly.

      (And the SF novel? google for “vheratsho”, “praleyo”, “tshenira”. Spotted hyenas are matriarchal; I had a lot of fun.)

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