Dinos in D&D

Monday, December 28, 2009


Friday, December 4, 2009

Because dinosaurs are an important part of popular culture and hence are easily recognizable, the study of them serves as an apt vehicle for understanding how science is applied to their study. A starting point for applying the science of dinosaur studies is to understand what is or is not a dinosaur, using a definition as a prompt for asking questions, as a large number of animals regarded as dinosaurs actually are not. A dinosaur is defined initially as a reptile-like or bird-like animal, with an upright posture, that spent most (perhaps all) of its life on land and lived from about 230–65 million years ago. Dinosaurs then can be classified by either a Linnaean or phylogenetic (cladistic) classification system. The cladistic method is preferred because it better expresses hypotheses about evolutionary relatedness within dinosaurs as a group. These hypotheses are best described through a cladogram, a diagram that shows ancestor-descendant relationships.

The two sciences most commonly associated with dinosaur studies are geology and biology, which are also augmented by other sciences, such as chemistry, physics, math, and computer science. Their use illustrates how the interrelation of all sciences can contribute to a field of study. Despite the apprehension of many people about the sciences, especially those that frequently use symbols and numbers, it is necessary to know a minimal amount about them to better understand dinosaurs. Professional paleontologists typically have to know some facets of all scientific disciplines. In many cases they also must be illustrators, writers, public speakers, and deal with the physical and logistical difficulties of performing fieldwork in remote locations.

Popular culture, such as books, TV shows, movies, artwork, and Web pages, reflect public ideas about dinosaurs that may or may not be based on scientific reality but they can follow general scientific trends. Whenever encountering these images of dinosaurs, the question of “What evidence justifies these depictions?” should be asked. However, of all dinosaur artwork, scientific illustration is the most important with regard to dinosaur studies and combines scientific knowledge with artistic abilities to convey accurate information.

Math is an essential tool for dinosaur studies and is expressed mostly through measurements, which are made through the international standard of the metric system. Math can be used in nearly every aspect of dinosaur studies, as demonstrated by the use of some simple calculations of estimated dinosaur weights based on their models. Such step-by-step methods help to show that math has practical uses in dinosaur studies and can be made more understandable in an applicative context.