Friday, December 6, 2013

Paleoartist on the Case

Catherine Thimmesh

Catherine Thimmesh takes a unique approach to dinosaur detective work in Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Know What Dinosuars Really Looked Like? First off, the book makes readers aware that those who draw and paint dinosaurs are also scientists.

Kids may already assume that those who put together dinosaur skeletons must be scientists, to know which bone is connected to what other bones, but what about those who sketch and paint dinosaurs?

The other thing Thimmesh makes clear is that scientists must stay current to new scientific discoveries and also be open-minded, willing to revise their models and drawings in accordance with those discoveries. A perfect example in the book is Stephen and Sylvia Czerkas's life-size reconstruction of the dinosaur Deinonychus--which served as the model for the raptors in the Jurassic Park movies. The couple spent three years working on those models. "Every single scale was delineated," Sylvia Czerkas explained. But then scientists discovered that Deinonychus had feathers, so the couple covered over their three years' work with feathers instead. "That's what you have to do," Stephen Czerkas said. "You have to be ready to change what you think in the face of new scientific evidence.... [It] was undeniably clear that Deinonychus and many types of dinosaurs were feathered."

Thimmesh, through specific examples, such as pairing two paintings of Triceratops a century apart (one by Charles R. Knight, another by Mark Hallett), or the previous example of the Czerkases' revision, demonstrates how flexible scientists must be--willing to reexamine their approach in light of new evidence. It's scientific theory in practice, and models for children that the best practitioners must combine discipline, research, critical thinking and creativity in their endeavors.

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