Since their discovery in the early 19th Century, dinosaurs have fascinated both the scientific community and the general public. Alternatively the exemplars of power and adaptation or obsolesce and failure, the members of Dinosauria have been the best known of Life’s ancient past to the world at large. But how do we know about them? How can we reconstruct their anatomy, their behavior, their evolution, and their extinction? And how can knowledge of these ancient animals help us understand the contemporary world?
This Honors Seminar will focus on the nature of that understanding. Students in the program will examine the science behind dinosaur paleontology: how data derived from fossils are used to reveal the life and habits of these animals. They will critically examine recent primary scientific literature to see how paleontologists in this endeavor employ alternative methods, and evaluate the different types of information produced by such studies. These critical reviews will serve as the basis for small-group discussions on the different facets of paleontological research.
Furthermore, each student will screen one of several different documentaries about dinosaur paleontology, to interpret its effectiveness at conveying the nature of (and uncertainties about) scientific research.
Additionally, the students and their instructor will additionally travel to an East Coast natural history museum to evaluate its dinosaur exhibits, which will serve as the basis of a report by the students.
Grading and evaluation: Critical reviews of several technical papers and one documentary; small-group discussion reports; participation in course discussions; field trip report; midterm and final exams reviewing key concepts.