Future Fossils Podcast #70: Steve Brusatte on The Golden Age of Dino-Science!

in #dsound2 years ago (edited)

“Ah, eventually you DO plan to TALK ABOUT dinosaurs on this dinosaur podcast, right? Hello? Yes?” - Ian Malcolm about this episode.

This week’s guest is professional dinosaur hunter Steve Brusatte, paleontology professor at the University of Edinburgh and author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World.


Beyond being a totally awesome – and more importantly, FRESH – take on the Mesozoic Era that weaves vital updates from the last twenty years of discovery into the official story, this book also paints a rich and lively portrait of the human beings who actually do dinosaur science. Their stories moved me as much as the story of how the dinosaurs evolved, came to dominate the landscape, and then disappeared. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs offers more than the “what” of prehistory; it also offers us the “who” and “how” and “where” and “why,” and it will be a spiritual experience for anyone as into dinosaurs OR science OR science writing as I am.

Plus, Steve’s great fun to talk to. He’s totally contagious.


• How we’re living through a worldwide renaissance of paleontology, a “Golden Age of Dinosaur Science” – and how it is related to deeper historical and economic trends – such as the opening of new international trade routes, increasing access to science education, and accelerating global development (the movement of wealth discovers dragons);

• How the technology and methods of dinosaur science have advanced dramatically over the last few decades – but it’s still “a discovery science” that requires people out in the field, opening the ground and looking for new fossils;

• Steve’s legendary globetrotting professors Paul Sereno and Mark Norell, and how their generous mentorship launched his career;

• How paleontology remains one of the most awesome lifestyles for anyone with the spirit of an adventurer;

• The role of landscape in stimulating the imagination – especially for bored Midwestern children whose imaginations fill the empty space with visions of lost worlds;

• What it’s like to BE a paleontologist and to know about the history of the land where you are, to have insights into the Deep Time Big Story and how it relates you to the ground on which you walk;

• How time perception changes when you’re in the badlands doing paleontological field research;

• Michael’s childhood mentor and role model, rockstar revolutionary “heretical” paleontologist Robert T. Bakker, who had a habit of weaving Bible scripture and Broadway musical numbers into his energetic and engaging dinosaur ecology talks;

• The major role that contingency plays in mass extinctions and the rise and fall of groups that otherwise seem dominant (like dinosaurs, and humans) – ie, “How do you become dominant? How do you rise up from nothing and become a BRONTOSAURUS?”

• And the major role that MYSTERY plays in our understanding of the ancient world;

• Oh, and we also talk about dinosaurs! For like half an hour. About Tyrannosauroidea, specifically, and how T. rex rose to greatness. And how to survive a mass extinction. But you’ll just have to listen for the rest.


“I’m always thinking about, ‘Where is this area, where was it during the Mesozoic Era, what was it like when Pangaea was still around, what kind of environments were there, what kind of dinosaurs were living there?’ Just having this perspective, when you travel around on the Earth, of looking at landscapes and being able to see the looooooong history of those landscapes. Being able to see in the shapes of hills, and the types of rocks that are exposed, and the colors of those rocks, being able to see deep distant pasts, reconstructing vanished worlds. And I think that’s part of the magic of sciences like paleontology and geology…and probably nobody that’s not a paleontologist or geologist thinks like that. I’m sure we just think really strangely.”

  • Steve Brusatte

“Nobody in science ever does anything alone. MAYBE in mathematics you can be a lone genius and figure out some great proof just sitting alone in your boxers in the dark, or whatever, but MOST science is NOT LIKE THAT. It’s collaborative, you work with teams, you NEED teams, and you need good mentorship when you’re student. So now that I run my own lab, I just hope I can provide for my own students what my mentors did to me.”

  • Steve Brusatte

“There’s something just indescribable about that feeling of finding and holding and appreciating fossil objects. And that never gets old. A new fossil discovery never gets old.”

  • Steve Brusatte

“Studying dinosaurs isn’t going to save the world, of course…BUT…”


Hey Mike! This is a GREAT episode! You and your guest, Mr. Brusatte, made NUMEROUS interesting points. Interestingly, I resonated quite well with the idea that paleontologists (and I assume geologists) are in many ways the "front line" adventurers of the modern era. I can relate to this on some level as a PERPETUAL digital nomad who roams around SouthEast Asia on my mountin bike. It's also interesting how you bring up the importance of an ARTISTIC element to science (in this case, primarily paleontology. how ironic is it that there was an equal FLOURISHING of the arts during the Renaissance in Europe. Think about the importance of mavericks such as Leonardo da Vinci, who created many highly realistic drawings of the human body and technologically innovative machines which INDEED had an effect on the culture. Even more interesting is that Mr Brusatte mentions that he is Italian in heritage. How interesting it is that MANY of the most revolutionary philosophies and inventions arose out of Italian culture (think Galileo, Marconi, etc.) I have come to believe that the reason for this is that the Italian culture has a stronger balance of emotion and intellect than many other cultures (that is, mainly amongst the more cultured classes). I think that your complaint about the head of paleontology at the university in Kansas may likely be related to the. It sounds to me like that man (like so many other in modern society) did not have the level of integration of emotion and intellect that produces deep, creative thinking and creativity. Whereas people like yourself, and Mr. Brusatte, and myself, and the many other who run in our general circles tend to operate on thsi higher level. I admire your deep, and holistic, styel of thinking on many issues. This is a product of the artistic mind, in my opinion. In the grand scheme of things it is ultimatly the ARTISTS who make PROFOUND and ENDURING change to culture and civilization. The artist SEES. the possibilities for the future, and then CONVEYS those sights to those with the ability/talents to bring those visions into reality. I believe that this is primarily where we are at now. The VISIONARIES are trying to build a new paradigm out of the ashes of the old one, which was quite drab. I believe that this is what most of us here on Steemit are doing as well. That is why I love this community so much. Over the 10+ years of hardcore travel I have developed a great fondness for ornithology. I lived in Hawaii for a little over a year back around 2001, and I ended up with this job taking care of a house full of macaws. I would feed them, clean up after them, and play with them in exchange for free rent. Man, I would find it hard to believe if someone argued that those birds don't exhibit SOME FORM of higher, ANCIENT intelligence which could EASILY go as far back as the dinosaur eras. I learned a few years ago that the larger birds, like the macaws and hornbills (specifically those with the FUNKY beaks) are likely most closely descended from the dinnasaurs. I totally beliebe that, having been in close contact with these creatures. Anyway, I REALLY enjoyed this episode, because I like how you take the "science out of the science" and frame inntellectual pursuits such as paleontology and geology asm MUCH MORE than simple science. I believe you are saying that the paleontologist navigates the world through a UNIQUE perpective which focuses on certain THEMES and data collection/analysis specific to the science, but that since that science is which has a MUCH WIDER time span of reference this FORCES you to naturally gain a deeper perspective of the world you encounter. Then again, that could also be said for physicists, doctors, etc. It's like ALL sciences (and other serious intellectual pursuits) train the mind to adhere to a specific perspective. I think the fundamental difference with a field of knowledge like paleontology is that one of the CORE issues it deals with is the question of: "Why did those ENTIRE species, and families of species" just disappear of the face of the earth? It's essentially the same concept of economics - "the dismal science". Economists spend a lot of their time studying why ECONOMIES fail, while paleontologists spend a lot of their time studying why ENTIRE CIVILIZATIONS (by which term I include non-human AND human "civilizations") fail. I really enjoy your MODUS of thinking and inquiry, and I believe that the "Future Fossils" podcast introduces to listeners a unique and fresh MODE of thinking about the world which helps take the intellectual process to the next level". I'm very much looking forward to listening to the archived, and future, episodes of the show. Keep up the great work. Also, I recommend that you check out the "This Birding Life" podcast : https://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/podcasts/thisbirdinglife.php They're taking a similar approach to yours in the realm of ornithology, and Bill Thompson has had some EXCELLENT guests on who have really helped take my level of knowledge asnd undestanding of birds to "the next level". PEACE.