If there was ever an overdue discussion in palaeontology, it was how we reconcile the differences in time scales when looking at different periods in our history. This is becoming increasingly more important as scientific research is being asked to have demonstrably greater ‘impact’ in terms of some social, economic, or environmental relevance, and for palaeobiologists and palaeoecologists, this means having some sort of notable effect on our changing world.
The day kicked off with Andy Purvis summarising what we actually mean by macroecology – I mean, it’s an impressive sounding term, but what is it scientifically? It’s actually varied quite a bit in time, with new tools and datasets meaning that our analyses have diversified and become more intricate, with the ability to answer and ask new questions about how species and populations diversify and change through time, especially with respect to the environment.
Stephen Curry said it best back in 2012. The impact factor is just one of the many banes of academia, from it’s complete misuse to being falsely inflated by publishers.
I want to draw attention to a new article that addresses the causes behind this ‘impact factor mania’ that academia has.
The article is quite right to place the blame firmly in the hands of academics. It’s our fault that the impact factor is still misused. No-one else. Almost every academic knows why the impact factor is flawed, but still we use it over and over to assess the quality of a person or an article. It’s irrationality in its most blatant form, and you’d think academics would be smart enough to stop using it. But for some reason, we, as a collective, aren’t.
Last night, I was honoured to have spoken at the final evening lecture at the Cambridge Science Festival, along with Nick Crumpton, Anjali Goswami, Rob Asher, and Stephanie Pierce, about why palaeontology is important. Below is a rough transcript of some of what my talk was about. Unlike the others, I didn’t discuss my own research. Instead, by general gist was that although palaeontology is useful in addressing some of the greatest scientific questions of our time, like the evolution and history of life on Earth, the current narrow framing of science in terms of impact is being quite detrimental to creativity and exploratory science. As such, should palaeontology be more focused on its emotive qualities, and be used as a ‘hook’, or ‘gateway’ into the other fields of science?
For some time now, there has been much debate about whether our beloved dinosaur, Triceratops, is a distinct species, or a younger version of a bigger ceratopsian, Torosaurus – the great Toroceratops’ debate. Proponents of both sides of the argument have made detailed quantitative and qualitative points, and there doesn’t really seem to have been any resolution. Check out the video below for a great discussion of the issues, or this link or this link.
Images sent back from the surface of Mars can make the planet look like the hot dry deserts of Earth. However, in reality Mars is incredibly cold. The average surface temperature is 210 kelvin (-63 °C or -82 °F) and the minimum temperature is 130 K (-143 °C or -226 °F). While many of the processes and landscapes we see on the planet have equivalents on Earth this extreme cold means that Mars also has some bizarre features that we have no direct comparison for. Dark spots and strange spider like channel networks are seen to form predominantly in the southern polar region of Mars year after year. They have been interpreted as the result of jets of carbon dioxide erupting out of the winter ice sheets as they start to defrost during the Martian spring. Such a dynamic and violent process is not something you would initially expect from…
For some years now, Mary Schweitzer and her team have been researching the idea that organic molecules can be preserved for millions of years, specifically within dinosaurs. They have used a plethora of chemical and biotechnological techniques to demonstrate that, within animals like Tyrannosaurus rex, it is possible to find the residue of structures such as blood vessels and even proteins. Naturally, her research has been met with a whole wad of stiff resistance from the scientific community, seemingly for no other reason than “We don’t like the sound of that..”. Scientific rigour ftw!