Basic Principles of Geology Recovery and Preparation of Dinosaur Fossils: How They Are Collected
Summary Discussion Questions Bibliography
Paleontologists and other geoscien-tists often deal with phenomena that occurred millions of years ago,
Why are Paleontology and Geology Sciences?
which makes paleontology and geology different from most other sciences, so they are sometimes labeled as historical sciences. These scientists will never be able to conduct experiments on fossil subjects as living organisms or study directly the environments they lived in. This lack of direct observation of the originally living organisms and their environments has been a source of criticism of paleontology as a science, particularly from other scientists who examine modern processes. However, paleontology is similar in approach to forensic science, which uses evidence to absolve wrongly-accused suspects and implicate criminals. It is also similar to genetics, which involves indirectly observing genes through documentation of their characteristic biochemical signatures. Furthermore, astronomy also deals with objects that are extremely far removed (literally) from their observers and with events that happened in the distant past, yet few question that field's scientific basis. Paleontologists deal with facts that can actually be visited, viewed, touched, and otherwise experienced directly. In contrast, astronomers cannot derive information about Alpha Centauri, the nearest star outside of our solar system, 4.3 light years away, through the same methods. Neither is more or less scientific, just different.
Probably the best way to show that paleontology and other historical sciences are on an equal footing with other traditional scientific disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, and physics, is to review scientific methods and ask if they are still applicable to paleontology. Fields of study that normally may not be considered as sciences also involve observation, collection of data, formulation of hypotheses, analysis of data, hypothesis testing, and peer review. It is not popular opinion, but rather the proper use of scientific methods in an area of study that makes it a science. With this in mind, scientific methods are easily applicable in geologic field situations, as demonstrated throughout this book. This gathering of evidence, whether through subsequent field visits or laboratory work, requires the use of considerable knowledge, besides numerous tools. Paleontologists and geologists need to be well equipped with the right gear to collect data effectively, whether that collecting takes place in the field or the laboratory.
Many of the fundamental tools used by geologists and paleontologists today are the same ones used by their predecessors in previous centuries. Of course, the list of equipment has become more complicated, especially with the advent of easily portable electronic items that digitally record data (Table 4.1). Geophysical methods for finding fossils, by detecting their magnetic or radioactive properties, have been used with various degrees of success in recent years. With advances in portability
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