SVP, you’re so silly.

Those chairs nearly killed me.

 The annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting wrapped up yesterday. This year we got to visit the very nice city of Raleigh, North Carolina. There were many, many interesting talks and posters which I can’t possibly cover in detail here, but I will look forward to the papers that will hopefully eventually come out of this meeting. SVP is the big-time serious palaeo conference for most of us here in North America…and yet, although at times the talks are SO SERIOUS, what I really like about SVP is how much fun everyone is having. And this brings me to the chairs. The chairs at the Raleigh Convention Centre seem to have built-in whoopie cushions. If you sat down too quickly, the result was unavoidable. (Raleigh Convention Centre: please don’t change this!) And so, during the transition between each talk as people moved in and out of the session, a low murmur of toots resonated throughout the room. This was pretty funny during the talks, but was almost unbearable during the final banquet and awards ceremony on Saturday night. As we recognized the contributions of various members of the SVP, we would rise to give standing ovations. And as about 1000 people sat down simultaneously, the squeaky chairs were that much more noticeable.  Continue reading

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Thoughts on Tarbosaurus, Part 1.

Last time I promised photos of our fieldwork here in Edmonton, but then over the weekend the palaeoverse kind of erupted (in a good way) over the auction of a Tarbosaurus skeleton. Go read Brian Switek’s articlefirst if you’re not acquainted with the story.

Because I am insane, I often read the comments sections on news articles about palaeontology. There are a lot of weird and misguided statements in the comments sections of some of the Tarbosaurus auction news articles (e.g. at CNN, USAToday, Wired). Some of these comments make me frustrated, so I figured I’d try to write down my thoughts on some of the most common recurring themes: 1) Paleontologists are just as bad as fossil poachers and/or private collectors because we hoard the dinosaurs all to ourselves and lock them away in cabinets where the public can’t see them; 2) How do we know the tyrannosaur came from Mongolia?; 3) Why does the auction company call it Tyrannosaurus bataar while palaeontologists call it Tarbosaurus?; and 4) Why is fossil poaching such a big deal, anyway? I’m going to address these over a couple of blog posts because for some reason on these topics I am unusually longwinded and the answer to the first question was getting kind of gigantic. Continue reading

Hearing more about them.

After the talks had ended on the first day of the Hadrosaur Symposium, I had a bit of free time to visit the galleries, which I hadn’t seen in about a year and a half. I was expecting the Alberta Unearthed: 25 Years of Discovery exhibit, but was delighted by this unexpected surprise: a short, but excellent, exhibit on women in palaeontology!

Located on the ramp up to the Darwin exhibit after you exit Lords of the Land, the exhibit consists of 19 or 20 profiles of female palaeontologists. Each framed image included a photo, a brief biography, and an image of a representative specimen or field locality (example above featuring Dr. Betsy Nicholls). I was particularly pleased to see that the Tyrrell had attempted to include women of many different races, nationalities, ages, and career stages, studying a variety of taxa and using many different techniques.

I was particularly intrigued the quote from Naomi Oreskes below the exhibit title, “The question is not why there haven’t been more women in science, the question is rather why we have not heard more about them.” Dr. Oreskes is a historian of science at University of California at San Diego, and her paper “Objectivity or Heroism? The Invisibility of Women in Science” is well worth a read (and really, go read it – palaeontology is all about heroism). It’s a sentiment that I share and that I’ve discussed before: although there may not be an equal ratio of women:men in palaeontology yet, we’re definitely getting closer, so why don’t we seem to be as visible as the men? It is certainly up to us to speak up for ourselves, but it’s really, really nice to see a major institution like the Tyrrell stepping up and hosting an exhibit like this.

I hope that at least some people will take the time to stop and read some of the biographies on their way to the fossils – if I had one complaint, it is that because the exhibit consists only of pictures in a hallway leading to the main exhibits, that it may be easily passed over. If specimens had been incorporated somehow, as they were with the Great Minds, Fresh Finds exhibit (showcasing the work of the museum’s scientists), that might have been able to grab more attention. Sadly, most people walking through this hallway while I was present would pause for a moment at the entrance, but then skip on through the rest of the exhibit. I realize that space constraints probably would not permit anything more than what they have done, however, and the exhibit is pleasant to look at and rewarding for those who take some time to read the biographies. In particular, I hope school groups take advantage of it and that teachers incorporate questions about female scientists into their activities.

I’ll finish here with a very nice video produced by the Tyrrell, featuring Dr. Don Brinkman discussing the work of Dr. Betsy Nicholls, who was a curator at the museum until her death in 2004 and whose work is featured in the Triassic Giant gallery.