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Albertonykus's avatar

Nostalgia and the Golden Age



All too often I see assertions that some person's childhood has been ruined forever because real dinosaurs were nothing like what they grew up with.

Take dromaeosaurids, for example. People complain about how uncool real dromaeosaurids were after learning that they were actually ambush predators lacking adaptations for fast running and were no smarter than the least intelligent birds living today, unlike what Jurassic Park and almost all other popular media depict. And they had feathers, but Your Mileage May Vary on how uncool that is. (I personally find assertions that feathered maniraptors are uncool ridiculous. A naked chicken doesn't look cooler than a feathered chicken. A naked eagle certainly doesn't look cooler than a feathered eagle. Why would a naked dromaeosaurid be cooler than a feathered one?)

But they ignore all the cool stuff we have learned about them. They could climb trees. They had very strong bites for their size, so they could attack prey larger than themselves. (But a coyote-sized dromaeosaurid, or even a group, killing an elephant-sized ornithopod is as ridiculous as it's always been.) They could fly, and those that couldn't probably had ancestors that could. They were carnivores that had herbivorous and omnivorous ancestors. That's a nice set of cool facts right there. And, frankly, people who like Jurassic Park "raptors" instead of real dromaeosaurids don't actually like dromaeosaurids. They like made up monsters.

There's nothing wrong with liking made up monsters or outdated dinosaurs, as long as we realize that they're just made up and outdated. And just because people like made up monsters or outdated dinosaurs doesn't mean they can't also like real dinosaurs. I'm certain many people like both. But a real problem is when people refuse to accept the existence of real dinosaurs because they grew up with made up monsters. I actually don't understand this point of view, because I don't see how growing up with something makes it true. I grew up thinking the third finger of Daubentonia madagascariensis was longer than its fourth finger, but it's not. In science (including and especially paleontology), one must always be prepared to abandon what you think you know if enough evidence turns up to invalidate it. Even things we thought were true a few months or years ago may have already been overturned. One may prefer older, falsified ideas over newer, more accurate ones, but realize that preferences have nothing to do with reality.
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On intelligence:

Is there even a way to tell the intellect of an extinct animal? After all sauropsids punch way out of proportion when it comes to cognitive capacity vs brain size.