In our 95th episode, we had the pleasure of speaking with Brian Noble, author of Articulating Dinosaurs and associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University. You can follow him on twitter @ArticulateDinos.
Below is one of the illustrations from the book, Jennifer Ross’s key exhibit planning diagram, which shows an example of “articulation.” According to Brian, it translates between and articulates the life of Maiasaura specimens, and the life of stories the museum would use to draw in its publics (spectacle).
Going up you see the labels for each of the display sections (from working lab to the Cretaceous period).
Going to the right you see the biogeographic / paleontological story of the specimen.
Going to the left you see the audience-oriented stories: Henrietta, her family, her distant relatives, her neighborhood.
Episode 95 is also about Vastatosaurus rex, a fictionalized version of T-rex from the 2005 version of the movie King Kong.
We’re coming up on out 100th episode and we have big plans! Join our community on Patreon and help us keep this podcast going!
Thank you so much to all our current Patreon supporters! You guys rock!
You can listen to our free podcast, with all our episodes, on iTunes at:
In this episode, we discuss:
- The dinosaur of the day: Vastatosaurus rex
- Vastatosaurus rex is not a real dinosaur, but rather a fictionalized version of T-rex, had T-rex continued to evolve and live after the Cretaceous
- Vastatosaurus appears in the movie King Kong, both the original in 1933 and later versions, and is an antagonist to Kong
- It’s a predator that lives on Skull Island, and is more than 20 ft (6 m) tall and 50 ft (15 m) long
- Weighs more than T-rex, but is pretty fast (can run up to 25 mph at short distances)
- Probably grew bigger than T-rex because of large prey in its environment
- Also didn’t have much competition from other predators
- Had a large, thick head and a leather-like hide that protected it from injury
- Had a large mouth and large, peg-ike teeth that were constantly replaced
- Used its head to fight, and many had scars and abnormal bone growths
- Somewhat smart
- Very strong and durable, with a lot of stamina, and was well-matched against King Kong
- Even though they were heavy, they were agile and could leap onto prey or enemies
- Like Indominus rex, bullets don’t seem to affect it
- Shorter teeth than T-rex, but had a bite force stronger than T-rex and could shatter bones
- Had sharp claws and a good grip, but had short arms, which did not bode well against King Kong’s long arms
- Didn’t have as good a sense of smell or vision as T-rex
- Had narrow, short rib cages and a big gap in between the ribs and hips, which gave it a lot of flexibility
- They have 3 fingers instead of 2 (like T-rex), which it uses as a thumb
- They have big feet
- Also sometimes they worked together and hunted in packs
- Very territorial, so they don’t often hunt together
- They mark their territory with urine and protect it by roaring
- They hunt prey by ambushing them. They usually go for smaller animals because it’s less risky
- Adult Vastatosaurus have black scales
- Fun fact: Willis O’Brien created the stop-motion dinosaurs of King Kong (and King Kong himself). But O’Brien was making dinosaur films long before King Kong. He made a film called The Dinosaur and the Missing Link in 1915 (18 years before King Kong) that features a sauropod killing the titular “missing link” and the stop motion animation is really pretty good. This was one year after Gertie (the first keyframe drawn animation), and they used clay instead of the more complex rubber over skeleton, but it is definitely worth watching. It’s on Wikipedia and YouTube.
This episode was brought to you by:
The Royal Tyrrell Museum. The Royal Tyrrell Museum is located in southern Alberta, Canada. One of the top paleontological research institutes in the world, the entire museum is dedicated to the science of paleontology. It’s definitely a must see for every dinosaur enthusiast. More information can be found at tyrrellmuseum.com.
For those who may prefer reading, see below for the full transcript of our interview with Brian Noble:
Garret: And now we’re going to jump into our interview with Dr. Brian Noble. Brian Noble is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University and author of the new book Articulating Dinosaurs, which is all about dinosaurs but from an anthropologist perspective. So jumping right in, the first question we always like to ask is do you have a favorite dinosaur?
Dr. Brian Noble: I think probably like many people who’ve had you know an affinity for dinosaurs through much of their life, and that’s an awful lot of people really, we kind of have an interest in all of them and they just keep coming at us. But a couple of dinosaurs which have been a little bit more eventful in my life, one of them probably as it relates to some work I have done in field expeditions to the Gobi Desert back in the late 1980s, that kind of dates me right away. So I was the director of the Xterra Foundation, which was the organizing agency behind the Canada-China Dinosaur Project back in the 1980s. And during our expeditions we went to the […] (00:01:10) Basin of Northwestern China, and we’re working in the Jurassic phases there. And then we worked in inner Mongolia, so the People’s Republic of China side of the Mongolian frontier, and we were working in what’s known as the […] (00:01:26) formation. And I was quite fortunate one day when we were out prospecting to come across a series of small teeth eroding from the rock. And it turned out that these were teeth of the little juveniles of the armored dinosaur pinacosaurus. And the site then became quite a prominent one in the Canada-China dinosaur project because we ended up finding the remains of, I can’t recall how many but I think it was up to 14 juveniles, probably all the same age cohorts. Perhaps the speculation was the same litter, and the taxonomy showed that they were actually a group of young dinosaurs that were quite likely trapped in a sandstorm, and then a dune had covered them over as they rested in the leeside of the dune, and then probably they suffocated and died there. So it’s a pretty gruesome kind of story, but Pinacosaurus has always stuck with me as a pretty interesting dinosaur and I recall even at one point there was a young kid by the name of Peter who had, his mom had gotten hold of my name and Peter had actually created pictures of Pinacosaurus and had sent it to me, and he was I think seven years old at the time. So Pinacosaurus is one of them.
The other one is Troodon. Troodon because it has been such a well-rehearsed and well-known dinosaur from the late Cretaceous from Alberta and for many years I worked in Dinosaur Provincial Park, and Troodon has become a rather celebrated creature from there.
Dr. Brian Noble: Yeah.
Garret: So you’ve been working with dinosaurs for a really long time but you’re an anthropologist. So how did that happen? What came first? Is it that you’ve just loved both or did you get into dinosaurs through anthropology?
Dr. Brian Noble: You know, both ends. I mean they probably came about together. But you know of course like I said when I was a kid, like many kids, I was exposed to dinosaurs. I mean I remember when I was about seven years old going to see a Godzilla film, and you know Gojira has always been this important figure in popular culture. But at the same time when gift-giving time would come around or when I’d go to the library I would often be presented with dinosaur books and children’s books on dinosaurs. So that was there and I think that’s a grounding for many, as in anthropology we say you know middle class children in North America, in Canada, and the United States. But the anthropology part of it came about later once I was in university. I studied anthropology and did undergraduate work in the late 70s and early 80s, and then came away from working in anthropology and over about a 10, 15-year period I was working in museums, I worked with in the early development of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, I worked with the Provincial Museum in Alberta. I also organized this international project, the Canada-China Dinosaur Project, which availed a lot of fundraising and bringing people together to make them realize that there were really interesting connections between the dinosaurs of Canada and the dinosaurs of China.
I actually went in two directions. One aspect of it was about the common dinosaur informs that you would find in the late Cretaceous of Mongolia or Northern China and the late Cretaceous of Alberta. But then the differentiation from the Jurassic critters that were found often in Northwestern China. That project led me into a lot of things related to the political history of dinosaurs. The work I’d done, we had done with the Chinese put us in association with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and I forged some really wonderful warm relationships with people at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleo Anthropology.
Yeah, well you know I could probably do an entire interview just on the Canada-China Dinosaur Project, but when we started working on that in this is about 1983, I had this idea that no one had gone back into the Gobi Desert area to collect dinosaur material since the 1930s, nobody from North America and Europe that is, right, since the 1930s other than Soviet Block paleontologists. Right? So there were strong relations between, there had been on again and off again strong relations between the Soviet Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. There had been some relations between the Polish Academy of Sciences, so people like Sophia Kilinjoraoska, who was actually a mammologist but was really, really core to the development of giant projects in the 60s with China, and a lot of those kind of had fallen by the wayside so in the 1980s I went to Phil Curry, and this is not long after having been working with him in the early stages of the planning of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, and I for all sorts of family reasons did not move to Drumheller when they started up the museum in Drumheller, but I was involved in those key planning stages. And I said to Phil look, we’ve formed a really strong working relationship and a friendship really, and I said wouldn’t it be interesting to bring together what you could imagine is the most exciting kind of dinosaur project and I could try and parlay that through public projects, exhibitions, film and so forth, and go out and try and raise the money for it.
And so Phil and I got that started really early, and in 1983 and I applied for some funding, got some funding for this, early funding for it, and then in a matter of three years we had international agreements going. And it was at a moment, and this was really where I started thinking hard about the relationship between politics and dinosaurs. It was at a moment when the relations between the Soviet Union and the United States, between China and the United States were quite strained, and we as Canadians were not quite caught into these spheres of power the same way. And we had this other history as Canadians of connection to the Chinese Academy of Sciences going back to its early days when Davidson Black, the paleo-anthropologist who famously worked on the early specimens of what was called […] (00:08:26) had been there in Beijing and helped to establish what later became the Institute of […] (00:08:31) Paleontologists.
So we kind of had a, we had an inroad and I realized that there’s, you know, there’s a lot of chance in that. There’s a lot of you know why’s in the right place at the right time to create an influence over how the science can unfold. So I started thinking about it then. Subsequently I was also working, and this is you know after I had my undergraduate degree and before I was doing any graduate studies in anthropology, I was also working very closely with Blackfoot people in Southern Alberta, the Pekuni Blackfoot, also known as the Northern Pekuni. Because there’s Southern Pekuni across the 49th parallel in northwestern Montana, and those folks are all related and they speak the same language, and […] (00:09:14) still there in their communities living there. And I was working with them on matters of repatriation, museums and so forth, so I’ve been working museums on dinosaurs and working museums with them on their material culture.
Now with the Blackfoot I realized that in all stories that the Blackfoot were telling me, I mean they had stories of dinosaurs because they were living in the landscape that took in what’s now Dinosaur Provincial Park, or down in the Milk River area, or the front ranges of the Rockies to the south of where their reserve is now, which is actually where a very famed specimen, the sort of Black Beauty specimen of T-rex came from.
Garret: Oh yeah.
Dr. Brian Noble: The Blackfoot people knew of these bones that were in the ground and they had stories about them. And the stories that they told were various, and in some quarters that people would speak of the ancestors of the buffalo. And other people I spoke to, ceremonial people would say well no those bones are the remains of the first peoples before there were humans. There was another what they call race of humans who were all killed in a giant flood by creator because they violated their obligations to creator. So point being is that I realized that there are many stories and histories of what we come across in the world and begin to describe, and that there’s no easy answer to what comes to count as the correct and truthful story. We have to really think about those in terms of their own histories and so forth.
And the other thing that was quite interesting about the Blackfoot was that as with many indigenous peoples across North America, you know, in spite of histories of colonialism, in spite of histories of you know reservations and reserves and all sorts of was that you know the state and the government have overtaken their lands, that they’ve sustained really powerful understandings of different animals in their ceremonial life. So the Blackfoot have a whole host of different animals from not just buffalo but eagles and owls and beaver and weasels, all manner of animals that live in their territory that they have an association with. And I started thinking well what is it that is the difference between European and North American society and its engagement with animals and indigenous peoples? And if you start thinking about European and North American people, what are the animals that have the greatest prominence? And its, you know, the cetaceans like the big whales, right? The sea mammals have a lot of prominence, elephants have a lot of prominence, the great apes, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and of course then there’s this other one, dinosaurs.
And so they’ve had this inordinate power to captivate us. And so I began looking at the natural history associated with dinosaurs, and of course that takes us back to in particular you know the emergence of the scientific field of vertebrate paleontology and out of comparative anatomy in the 19th century, mostly in Britain and in France but throughout Europe. And the very first representation of dinosaurs on a large, massive scale, which were the reconstructions by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins in 1854 in Sydenham Park, and later on was renamed Crystal Palace Park. And the, as you know, the image of those dinosaurs are so radically different than the image of the same dinosaurs, Iguanodon, Megalosaurus, that we have today. And so what’s going on? How much acceptance of the truth of the look of dinosaurs were we engaging in in 1854, and how’s that really different from the acceptance of the truth of dinosaurs that Blackfoot people were engaging in? So then you begin to, it begins to cause your mind to slow down and think of it differently about how we even come up with their construction, what we know to be the outcome that we call dinosaurs, when we’ve never even seen one apart from these remains that are coming out of the ground? So that was probably how it began. So you start seeing that anthropology being the study of humans really offered an opening to think about science, about why we embrace science and why we then become so fascinated and even fixated on particular forms such that they become so ubiquitous and powerful in our culture that we all know them, we know that we know that we know. We have eight-year-olds that have huge vocabularies being able to name dozens and dozens of genera of dinosaurs right? And they use it, they use it as a kind of power against their parents, right, to be able to say look I know this and you don’t. That’s extraordinary and it’s quite common. So those are some of the origin stories there.
Garret: Yeah it’s always interesting to me how interconnected basically all the fields of science can be, and you get into one and it can just open your mind to all these other aspects and interrelations and everything, it’s really cool.
Dr. Brian Noble: Yeah, that is, you know and I think that actually one of the core aspects of any science or form of research is that on its edges there’s always other possibilities. It’s the possibility of speculating and trying something else that’s untried and paleontology and anthropology share that in common.
Garret: Yeah. So your book’s titled Articulating Dinosaurs, and I know because I read the book but can you briefly explain what you mean by articulating and articulations?
Dr. Brian Noble: Right, well because the word articulation will probably jump to the fore of the mind of many of the people that listen to your podcast around the idea of a specimen or a skeleton of a dinosaur. When all the bones are in their natural position they are said to be articulated. And so I’m just going to put this aside as the kind of you know more regular kind of understanding of articulation and I’ll move into what I mean by it. When paleontologists find fossil material in the exposures where they work, quite often of course the material is eroding out of the rock and more often than not it’s disarticulated. It’s not […] (00:16:05), and they have to bring it back together once they return back to their laboratories and begin studying the material. And there’s a lot of preparation work and so forth in the labs to assure that the fossils are easy to work with and to be able to produce these articulations, and then to reconstruct the morphology of the critter.
The idea of articulation that I am using, and the one that, you know the whole book is about articulation, I’m actually trying to introduce an idea that is not usually thought about, and I suppose the easiest way to think about it is if you think of the idea that there are fossil specimens that come from out of the earth, and paleontology is all about the collection of the specimens, these materials that end up getting placed in cabinets and then their provenance noted and then they’re studied and so forth. But over the entire history of paleontology, certainly starting from the 1850s, and you could go back farther once you get into illustrations and so forth, there has also been a spectacle component right? That dinosaurs have been made public.
And so the idea of articulation for me is to ask the question of how does that which we come to understand about the specimens articulate to, or relate to, that which we come to understand through these spectacles? And do they speak back and forth to one another? And my argument is that they do, and they’re doing that always and already. So in fact what’s going on is any scientist, any paleontologist will work very, very hard to assure that they’re only studying the specimen directly in front of them. But because they’re human beings, because you and I are human beings, we can’t help but bring the stories from the past and the imaginings from the past and from our general experience, because we go to exhibits, we go to movies, we’ve seen Godzilla, we looked at the King Kong movies, we’ve looked at comic books, we play video games. You cannot inoculate yourself from all of those visions, all of those spectacle visions.
So the book really takes on the question about the relationship between the specimen and the spectacle, and then it unpacks it and looks at that relation over and over and over again and goes really deeply into the locations where a lot of those kinds of things often get worked out. So I mentioned museums and museum exhibits, popular films, especially big blockbuster films like Jurassic Park where the animation is informed not just by a group of animation experts but also by paleontologists, people like Jack Horner and Paul Sereno who’ve been consultants on the film.
So there’s that relationship working, and it’s working in those public places, but I believe it’s also working every day when a paleontologist sits down to work on the individual specimen. So that’s the idea of articulation, I can give you examples from the book of other ways that have explored that idea, but the book works through this whole idea of articulation historically and then particularly through the project on the Maiasaura peeblesorum called the Maiasaura Project that was an exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. And that’s where I really try and show the intricacies of the ways that these things get worked out in every day interactions of paleontologists with marketing specialists, with animation specialists, with museum developers, writers, and so forth.
Garret: Yeah. So with the Maiasaura Exhibit, did you get drawn to that because it was such a spectacle? I mean reading about this museum exhibit from I think it was in the late 90s right?
Dr. Brian Noble: That’s right.
Garret: And it had so many things to look at. They had different hadrosaur bones, and they had a full hadrosaur specimen that they were in the process of excavating in like a real lab, and then they also had these huge screens where they had interpretations of what they were probably moving like and what they looked like and models galore and everything like that. Is that why you wanted to see how people interacted with that and try to figure out what was interacting, or did something else lead you to study that particular exhibit?
Dr. Brian Noble: Well, you captured it quite well I mean just in your description. It was an exhibit that brought together a specimen, and particular specimen, this one individual specimen that was collected in Montana and brought to Toronto for the Royal Ontario Museum, and it was also for its time quite an experiment in the use of fairly sophisticated animation and media technology to help make that more real for the visiting public.
But initially, and this is kind of a common tale for anthropologists that do ethnographic work, you might know that the most common tool in anthropological research is what we call ethnography, and that is the effort to go and immerse yourself in the lives, work, and practices of people so that you develop an intimacy, what some people will call a native point of view, an intimacy. So I wanted to, I had to immerse myself, find a place to immerse myself where I could actually in the fairest and most reasonable way get to know why and how an exhibit would develop the way it would develop. The best way to do that would be to find a museum that would welcome me in and where they had a project underway where this could be observed, and where I could speak with the people that were involved. And as it turned out, just by chance, I was looking at, and this really goes to again these kind of accidents of history, I was trying to make a decision on where I would do my PhD work and one option that came up was to work at the Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, but my partner at that time wanted to study law and she had an opening to study law in Toronto at a school called the Osgoode Law School. And so I then contacted people at the Royal Ontario Museum and said look you know I could do this study up at the Royal Tyrrell Museum up in Drumheller, I could do it here. And they were extremely welcoming and it worked out very well.
So by chance I went to there. And in fact if I went to the Royal Tyrrell Museum I would not have written a book this day on Maiasaura peeblesorum. I probably would have written something about say ceratopseans because the Tyrrell Museum is well known for the wonderful bone beds from Dinosaur Provincial Park of Centrosaurus. But that would have been a very different story as you can quite imagine. And Centrosaurus takes us, even the name is very different from Maiasaura. Maiasaura, the good mother lizard, suddenly we’re opening up all these marvelous cultural associations and gendered associations by thinking about Maiasaura, the good mother lizard, which is the […] (00:23:22). So I ended up in Toronto at the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Maiasaura Project Exhibit has been opened for a little over a year actually. And so when I arrived the laboratory where the specimen was being prepared was still in place, and the large video exhibits that you’re talking about which were interactive media exhibits were in place. And the exhibit had already been built, but what I did was I then got an invitation to go situate myself in the Vertebrate Paleontology Department at the Royal Ontario Museum, and they gave me a little desk in the middle of the department space with collections cabinets around me and a row of offices nearby. There was recently, it was quite wonderful historically because the sort of founding figure, one of the founding figures of Canadian vertebrate paleontology Laurence Russell had just only recently passed away, and his office was just eight feet away from mine, and I was asked actually to assist them in helping to sort through some of his files, which was wonderful for me because suddenly I was doing something anthropologists dream of doing which is looking at the deeper history. Russell had actually collected fossils in western Canada back in the 1920s and had worked with the Sternberg family. And so he was, you know, really a sort of a looming giant in the history of North American dinosaur paleontology.
There were other paleomammalogists there, there were the collections specialists there, there were technicians who were working on the specimens, and I had a paleontologist, a dinosaur paleontologist who was behind this exhibit, and I ended up working quite closely with him throughout. So when I was able to speak to the paleontologists I was able to find out, you know, how did this exhibit come into being, what were the institutional decisions, how did it relate to your scientific interests? The name that I used as a pseudonym was Andreas Hensen. Hensen was an individual who had, I learned, like many paleontologists I met over the years, over and over again I would learn through this interaction with paleontologists and I learned from Hensen that just like me they, since they were young, had been looking at illustrated books of dinosaurs. They knew the work of Charles Knight, they knew the illustrations of […] (00:26:07) Godeon. Those images were part of their constitution of how they thought of things just like me, and for a long time I didn’t know who they were. They were even more nerdy about dinosaurs than I was if anything, right? But they had studied this.
And Hensen was wonderful. I mean we would go regularly for coffees and you know he came over to my house, my apartment sometimes, sometimes I would go over to his apartment, sometimes we’d just meet in his office or we’d go through the labs, we’d go through the collections. He would then explain to me the entire history from a particular perspective of the emergence of this one exhibit. In the back of my mind was this research question: how is it that he is holding onto an idea of how to come up with a finished visualization of Maiasaura while at the same time being influenced by all of the other things that he’s seen around him historically, what he’s looked at as illustrations? If you go to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meetings, which is the American society, which is effectively both the largest and most influential scholarly society for the study of dinosaurs, you go to those meetings and you’re not just surrounded by paleontologists coming to present the work from either, you know, new specimens they come across or new species that they want to describe or clatograms of these or the aspects of the biology and physiology, you’re also encountering often dozens of illustrators who are there. There are exhibits. And these illustrations are around the paleontologists all the time. They’re watching movies.
And Hensen said that you know it really is this constant positioning of yourself around these things, but then you always return to the specimen. You always return to the close study of the specimen, you know a deep care for getting it right. And one of the impetuses with the Maiasaura project which I think really stood it apart from a lot of exhibits that were available at the time was that they made a huge commitment to trying to bring that process of understanding the specimen as it is prepared out of the matrix, out of the blocks that they brought from Montana to the Royal Ontario Museum, is to bring it into the public and then to allow the public to see precisely how that was done. And the way they did that was by building a laboratory, which caused all sorts of problems institutionally because museum display spaces are not made for having laboratories with volatile chemicals in them, with instruments that can send little shards of matrix all over the place where there’s dust coming up, and where the technician has to have a mask on and there are ventilation systems. So basically you have this bulletproof room with the technician, with the preparator working inside on this specimen. And that was what they sought to achieve was to bring that there, and that then create, so there was the specimen part of the articulation question I was asking about. And then they had the separate theater, which was the Meet A Maiasaura theater which had what were then some of the best CGI animations notwithstanding Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, which had even better animations. And I have to say this, that many dinosaur paleontologists that I spoke to in the early 90s after Jurassic Park came out in 1993 said look, Spielberg has surpassed anything we can do.
And it’s because of this huge influx of monies into the production of these animated images.
So there was the, so the question became well what’s going on in the articulation? And from there we really get into some of the very meaty stuff that anthropologists begin to ask, because you start learning what meanings are, what meanings, what kind of trade is there between this, what kind of arguments and contest are coming out between various workers of the museum, and what image is going to emerge, what practices are going to emerge that people are gonna end up living with? Whether they’re visitors, scientists, the scientific community, whoever are going to end up living with, and how are these things going to become palpable in our lives? And that was what the project eventually, you know, explored. So there’s some deep understandings that came as a result of having done that, especially when I contrasted what was going on in the Maiasaura Project with some research I had been doing about the American Museum of Natural History and the emergence of Tyrannosaurus rex at the turn of the 19 and beginning of the 20th century. Particularly in the work of Henry Fairfield Osborn and Barnum Brown and others at the American Museum of Natural History. So the different meanings at the different moments.
Garret: Yeah, so I mean it’s fascinating just how much things like Jurassic Park and other media influenced people. I know that Sabrina, my co-host and wife, and I both got into dinosaurs because of movies like Land Before Time and Jurassic Park and things like that that we saw when we were young, and I know a lot of people in earlier generations were inspired by movies like King Kong where you had this epic battle of things that you could barely even imagine on some far away island and all this. What do you think the early depictions of dinosaurs like T-rex and King Kong did to influence how we see dinosaurs?
Dr. Brian Noble: Yeah, so going back to that time period when RKO came out with the King Kong movie, the principal animator who did the animation for that film was a fellow by the name of Willis O’Brien, and O’Brien is almost considered the forefather for anybody that does creature animation in the world of working with stop motion animation. And at that moment if you think about it, in the 1930s he could only work with what the best knowledge was that was available at that time. Not even what the best knowledge, what the accumulated knowledge was if you like. And that accumulated knowledge that he drew upon to animate what then was by far and away the most dramatic animation, and what many people would say was the most realistic animation of T-rex, was that which came from the studies that took place at the Museum of Natural History, also at the National Museum of Natural History in the Smithsonian in Washington DC. And he was working in conversation with people like Barnum Brown who had actually collected many of the original specimens of T-rex.
So Willis O’Brien had to draw upon that which was the dominant set of representations. If you look at the classic image of the battle between Tyrannosaurus rex and King Kong on Skull Island, in the midst of that movie you’ll see that for instance, and this is just a minor detail because I was trying to go a little bit deeper than just the detail of the anatomy, but the T-rex has three claws at the front. So of course more recently after more study of T-rex paleontologists of course have determined that it was a two-clawed critter, not a three-clawed critter. Allosaurus prior to that, and then the Jurassic critter was, had three claws, but it only had two claws. So that was something that was really an inflection of its moment.
But the thing that really has interested me much as my interest in Maiasaura developed around this question of gender role was why they had a dinosaur called Tyrannosaurus rex, which in its gloss means king of the tyrant saurians. King of the tyrant lizards, right? So in contrast to Maiasaura that’s a very, very masculine, macho kind of figure. And when you have that kind of a representation what does that do to the social and political imagination of anybody around you, right?
What this led me to do is to try and unpack, as it were, that you’ll see here anthropologists saying who do this immersive ethnographic work, but we also do immersive ethno-historical. We try and look at what was going on in the situation, what were the relations among many individuals at the time? And what I learned was some pretty powerful things about the influence of a fellow that was considered you know the founding figure of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists who is Henry Fairfield Osborn. And Osborn’s a pretty, very very interesting and now in retrospect very controversial figure. He had a very strong sense of the primacy and supremacy of white races at that time, based on some Galtonian, Lamarckian forms of thought that existed at the time. He was networked into international eugenics circuits. He was as director of the American Museum of Natural History of New York, he was also constantly trying to do what directors of museums often do which is to drum up financial support, sponsors, those who give gifts and donations. And what I learned was that there was this meshing together of his eugenics and hierarchical evolutionary thought, and his thinking about Tyrannosaurus rex.
So Tyrannosaurus rex was this epochal, ultimate creature, and that naming if you look through the book you’ll see there’s actually a very particular naming of the dinosaur, and that then is what has gotten stuck in our imagination. So the question now is: how much does that carry forward? How much does the supremacy of T-rex communicate to Americans the supremacy of being white, right? I mean this is, this was part of, if you look really hard there’s a beautiful book by Ronald Ranger, an historian, who looked at very specifically Osborn’s legacy, and was called An Agenda for Antiquity. And in it he showed that Osborn was making every effort to try and advance a particular view of America which actually, in a hierarchic sense actually was a very racist and gendered view of America. So when you start thinking about paleontology and dinosaurs, so we innocently take the science of the moment and nobody would have challenged, nobody would have challenged Henry Fairfield Osborn. He had people like Matthews and Gregory around him, the leading thinkers in paleontology of the moment, and they were not challenging him on this kind of thinking. Barnum Brown didn’t challenge him, they channeled it. They brought it forward. You know, to use the geological metaphor it became sedimented into our society and culture so that it became preserved. And it wasn’t until really the 1970s with the work of Ostrom and Bakker that some of the more ingrained notions about T-rex started to come undone. So the iconology of T-rex started to shift in the moment when as Adrian Desmond, you know, referred to it a hot-blooded dinosaur, the endothermy debate started coming about. That ricocheted then back to up to some older visions of T-rex which came from Edward Drinker Cope, who actually was a teacher for Osborn, about the energetics of T-rex.
So very complex stories, and all of this then starts leading you to think about well what’s the political dimension of the very work that paleontologists are doing, and the creatures that they’ve materialized around us and that have become so every day in our world.
Garret: Yeah, it’s really interesting to me the whole idea of T-rex kind of being the supreme dinosaur, and I see that in discussions about who would win in a fight, and there’s always people like vehemently arguing for T-rex. And then in video games too I see, you know usually if you’re ever fighting dinosaurs in video games, which seems to be the main thing you ever do with dinosaurs in video games, they’ll have a T-rex and that’ll be like the biggest, baddest battle and you know it’s typically the most strong. Sometimes they do a […] (00:39:28) now too just because it’s like, I think it’s mostly because it looks so similar to T-rex to be honest. But do you think that this whole battling dinosaurs comes from this colonizing spirit that’s been kind of intermixed with dinosaurs, or is it just kind of a natural anthropology feature that if there’s a big scary animal you have to kill it?
Dr. Brian Noble: That’s very interesting. You know I think there’s a lot at play but from the standpoint of an anthropologist what you begin to understand is that the understanding of any scientific reanimation is part of what the science historian, critical science historian Donna Harway would call an implosion of forces, right? There’s so much that is at play at any one moment, so in the 1910s and 20s the American Museum of Natural History was moving forward to the first major public display of Tyrannosaurus after the early studies of it. And at the same time there was this intersection with popular literature, and in particular I point in the book to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. And there you see the same kind of hierarchies formulating. And then you look into, if you start unpacking the way that the American Museum of Natural History was organized, you look at the stories within The Lost World, one of the post popular books of course Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame wrote these books in the sense like Shakespeare so far as they’re part of the public imaginary, at least in the English language world but also translated in many other, part of the public imaginary. And it becomes so infused in our society, so infused in our way of thinking, that there’s an easy adoption of all of the logics, the gender rationalities, the racial rationalities, and this kind of fight culture. You know? This kind of extreme carnivory, and a kind of form of power, right, that’s built right into it and circulated in popular fiction, circulated in movie making, circulated in the scientific work. And if you scratch around you will find those in vertebrate paleontology who still hold on to that.
I’m sure they would argue, they would say well no we’re speaking only to the evidence, we’re speaking only to the fossil material, but one cannot extract this from all of those contexts. So my sense would be to pay stronger attention to all of those. So this is where the word articulation comes in, is how was and is the work of Henry Fairfield Osborn and Willis O’Brien and RKO and the funding of American Museum of Natural History which led to all sorts of connections to really wealthy New York based capitalists. How do those all fit together and how do you come out of that and see the emerging of this kind of sub-culture, if you like, of carnivory, of aggressive dominance and so forth? And how hard is it to shake that, right? It recirculates.
Now when gaming comes along and you’ve got video gaming, whether it’s online gaming or handheld devices, and it’s still present there in a really dominant way, then you can see that that, I refer to it as the recirculation of these scenarios.
Garret: It’s like an echo chamber.
Dr. Brian Noble: Like the echo chamber, but the thing to remember, and I think that this is the reason why I’ve enjoyed working so much with paleontologists, is that I know paleontologists care, right? All the paleontologists I’ve know do not want to be kind of caught up in the sweep of that. They want to pay attention. Andreas Hensen wanted constantly, and he always told me about this and I mean I still stay in touch with him, that he wanted to understand what was going on in popular culture and he was always caught in trying to figure out what’s the dynamic between the choices we make in paleontology. When he made the choice to go with Maiasaura at the Royal Ontario Museum it was in part by accident and part by design. The accident was that the budget that they had to produce this exhibit was limited. They only had, they said that the powers that be at the institution said well we only have like $300,000 to do this thing, or $500,000 I think was the ultimate budget for this, and he had wanted to go off to Mongolia and collect a specimen through the paleontology officials in […] of a Tarbosaurus. So you know a direct relative of Albertosaurus, you know another one of these great tyrannosaurids, and he wanted to do this display. And he thought the reason to do this was because it would be big and carnivorous and there would be public engagement. So that would have been a recirculation, right?
But the powers that be said no. They said no, we can’t fork out that kind of money right now. We just don’t have the budget for it. So they said look around more locally. Well as it turned out instead of doing this expedition to go and collect the tarbosaur and since his hands were sort of tied, he started looking around the North American marketplace and then he found, he learned about this excellent specimen, a virtually complete specimen of Maiasaura peeblesorum. And then he started thinking well I know the story of Maiasaura peeblesorum and I know Jack Horner’s engagement with it, and I know Jack Horner’s work on it, and Jack Horner had become really quite famous through this study and rightly so. The study and examination of nesting behaviors and the ontogeny, the growth of hadrosaur dinosaurs from eggs to hatchlings to juveniles and so forth, all of this was really quite an interesting thing. And then he said well actually maybe if we use this, maybe if we work with this we will actually begin to interrupt the narrative, as he put it, of the giant bloodthirsty meat-eating critters, or the long green things were his words, long green things of these images of these sauropods that were uniform in color and just walking around munching on weeds in swamps. Because he was taking on the public imagination.
So that leads to a really important understanding about how science is integrated in society, how decisions get made, and they’re often contingent and they’re accidental. You know, where you are, who makes the decisions, how they’re making decisions at a particular moment when certain ideas and certain material things are in circulation. And they came up with Maiasaura. And in many ways what it did was it appealed to the audiences that then came to the museum, because in the 1990s and early 2000s, even to this day, most visitors are very savvy about dinosaurs and they know a lot about them. And you can’t have dinosaurs that are all male. It just doesn’t work from a reproductive standpoint, right? And sort of fundamental biological thought. So when Maiasaura comes along the idea of preproduction then begins to open up the question of the presence of genders, the presence of sexes in these dinosaurs in ways that the masculine […] (00:47:22) kinda work that Osborn was doing through T-rex just couldn’t make happen.
So in many ways I think that the choice of Hensen and then the working of all of the players, and this is really you know, there’s 250 pages of the text are really about the intricacy of the discussions between the interpreters and the two dimensional designers and the technical animators and all of the different visionaries about the arguments, there were micro-arguments that happened that eventually led to a particular set of knowledges about the gendered relations, the familial, and kind of kin relations of maiasaura and how they then meshed with what the public culture of the moment was and is at this time.
Garret: Yeah, when you mentioned the purchasing of Maiasaura instead of a Tarbosaurus it reminded me of a recent hadrosaur that sold for $80,000, and I think it was almost completely articulated, it had almost all its bones. And I was kind of surprised that the Maiasaura the Royal Ontario Museum bought cost as much as it did, even though similar, you know, large dinosaurs like Sue went for way more money than that. But since T-rex is typically so much more valuable from a museum perspective, do you know why the dinosaur known as Henrietta, the one that the Royal Ontario Museum has, was ultimately so expensive? Was there anything about it in like the culture? Do you think it was this good mother narrative that went along with it that gave it extra value?
Dr. Brian Noble: I think my guess is, and now I’m speculating because I don’t think I asked that particular question because there were not that many specimens of hadrosaurs, duck billed dinosaurs, on the fossil buying market. So it depends on when you enter the market, and this is a market, right? And this is something we have to remember. Now fossils, dinosaur fossils are part of the marketplace.
Dr. Brian Noble: Unfortunately, you know, and there’s a lot of really excellent work going on among paleontologists, and there has been, and I think Sue probably triggered this as much as any other individual specimen or event, a lot of concern and hard work going on related to trying to keep these magnificent specimens out of the market circuits. But that hasn’t been working, right? It actually has the, if anything there’s been market acceleration. So if you were, you know, if you were a certain kind of theorist of the market you would say well it’s about supply. That there are probably more specimens and there’s probably a stronger black market of hadrosaur specimens right now than there was at the time. And this was not done through the black market. It was done through official markets, right? Just as Sue was.
Well Sue’s a very complicated story, as it’s almost a mythic story on its own. The point with Sue is that everybody was working to make it seem like it was a legitimate sale done through proper legal regulations and so forth. But in the case of this specimen of Maiasaura there was a regulated purchase, a right to extract the specimen from the Southern Blackfeet reservation in northwestern Montana, and a particular collecting company had acquired it. They used highly professional techniques for extracting it, and the specimen itself was virtually complete. There was even talk early on that in the blocks there might possibly be remains of a juvenile or an infant, so that became quite attractive. As it turned out as they prepared it they discovered that there was no young dinosaur, only the specimen of the adult.
Garret: Okay, yeah that makes a lot of sense that if there aren’t a lot of legitimate copies to be bought and you don’t wanna enter the black market that the price would go way up. Do you think there’s a reason why, you mentioned that Henrietta, I like to call them by their goofy names, was discovered on Native American land and so was Sue, the T-rex that’s probably one of the most famous specimens ever, but nobody really seems to know that. Is there a reason that museums don’t really mention where the dinosaurs came from? Or is…
Dr. Brian Noble: Yeah so that’s, it’s a really interesting question and it’s a point that I try to make later in the book, that that’s an aspect of articulation. So that’s a part of this story that has been bracketed out, and what might be more powerful as an educational and learning engagement is if the public would actually be led to participate in those stories. Because that’s where it gets really quite interesting. You know it makes me think about questions like what were the lands that the U.S. government, or in Canada the Canadian government were setting aside in a colonial system, historical system, as reservation land for indigenous peoples? And quite often it would be land that would not be productive. So as a consequence you’re in South Dakota, you’re in Sioux territory, you know there are badlands there. In Montana there are badlands there. So those are the lands, so as it turns out the reservation land is where these first peoples have been sequestered. So there’s a first point in it.
And the other thing that you’ll come to understand is, and this is true in America as it is in Canada that we’re both, and this is another piece of my anthropological training, we’re both settler-state nations right? There were settlers that came from Europe, established themselves here. In Canada they capped the association with the crown, with the Queen, in America famously I think it was something called the War of Independence of 1776. And Americans went their own way. But in both cases these European people came and settled the land, and the indigenous peoples who were here before had that land overtaken from them. As a consequence what’s happened is in their reservation system, whether it’s in Canada or the United States, you see that many of the communities are quite poor.
This is an interesting story. You know, if they’re poor, and they have fossils on their land, and your family’s poor, why wouldn’t you think about pointing to people that these specimens are there, these fossils are there, bringing them in, and then seeing if there’s a way to actually you know bring some sort of economic advantage to your community to help deal with the question of poverty. I can’t say but I think that’s a really interesting path to think about all this.
I suppose one of the other things is that museums, because they’re dealing with one exhibit, they have to be quite spare. Some of it’s got to do with their own resources available to them. How much can you say if you’ve got a 5,000 square foot, 500 square meter exhibit space? How much budget do you have? So I was telling you about the Maiasaura Project they had half a million dollars to do this whole thing, $200,000 of it got eaten up just in the acquisition of the specimen. How much resources are then available?
So all of this ultimately leads to the outcome that we encounter in exhibits, and we don’t know what’s behind it. In anthropology science we refer to this as a black box, right? We look at something in a museum, it’s presented to us, because we know it’s a museum we know it’s authoritative, we know there’s curators, we know they’re funded by the state, we know they’re doing real science, and we accept it as a matter of fact, a matter of truth. And Hensen was very, very explicit about this that paleontologists are often thought of as these, what we say the kindly old men who would come forward and be asked to speak the truth to the world.
But as soon as you know it’s a black box, so if we think of every dinosaur, any dinosaur we can do this kind of unpacking of the articulations, to worlds of social relations, to economic worlds, to the chance of somebody in a particular place at a particular time, to a certain kind of political moment as in the moment of Henry Fairfield Osborn, who was advancing a particular agenda, or the moment of Jack Horner. And interestingly Horner, you know, at the time that he gave the name Maiasaura to Maiasaura peeblesorum, the good mother lizard, it was also the moment of second-wave feminism. Right? There was a move in America where the feminist movement was rising. That women were suddenly, women had been excluded even from paleontology by and large. I remember going in the 1990s to meetings, in the 2000s to meetings of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology to learn that there were increasing numbers of vertebrate paleontologists working the field, and I remember one very amusing moment when the question was being asked in the meeting about why there aren’t as many women, and one of the male paleontologists said well it’s very tough, difficult field work, you know, and women just don’t have the, you know it’s a very lame… but they’re recirculation The Lost World. They’re recirculating the Barnum Brown adventure story of masculinist adventure and strength and so forth, but the irony of it was that in the next platform presentation there was a specimen that was being removed from a field site and the paleontologist who was in charge of it, a man, happened to be very, very slight and very small, under five feet tall, and you know really not a powerful, masculinist figure, and in his slide images he showed this Sikorsky helicopter that was lifting the jacketed specimen out of the ground. And I just thought that undoes the argument about embodied power and ability to participate in this.
So the history really, if we kind of begin to sort of face how the articulation of the social and the specimen and the spectacle at any moment, we can come to I think a better grasp of why certain dinosaurs rise to the fore at certain moments, why they fade away at other times, why there can be a shift from a, you know, sort of frightening aggressive carnivorous T-rex to a scavenging T-rex, why suddenly we can have male and female Tyrannosauruses. And that really opens up the question of the speculative possibility of dinosaurs. The last chapter in my book I used the phrase: “another Mesozoic is possible”. And it’s quite pointed, it’s to say that depending on what the issue of moment is today we could see a shift in paleontological work in another direction, and I point to how for instance there’s been a rise in interest in paleo-biogeography around climate change and whether the models from the Mesozoic in dinosaur paleo-biogeography can speak to us about our current moment. But the reason we’re asking those questions are in part because we’re situated in the current moment. We’re asking those questions because they’re salient now, much as Osborn was asking certain kinds of questions that were salient then that we now look back on and we just think let’s just hope that we never ask questions of that sort again, right?
Dr. Brian Noble: Or Horner and his moment, and so forth. And so that’s to me the great promise of dinosaurs is that as the […] (00:59:36) of Chicago cultural theorist said they’re the totem animal of modernity and they’re also the canary in the coal mine. If you look at what is being said in vertebrate paleontology about dinosaurs and you begin to unpack it you often realize they’re saying something about society right now, and that’s the story of articulation.
Garret: So real quick I wanted to ask: you mentioned how people kind of look to paleontologists and scientists to come out and just say the truth and exactly, you know, the definitive answer about anything, and in the book you kind of outline that there were curatorial decisions basically because they couldn’t show any uncertainty, and as a skeptic that really bugged me because it was like you’re knowingly misleading people and you’re kind of almost going anti-critical thinking by you know not showing the scientific debate that’s going on. And it kind of, you know, it seems like history looks poorly on that kind of thing when you are so certain about some dinosaur being depicted a certain way, and then it turns out to be wrong, you know you don’t have much to hide behind. But I’ve seen one example I can think of at the Natural History Museum of Utah where they talk about the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry and how there are multiple explanations of how all of these allosaurus and some sort of potential prey were found all mixed up in a huge jumble, and how they could have gotten there in multiple different ways. And they kind of had a voting mechanism for how you could put your own opinion into it of I think this one’s the most likely. Do you see that kind of thing very often in museums, or can you think of a good way that we could kind of present to the public you know right now we think that sauropods like Giraffatitan was more upright but there’s this ongoing debate that maybe blood pressure or other issues mean that it might have had to have its neck more horizontal, or is it just, is it too tall of an order to ask with the limited space that museums have to present multiple viewpoints of a single animal?
Dr. Brian Noble: You know I actually think that comment probably was because of the moment, right? Is the paleontologist in that instance was really kind of working on the cutting edge of the moment and was experimenting and exploring something that hadn’t really been tried. I mean at the same moment I remember going to the American Museum of Natural History in New York and seeing their new cladistics exhibit, and cladistics was just becoming, I mean it was well-established in dinosaur paleo-biology and paleo-biology more generally, but it was one of the first times that somebody was beginning to put it out there in a display. So there was a lot of stuff that was kind of being tried, it was the new movement was emerging at that time. One of the hugest contrasts between what was going on at the Royal Ontario Museum and that I would argue was going on in New York and is going on in smaller dinosaur museums, the Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, museums in Britain and Europe that were interested in dinosaurs, that the conversation was moving because of the history of display work away from what I referred to in the book a kind of more oligarchic or dictatorial mode of presentation. Osborn said, and then he dictated what would go on display. And T-rex was gonna look a particular way and all the staff would fall in line. Even through the Maiasaura Project you saw the beginning of a much more what I would call dialogical engagement, that you saw the rise of interpreters as having more important roles in it, but you also saw the rise of the marketers who were pressing things in a particular direction. And I feel like with the paleontologists, the curators, that they’ve been disempowered somewhat in this, and that they’re trying to stay in the game. And I think it’s really important that they stay in the game, I think we need to have that. But the promise of the current moment is that I think things like handheld technology, you know, Internet mediated information, all of which is highly interactive right? I mean I teach students, I work with interactive media in my teaching all the time, my children have interactive media, they use Pokémon Go, and Pokémon Go is loaded with critters who have their own kind of classification system not unlike dinosaurs. In fact I’ve seen there are some wonderful papers on the cladistics of Pokémon.
Garret: Oh that’s funny.
Dr. Brian Noble: I’ve tweeted on this in the past. But we’re at a moment where I think that the interaction of the curatorial thinkers with the media thinkers is producing new dialogues that might allow for the in-filling. So it doesn’t have to happen just inside the exhibit. It’s whether the exhibit can generate a set of connections out to all of the other media so that even your podcast is a way to extend to larger communities the possibilities and ways of thinking, and your, you know your podcast ranges in a lot of different directions. It’s really quite rich, and that’s part of it. So that’s part of what’s now being articulated, is these really new sets of dialogues. And for museum exhibit developers they have to really be thinking in a much more dynamic way. I will say this is that as a consequence, one of the biggest things to watch out for that I believe many paleontologists are concerned about, it’s the same concern about the specimens going out into the marketplace, is if you see the increasing kind of commercialization of the fossil trading market, then what you’re going to end up with is the end of museums, right? Because Disney could just do it, or you know commercial theme parks and so forth could just do it, and it could be all done through movies, and the place of the slow intensive smart thoughtful cumulative work, what the philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers would call you know research that is proper to their vocation, right? That could get really dissipated, and I think that would be quite a tragedy. So my hope is that the dialogues are going to intensify. My hope is that paleontologists will be as outraged as you around in reading the idea that we need to disconnect ourselves. Rather what becomes more important is that we need to connect ourselves, and the stronger the connection is, both to the specimen and to recognizing what the spectacle is doing is what’s going to allow our deep research scholarly-engaged wondering and research involvements to really shine though.
And so we’ll find, I think we’ll find some pretty interesting paleontology, and if that pattern is followed and museums are still supported, they network themselves in the world that way, that I think we’ll see the continuation and expansion, transformation of museums in ways that will allow you know more of this to become quite cogent in our lives.
Garret: Yeah I like the idea of using more interactive, like you say handheld media gives you so many more opportunities to present much more information than you could otherwise. It’s a good idea. You mentioned Disneyworld and I know in your book you said that the T-rex Sue was actually partially prepared at Disneyworld. Did that actually happen?
Dr. Brian Noble: Yes, and in fact as it turns out that one of the principal preparators of the Maiasaura specimen at the Royal Ontario Museum was, after he had done work at the museum, a fellow by the name of Tim Fedak, he was hired as a preparator to do the preparation work by Disney.
Garret: It’s nice that they hired a real paleontologist and didn’t just throw it out there for anybody to pick at or something.
Dr. Brian Noble: Yeah but I mean the story is fascinating because there’s that moment, it’s like between the Field Museum in Chicago which had rights to the specimen and Disney which had rights to the specimen, and now you’ve got McDonald’s corporation is sponsoring the possibility of the purchase through the auction of Sue through Sotheby’s, this tension and dynamic of the corporate world with the museological world. You have to ask yourself: which one is more committed to the public, to the knowing of those children and so forth? And which one is more committed to a bottom line? So this tension, that’s the specimen-spectacle tension, and it continues again way back in 1854 with Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Richard Owens, and you know Queen Victoria and Prince Albert back when Crystal Palace Park was being developed in South London.
Garret: Is there anything that you would recommend that people do to improve the scientific accuracy of dinosaurs in museums, or is it something that’s so interconnected with pop culture that we’re just kind of stuck with what we have?
Dr. Brian Noble: I think it goes back to your question earlier that I think it really is important to slow down and engage the public in what you know the actual scientific work to be. I think when you have that dialogue with the public people are very smart. Five year olds are very smart. They get this stuff, and if you convey this to them they’ll understand it, they will engage with it. The Maiasaura Project, when it came to the actual visitors as you might recall from reading the book, they were folks that came and they would come back to the exhibit week after week after week, where they would if they were there in the museum for six or eight hours they would come back to the display every hour and see what was going on in the laboratory as they were preparing the specimen. There’s a scope there for them to look into, there was a video hooked up to the scope so they could see the preparation work going on in real time. I think we have to give credit to visitors that they’re deeply engaged, and there’s this really important thing that goes on is that we’re so inundated with all sorts of fast representations , representations that are coming out as bombarding us all the time about dinosaurs in video games and so forth that when you slow down and you involve yourself in this very slow, palpable work, you realize that there is a way to be connected. I don’t think it’s a concern for accuracy, I think it’s a concern for slow engagement so that you can participate in the knowledge, and participate in the emergence of knowledge that we’re all doing all the time and that scientists do in a very particular way that is proper to their practice. And getting to know that is really vital.
Garret: So it’s really more like completeness than accuracy I guess.
Dr. Brian Noble: I think so. You know, the word I would use is robustness. What are the steps, what makes it robust so that we come to the moment of knowledge and we understand how that moment of knowledge emerges out of this situation and all of the multiple connections around it that are allowing it to happen. I hope that doesn’t sound too esoteric, but for folks that read the book, one of the things that I’m after is a very, it’s a long book, it’s a very slow building up, and that’s actually what research is all about, Is it takes many of the paleontologists that I know that have committed to studying dinosaurs when they were very young, and they’re still at it today whether they’re in their 30s, their 40s, their 50s, their 60s, their 80s, and they get it and they understand this slowness and commitment. And the power of taking care to really understand these specimens well even in the flux of all the action and the politics and economics and pressures that are around them.
Garret: Great, yeah I really enjoyed your book. I liked looking at it from an anthropologist’s perspective because I’ve read so much from an archaeologist perspective and even you know some pop culture sides of things, but looking at the anthropology side of it and how we kind of arrived at all of these results more than a hundred years after the first public displays of dinosaurs was really interesting, and if any of the listeners want to get a copy of Articulating Dinosaurs where should they go?
Dr. Brian Noble: Well it’s available on Amazon, you should be able to look it up there. You’ll note that there are, there’s a hardcover and a soft cover edition. Make sure that you click on the soft cover because it’s a lot cheaper, unless you wanna have a durable hardcover edition. And it’s also available through the website of the University of Toronto Press who are the publishers for this book. And I just want to put in a plug for University of Toronto Press and also for the Social Science Humanities Research Council, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Killam Foundation, all of whom have supported the research for this and you know I’m just very grateful that those organizations exist and they’re able to allow our research to go forward. There are similar organizations that support the work of paleontologists and we really need them, so I wanted to acknowledge them at the same time.
Dr. Brian Noble: Good.
Garret: Well, thanks very much for coming on and letting me interview you because I really enjoyed the book, and it was a fascinating, a little bit outside of my normal scope but I learned so much, and I learned a lot even about people like Osborn who have such a, you know, spotty past but were still incredibly important to the dinosaur research and our current view of them, so it’s cool to see all those details.
Dr. Brian Noble: Good to hear it, thanks very much Garret.