GSA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA - 2018

Paper No. 228-7
Presentation Time: 9:30 AM


MANNING, Phillip L.1, EGERTON, Victoria M.1, EVANS, Dallas2, RIPLEY, William R.2, TAYLOR, Jessica2 and ANNÉ, Jennifer E.2, (1)School of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Manchester, Williamson Building, Oxford Road, Manchester, M139PL, United Kingdom, (2)Natural Science, Children's Museum, P.O. Box 3000, Indianapolis, IN 46206-3000

Life on Earth has left a stunning fossil record that has helped furnish museums around the globe with a wealth of evidence that charts the evolution of Darwin's endless forms most beautiful. Science has created order and understanding through taxonomy and the study of the macroevolutionary trends that help reconstruct phylogenies and the past worlds of long extinct life. It seems strange that in the 21st Century, when palaeontology has a wealth of technology and tools at its disposal to generate quantitative science, that many great discoveries are heralded by the media in a fashion that some might view or even consider as being 'fake news'. A casual observer of palaeontological science might draw the conclusion that dinosaurs appear to be discovered in ever increasing size (length, height, weight, completeness, etc.) and abilities (intelligence, speed, camouflage, etc.). When was the last time an 'average' sized dinosaur was shown to achieve 'conservative' speed that was indiscreetly coloured 'puce', but still made the news headlines? Is it possible that science or maybe those who help reconstruct prehistoric life in public media and exhibits are also feeding the seemingly insatiable appetite for such stories. Has palaeontology begun to paint itself into a qualitative, crowd-pleasing corner of ever faster, taller, longer and heavier behemoths? Museums are without any doubt on the front-line of the public engagement in science and have based the narrative of exhibits upon the published data that is based upon the physical evidence they display. As the media thirsts to tell stories that inform the current word of lost worlds and forgotten lives, might we pause to consider the impact on the public perception of science. Palaeontology has the ability to extract critical data on how life has dealt with massive environmental change in the past. The erosion of trust in science shakes the very foundations of those who seek to use evidence to help inform policy-makers. Museums are in a unique and powerful position to take a stand to help translate information to a broad audience through the very objects on which the science is based. This object-based learning opportunity offered by museums has the potential to change lives, inform audiences, inspire future generations and just maybe save the world.