Cursed Knowledge #18: The Bone Wars

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The Bone Wars. A decade long battle of ego between two dueling paleontologists. It’s a tale of obsession, sabotage, and academic backstabbing. This clash of titans brought new attention to the theory of evolution and helped make dinosaurs the cultural juggernauts we know them as now.

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  1. Avatar for 010101 010101 says:

    By 1860 The Origin of Species was widely accepted. The argument had become theological.
    The Darwin correspondence to Marsh regarding the proof of natural extinction of species (Odontornithes) IMO is in the context of Deism. Marsh helped demonstrate (to Darwin’s mind) that natural selection wasn’t necessarily a series of laws impressed on matter by the Creator. Marsh helped Darwin’s thinking evolve.

  2. Avatar for Tanya Tanya says:

    What an intriguing episode! So much was covered.

    Though I grew up in Connecticut I’ve never visited the Peabody Museum. This will need to be rectified soon. But @harperhunt, have you been to Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill? They have a preserved section of dinosaur tracks (footprints), pretty cool. And of course NYC’s own Museum of Natural History has some stunning dinosaur exhibits.

    But what a compelling story. All I could think of when hearing about the point where Cope and Marsh truly split is this:

    I sensed a lot of parallels with Egyptology and excavations done there, with all of the egos and competition and exploitation.

    And the fact that they both basically went broke – there really doesn’t seem to be any money in academia, but they did do us a great service with their work (at least when they’re not putting heads on asses!). There are the rare exceptional people that get wildly rich (or at least very comfortable), but it has seemed a little puzzling to me when people working in that and similar fields in terms of monetary compensation (artists, musicians, chefs, etc.) have second houses and such (not saying that in an envious way – keeping one apartment clean is a struggle enough, let alone two houses!). What I’ve noticed is they’re either born into money, or they end up with a spouse/partner who supports them which I think is really beautiful (not implying that the motivation to be in the relationship is financial, somehow they just end up together).

    Of course I can’t hear a reference to the Smithsonian without thinking of “Smithsonian Institute Blues”, a fine little ditty from Captain Beefheart:

    Yes, some people consider this gentleman to be a genius…including me!

    One little side note: it’s so cool to hear Ben exclaim, “Wow!” to some new knowledge or a great point Harper is making. Though I’ve never wanted kids, it did give me a little pang – that must be amazing to experience!

  3. Might both Cope and Marsh have been intensely involved in a decade long pursuit of dopamine/norepinephrine stimulation? An addiction of sorts, the pursuit of which eventually led to financial distress?
    Interesting to see the many ways this can manifest itself both in a bygone era and today.

  4. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Not too soon, please! It remains closed for its years-long refurbishment through early 2024. If they get rid of the anatomically incorrect old iguanodon mural our household will riot.

  5. The reason I compare Cope and Marsh to the Looney Tunes is because I couldn’t stop thinking of this:


    But you should definitely check out the Peabody when it reopens! I haven’t been to Rocky Hill but I’ll have to check it out now. The AMNH in NYC is a personal favorite of mine and I’m always looking for a chance to go back.

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