How Feuds Fuel Discovery
Human endeavors are often fueled by rivalries. Or downright animosity. Paleontology is no different and many of the most significant discoveries about dinosaurs and their world have been borne out of professional and personal quarrels between scientists. On this day in dinosaurs, let’s remember a few of the most significant quarrels.
Owen vs. Mantell
Gideon Mantell was the first dinosaur obsessive. After describing the Iguanodon, Mantell became increasingly fixated on the prehistoric world and ignored his own, causing friction with his wife and children (who ultimately left him). Meanwhile, the brilliant Richard Owen classified the “dinosauria” and sought to undermine much of Mantell’s success. Though these two were clearly rivals during their lives, the science that they helped to found became much more than their feud.
Cope vs. Marsh
This is the grand-daddy of all dinosaur debacles. Books have been filled with the details and generations of scientists and the general public have reaped the rewards of the tussle between Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope. The American dinosaurs that are famous and beloved around the globe are largely the legacy of these two great, and stubbornly antagonistic, men.
The Metabolic Conflicts
One of the most controversial tenets of the dinosaur renaissance in the latter stages of the 20th century was assertion that dinosaurs might have been warm-blooded. This debate was not waged by two people but by two factions. The old guard resisted while the younger scientists came to the battle armed with an arsenal of new weapons–cladistic analyses, collaborations with other scientific fields, and a host of new discoveries. There were associated battles as well–a heated one about the dinosaurian origin of flight and a battle largely inflated by the media about whether T. rex was a hunter or scavenger. The dinosaur enlightenment is now progressing to further these ideas and bring us closer to the truth of the mysterious Mesozoic.
Dinosaurs have always stoked our primal passions, but these arguments and scientific jousts are all necessary to create stronger arguments. While the rivalries seem to be a bit more civil since Cope and Marsh’s time, there are still some highly debated topics, including whether or not Nanotyrannus is a new species or merely a juvenile T. rex, whether Spinosaurus is as wildly different as some researchers believe, and even the new dinosaur classification system–which may supplant Seeley’s long-standing saurischian and ornithiscian groupings. Time will tell.