Paleonet: Paleontology and sensations

David Campbell pleuronaia at
Mon Apr 16 16:19:58 UTC 2007

> I did a little survey of "Science" and "nature", counting the content of
> Paleo papers. What I found was little surprising: The search of
> "Paleontology" in "original research" without "comments" in "Science"
> 2000–2006 produced 94 hits, the largest part are reports about exceptional
> occurrences of fossils (41 articles), 17 of them about dinosaurs. "nature"
> was even more skewed: from 27 "Letters to Nature" and "Articles" 2005–2006
> with paleontological focus eight were on dinosaurs and eight on early man.
> Is this reflecting our field?
> It would be interesting to know if this focus, expressed in "nature" and
> "Science" coincides with highest impact Paleo-papers of that years. I would
> guess not. My assumption is that paleontology in  journals like "nature" and
> "Science", which are the prime interface between media and science, serves
> the demand for sensations that these journal need.

There's definitely some problems here.  The Science article just out
on proteins in T. rex bone was accompanied by a summary claiming that
"Soft tissues have been thought to be rarely if ever preserved in the
fossil record, aside from some samples entombed in amber or for a few
million years in ice"; news reports go further and claim preservation
of organic material is unheard of.  Have they never heard of
petroleum, Burgess-type preservation, durable organic skeletons, etc.?
 They probably haven't heard about bivalve ligaments, which would be
rather similar to collagen in being a durable, mineral-associated
protein, and which are known at least from the Ordovician as actual
traces of organic material.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"

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