The Dinosaur Heresies NYTimes Book Review from 1986

the_dinosaur_heresies200Now almost 30 years old, here’s something you might like to read (perhaps again?).
This is the NY Times book review of Dr. Robert Bakker’s ‘The Dinosaur Heresies’ from 1986. You can read the complete original here. I went to the prophesies below and marked them with a [+] or a [-] for those supported today or not and for those that are still questionable: [?].

Dinosaur Mysteries
Published: November 8, 1986

THE DINOSAUR HERESIES. New Theories Unlocking the Mystery of the Dinosuars and Their Extinction. By Robert T. Bakker. Illustrated. 481 pages. William Morrow & Company. $19.95.

Mr. [not Dr.?] Bakker has a quirky, free-floating imagination, and in the course of this book – which is generously illustrated with his own charming sketches – he raises many offbeat questions: Were changes in dinosaur eating patterns responsible for the evolution of flowering plants? [+] Did pink pterodactyls exist? [?] What sort of lips did dinosaurs have? [+] Could a human being beat a tyrannosaurus at arm wrestling? [?]

Mr. Bakker, the adjunct curator at the University Museum in Boulder, Colo., has published many papers in the field of vertebrate paleontology, and his book stands as an informative layman’s introduction to the wonderful world of dinosaurs while at the same time making an impassioned case for his own – sometimes heretical – views on their endurance and extinction. ”I’d be disappointed,” he writes, ”if this book didn’t make some people angry”; and given the often fiercely polarized world of vertebrate paleontology, he’s unlikely to be let down.

As Mr. Bakker sees it, dinosaurs have been given a bad rap over the years as ”failures in the evolutionary test of time” – portrayed as small-brained, cold-blooded sluggards who couldn’t ”cope with competition from the smaller, smarter, livelier mammals.” Such portraits, he suggests, are unfair as well as scientifically inaccurate: in the first place, dinosaurs dominated history for 130 million years [+] – a remarkably long period of time that attests to a decided ability to survive (the human species, in contrast, has only been around for 100,000 years). And while Mr. Bakker acknowledges that dinosaurs were probably not brilliant thinkers [+], he makes a persuasive argument for their physiological adaptability and their prodigious energy [+] – he even speculates that tyrannosaurus could gallop about at speeds approaching 45 miles an hour.  [-] 

Much of ”The Dinosaur Heresies,” in fact, revolves around the question of whether the animals were cold-blooded (and more closely related to reptiles) or, as Mr. Bakker contends, warm-blooded (and more closely related to mammals and birds) [+]. While he occasionally stops to summarize opposing viewpoints, he is less interested in presenting an objective overview of the field than in mustering evidence to support his own theories.

He argues that gizzards and large digestive tracts in [some] dinosaurs would have compensated for their weak teeth [+], enabling them to eat high quantities of land plants, necessary to support a high metabolic rate. He argues that birds and pterodactyls – both of which would have had to evolve high-pressure hearts and lungs before flight could have been achieved  [+] – descended from dinosaurs  [+] [-], and that it’s not unlikely that these ancestor dinosaurs were already equipped for high metabolism [+]. He argues that the dinosaurs’ ”adaptations for sex and intimidation” – horns, head-butting armor and all manner of bony frills -suggest that they led active, aggressive lives, uncharacteristic of lethargic, cold-blooded animals  [+]. He argues that the growth rate of dinosaurs more closely resembles that of mammals than reptiles [+]. And, finally, he argues that dinosaurs’ porous bone tissue indicates the sort of high blood-flow rate usually associated with warm-blooded creatures [?].

On the question of the dinosaurs’ demise, Mr. Bakker sides with those paleontologists who discount new theories of mass extinction caused by some sort of cosmic catastrophe – he cites evidence suggesting the extinctions occurred not during a single ”doomsday” period but over tens of thousands of years [+] [-] [?]. In his view, the development of new sorts of dinosaurs and other animals, combined with changes in the physical and genetic environment, gradually led to their doom [+] [-].

On a side note:
I liked Dr. Bakker’s quote about making some people angry with his novel ideas based on overlooked data.

On another side note:
like our antiquated notions about dinosaurs from over 30 years ago, pterosaurs today have been given a bad rap. They are still portrayed as ungainly quadrupeds, bound by membranes that tied their legs together and tied their wings to their ankles (along with a long list of other false paradigms). The data deniers, unfortunately, are still out there, thinking that if they just turn a blind eye toward certain data and hypotheses they will go away.

As everyone knows,
this blog, Pterosaur Heresies, was intended to approach data with the same verve and testing of false traditions that Dr. Bakker demonstrated.




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