Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Caudipteryx Chapter V

The whole "not reading signs" phenomenon that's present at zoos and other similar institutions really baffles me. If people don't know what they're looking at, why don't they read the sign that's right in front of them (or, in most cases, not too far off at least) instead of guessing arbitrarily and making themselves look like fools? Of course, even when they do read signs they probably still don't know what they're looking at (though chances are that it is explained a few lines down), but at least learn its proper name, please. (I remember reading a post at Tetrapod Zoology about red pandas, and Dr. Naish mentioned that one of the comments he heard while looking at the red pandas in a zoo was, "That's not a panda, pandas are black and white." A painful experience that must have been, indeed.)

As it happens, this phenomenon also appears online. In my experience, explaining why birds are dinosaurs (for example) can be extremely frustrating, mostly because the people you're trying to explain things to keep ignoring your main points and bringing up entirely irrelevant topics. (For an example of one of these discussions I've had, see here. My contributions begin on the second page.) It's particularly weird with people who accept the fact that birds had dinosaurian ancestors but don't grasp the implications. They think that it's somehow possible for something to be descended from another and not belong in the same clade as its ancestors. A living thing can never get out of a clade that its ancestors were in! There are also people who think that birds are just "related" to dinosaurs but not dinosaurs themselves, which is wrong. We are related to dinosaurs, and so are mushrooms and trees and bacteria if you go back far enough. The difference is that birds are nested deeply inside dinosaurs, not a branch that lies outside of Dinosauria. Finally, there are those who think that there's some sort of "debate" about whether birds are dinosaurs when there hasn't been for at least ten, if not twenty years. Only the BAND (who are nuts and don't know what they're talking about) and news media who only like to stir up controversy instead of actually learning about what they're reporting think there's any debate. Don't listen to fringe lunatics and idiot reporters, please.

To be fair, I must say I myself have recently had a "d'oh" moment when I failed to grasp the title of a journal entry. In my defense, I didn't realize that the title was actually the name of a blog.


  1. Its even harder to explain that birds are dinosaurs to family. But why wont anybody say that they are for there are some really good points.
    And some do not even get the process of evolution! I was arguing once, asked if birds were dinosaurs and got the response, "Well, some are". I'd like to know how some could when the others aren't.
    I know what you feel. Its irritating!

  2. ^ I wonder which specific birds that person thought were dinosaurs?

    Anyway, I have two real winners from sketching in public:

    1) At HMNH in front of a Zebra skeleton when a dad and his young daughter walk up and he enthusiastically points to the zebra and...

    "Look at the dinosaur!!!"

    (Because any skeleton on display at a museum must be a dinosaur I guess.)

    2) At the zoo, overheard while sketching the (to be fair) black-and-white Tapir, who happened to be surrounded by signs naming and describing her species...



    Happy holidays to all!

  3. @Taylor
    Thank goodness I find it quite easy to explain paleontological things to my family.

    Agreed with the evolution thing. I remember telling someone that birds are dinosaurs, only to get the response, "Not only birds, but also crocs and things." I explained to him that, if anything, dinos evolved from croc-like reptiles, not the other way around. And his reply was, "So? Can't they just evolve back?"

    I swear I've read similar stories with elephant, horse, and sloth skeletons, although I've so far been lucky enough to avoid hearing any in real life.

    The tapir story is new, though. A panda??? That probably beats out the time when I saw someone trying to make an African pygmy falcon sing at the San Diego Zoo. She was stamping her feet in frustration when it didn't respond. That irritated me for some unknowable reason and I almost spoke up to set her straight, but managed to calm myself down by turning and looking at the klipspringer exhibit instead.

  4. "2) At the zoo, overheard while sketching the (to be fair) black-and-white Tapir, who happened to be surrounded by signs naming and describing her species...


    That's almost as bad as overhearing someone refer to an emu as a peacock, which I did.


  5. "(For an example of one of these discussions I've had, see here. My contributions begin on the second page.)"

    I've had similar discussions w/ppl who argued that birds aren't dinos b/c dinos are extinct. However, it was harder then b/c I didn't know as much as I do now. I've since thought of what may be a quick & easy counter-argument (I say "may be" b/c I want to get your opinion of it 1st): Just b/c your ancestors are dead doesn't mean they're no longer your ancestors; Saying otherwise is like saying that, b/c every other member of the Diaz family is dead, I'm no longer a Diaz.