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Pulling Back the Curtain on Dinosaur Science

Everyone knows that paleontologists study fossils, but how do they actually do that? How do scientists go from discovering a fossil bone to describing that fossil in a scientific journal? The public rarely sees how scientists work, but a new initiative called the Open Dinosaur Project might help to...

The skeleton of Iguanodon from O.C. Marsh's The Dinosaurs of North America. Iguanodon is just one of the dinosaurs that will be studied by the Open Dinosaur Project.


Everyone knows that paleontologists study fossils, but how do they actually do that? How do scientists go from discovering a fossil bone to describing that fossil in a scientific journal? The public rarely sees how scientists work, but a new initiative called the Open Dinosaur Project might help to change that.

Over the past few years there have been many calls to make science more "open" -- to let anyone who is interested view science as it is happening. Now three paleontologists -- Andy Farke of the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, Matt Wedel of the Western University of Health Sciences, and Mike Taylor of University College London --  have devised away to allow the public not only witness science in-progress but also to participate in it.

The researchers want to better understand the evolutionary changes in limb bones in ornithischian dinosaurs, or the large group that contained the horned dinosaurs, ankylosaurs, hadrosaurs, stegosaurs, and others. This will require the collection of a lot of data, and this is where you come in.

In order to measure enough dinosaur limbs Farke, Wedel, and Taylor will need a group of dedicated volunteers, and those volunteers could be almost anyone. As the scientists write:
f you care about dinosaurs, and want to make some science, then you can be involved.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a seasoned professional palaeontologist, a high-school kid or a retired used-car salesman: so long as you can conduct yourself like a professional, you’re welcome here.
What will those volunteers do? Since many scientific journals are allowing the public increased access at no charge, almost anyone with an Internet connection could contribute something to the researchers’ database.

The precise details of this project have yet to be announced, and the paleontologists acknowledge that there will be some fine-tuning along the way, but the Open Dinosaur Project will give almost anyone a chance to contribute something to paleontology. Watch the Open Dinosaur Project website for further announcements and details. I'm in; are you?
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About Brian Switek
Brian Switek

Brian Switek is a freelance science writer specializing in evolution, paleontology, and natural history. He writes regularly for National Geographic's Phenomena blog as Laelaps.

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