Drawing Out Leviathan
Dinosaurs and the Science Wars
Publication Year: 2001
"... are dinosaurs social constructs? Do we really know anything about dinosaurs? Might not all of our beliefs about dinosaurs merely be figments of the paleontological imagination? A few years ago such questions would have seemed preposterous, even nonsensical. Now they must have a serious answer."
At stake in the "Science Wars" that have raged in academe and in the media is nothing less than the standing of science in our culture. One side argues that science is a "social construct," that it does not discover facts about the world, but rather constructs artifacts disguised as objective truths. This view threatens the authority of science and rejects science's claims to objectivity, rationality, and disinterested inquiry. Drawing Out Leviathan examines this argument in the light of some major debates about dinosaurs: the case of the wrong-headed dinosaur, the dinosaur "heresies" of the 1970s, and the debate over the extinction of dinosaurs.
Keith Parsons claims that these debates, though lively and sometimes rancorous, show that evidence and logic, not arbitrary "rules of the game," remained vitally important, even when the debates were at their nastiest. They show science to be a complex set of activities, pervaded by social influences, and not easily reducible to any stereotype. Parsons acknowledges that there are lessons to be learned by scientists from their would-be adversaries, and the book concludes with some recommendations for ending the Science Wars.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: Life of the Past
At age thirty-eight I returned to graduate school as what was euphemistically referred to as a “nontraditional” student. A previous Ph.D. (in philosophy) had gotten me a succession of part-time and temporary positions . . . and no hopes of tenure-track employment. In the fall of 1990 I entered the University of Pittsburgh’s formidable...
Introduction: Why the Science Wars Matter
Like so many of my generation, I acquired an early fascination for dinosaurs. Movies, television, and comic books of the 1950s and 1960s treated us Baby Boomers to exciting images of fighting, feeding, and rampaging dinosaurs. Of course, most of the “dinosaurs” in the movies were the impossibly huge beasts of the monster-runs-amuck genre,...
1. Mr. Carnegie's Sauropods
I begin with two scenarios: (1) On a spring morning in a long-vanished world, an enormous creature was dying. Driven by thirst, she trudged toward the slow, muddy waters of a great river. Her massive legs could no longer support her, and she fell into the riverbed to die. Before scavengers could tear and scatter the carcass, a violent storm washed it downstream. It came to rest...
2. The Heresies of Dr. Bakker
The quotes from Will Cuppy and Gary Larson capture one popular image of the dinosaur: an evolutionary cul-de-sac, stolidly resigned to replacement by superior mammals. Combating this image of dinosaurs has been the life’s work of paleontologist Robert T. Bakker, a self-described “dinosaur heretic.” In 1968, while still an undergraduate student at...
3. The “Conversion” of David Raup
What happened to the dinosaurs? Despite the fondest wish of many an eight-year-old, they are all gone. Well, maybe not. In their book The Mistaken Extinction, Lowell Dingus and Timothy Rowe (1997) argue that they continue to flourish—as birds. Still, for the nonavian dinosaurs, the Late Cretaceous was the final act, the end of the 160...
4. Are Dinosaurs Social Constructs?
Because professors are a touchy and querulous lot (I am allowed to say this, being one of them), peace and harmony seldom reign in academe. During the 1990s a particularly nasty civil war raged among American university faculty. As with all academic conflicts, the issues seemed arcane to outsiders. For insiders, the debate concerned the very...
5. Le Dinosaure Postmoderne
Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and T. rex: Their images are icons of our popular culture. Everyone is familiar with scenes of Elvis gyrating or Marilyn with skirt billowing. Depictions of T. rex are similarly ubiquitous. A half-dozen images of dinosaurs can be encountered in a casual stroll through a drug store; a shopping mall can be a...
6. History, Whiggery, and Progress
Comparisons are invidious, especially when they involve the awarding of superlatives. Though humans love to bestow such honors (Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Collegiate National Champions, etc.), the criteria for rating anything “best” are often questionable. However, a good case can be made for regarding one...
7. Beyond the Science Wars
So what do we really know about dinosaurs? They were big and fierce and are now extinct. What else? Dinosaurs are not social constructs. They really existed, and we definitely know certain things about them. Though they are icons of popular culture, and their images pervade the media, we can still say that some things about dinosaurs...