Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sometimes it's all about "marketing"

I am no fan of fights as any one who knows me understands. But I must confess to watching Fight Club on TV. Jurassic Fight Club on the History Channel that is. If you are not in the loop Jurassic fight club pits big predators from the past against each other using fossil evidence to create what the creators think are plausible scenarios, say between a giant megashark and an early whale-OK so the program strays a bit from the Jurassic.

Some of the scenarios are a bit implausible and anthropomorphic (There isn't a fancy word to describe the attribution of the thought process of 25 year old males who wear grimy backwards baseball caps into fancy restaurant to other organisms) but the program gives a really nice introduction to how scientists make inferences from the fossil record and the tools they use.

So I recommend this series if you are curious about just what scientists can learn from the fossil record-it turns out to be much more than you might think. For instance it is quite possible to match up teeth marks with teeth much like human forensic experts match knife blades to cuts in flesh or bone and I just hate to bust the bubble of any young earth creationist types the evidence does NOT suggest that T. rex was ever a vegetarian.

The fight approach to organism interactions and evolution goes back at least to the 19th century to Darwin and the early evolutionists who viewed evolution and natural selection often in terms of competition-much of this was probably as much due to Darwin's early adherents as much to Darwin. Be that as it may, the metaphor still holds sway in the popular psyche even if scientists have a much more sophisticated understanding of how evolution operates including the ability of evolution to lead to cooperative behavior and even the moral sense displayed by humans in some of our finer moments.

At any rate I was reminded of the marketing aspect of all this by a headline on the BBC website today that screams out:

Two of the UK's worst aquatic invasive species are set to meet.

Scientists believe that the ranges of the plague-carrying non-native crayfish and the fierce Chinese mitten crab are beginning to overlap.

Well of course I had to check this out..plague carrying crayfish and fierce Chinese mitten crab. Wow! And the article even has a picture of both the beasties in fight mode and a video about these alien thugs preparing to meet. While the plague of course is not the Black Plague but rather a disease that infects native crayfish in Britain, the BBC coverage does correctly highlight the threat posed by these two species. And the question about what will happen when these non native species to Britain meet is an important one. So I guess that I can't really fault the hype involved in getting people to read about science.

Hey it even worked for me and I don't even own a baseball cap, grimy or not.


The Crayfish mitten crab video complete with menacing music is here:
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