“I hope people remain interested in MY old bones”
Vertebrate palaeontologists are people unnaturally obsessed with old bones. They should not be confused with geologists or archaeologists, and are distinguished by complete lack of knowledge of anything outside their very small area of expertise. Every vertebrate palaeontologist is the world's leading expert - in fact, the only expert - in their particular field, which means that they can write anything they like in the knowledge that nobody else knows anything which can prove that they are wrong.
The History of Vertebrate Palaeontology
The most important figure in the early days of the science was William Buckland, and he set standards of behaviour followed by all subsequent palaeontologists. These are to eat anything, dead or alive, to walk at least 60 miles every day, and to stand firm on your beliefs regardless of what the evidence shows. Shunned by most monarchs because of his depraved taste for their hearts, he nevertheless managed to establish himself as an important figure in high Victorian Society. The pressure of time demanded by his social obligations took too much time away from his research, so his trained bear attended many functions in his place. Such was the politeness of Victorian Society that nobody commented on this unusual substitution.
Other important figures in the history of vertebrate palaeontology were Richard Owen and Gideon Mantell. Richard Owen is well-known as the inventor of names for many anatomical features, most of which were observable only to himself. He was obsessed with lizards, and had a running feud with Gideon Mantell over whose lizard was superior. When Mantell showed him some bones his wife had picked up, he denounced them as being "terrible lizards". The name stuck, and dinosaurs have been called “terrible lizards” ever since.
Charles Darwin is an important figure in the history of the science. As a young man he went on a long sea voyage. He was a keen sportsman, and spent much of his time shooting everything that moved including many small birds such as finches. When he came home, he did little except to play the cello to his collection of pet worms in the hope that they would develop an appreciation for music. This enterprise failed, but hearing of a young man who was talking about a new scientific theory called natural selection, decided he’d steal his limelight.
He published a book called “The Origins of the Specious”, and it immediately gained widespread fame and notoriety. Darwin reasoned that few would read the book, and as he had written it in such dense and impenetrable language nobody nobody noticed that it was no more than a manual giving advice on breeding pigeons.
The Modern Vertebrate Palaeontologist
In the old days, palaeontologists used to look carefully at bones, describe them in great detail, and make suggestions as to how extinct animals were related to each other by using deductive logic. The problem with this method is that it takes a lot of time, and a detailed knowledge of anatomy.
Modern methods do away with such old-fashioned concepts. Cladistics, the favoured method of all modern palaeontologists, is based on the principle well-known in computing circles which is that the more garbage one loads into a data set, the more reliable the output of any analysis. Hypotheses are tested by running the same data through the programme again, and if it comes up with the same result the hypothesis is verified. This is good science because it uses computers rather than human intelligence.