Wednesday various

  • Following up on the “there is no Triceratops, only Zuul” story I posted yesterday, here’s Caitlin R. Kiernan’s take on the whole thing:

    People are used to looking at species as static entities. But biologists work with species (and all other taxonomic units— the case of Triceratops is a genus-level problem) as hypotheses. And any given hypothesis may be discarded by future discoveries. That is, the name Triceratops is a hypothesis seeking to explain a collection of seemingly related fossils of a Late Cretaceous horned dinosaur. The hypothesis says that all specimens of Triceratops are more closely related to one another than they are they are to any other genus of chasmosaurine dinosaur. But, like all hypotheses, it can be falsified in light of future discoveries. In this case, the discovery of new fossils giving us a more complete picture of Triceratops as a living population of animals, and allowing us to realize that the morph we used to call “Torosaurus” is actually only the very mature form of Triceratops. As an hypothesis, “Torosaurus” appears to have been falsified. Now, it’s possible that Scannella and Horner are wrong, and that future discoveries and/or research of old discoveries will show that Triceratops and “Torosaurus” really are two taxa (though I’ve read the paper, and this seems unlikely). All hypotheses are provisional. Nothing is ever certain. Never. The best argument may be in error. That’s how science works, even if the press seems unable to grasp this.

  • Following up on the Gaiman/McFarlane legal battles I also posted about yesterday, Erik Larsen’s defense of McFarlane needs some work [via]:

    It’s one thing to start a flame-war, or be a loudmouth, or try to argue that, say, a court ruling was unfair. That, after all, is just another Tuesday on Twitter. It’s a very different thing to blame a judicial ruling you disagree with on sexist caricatures of women as irrational, swooning groupies — especially if you’re starting to make a habit of it.

  • FBI wants its seal removed from Wikipedia. Whichever side is right in this, I do like Wikipedia’s official response [via]:

    While we appreciate your desire to revise the statute to reflect your expansive vision of it, the fact is that we must work with the actual language of the statute, not the aspirational version of Section 701 that you forwarded to us…

  • Gio Clairval on Lightness: Italo Calvino’s hope for the future of literature. There are some really interesting thoughts here:

    Steampunk is often—not always, but often—set during the industrial revolution, a time that revolves around the heaviness of steel. A weighty century, indeed. Too-heavy ships crossed the oceans. Eiffel’s tower represented Man’s victory over iron. The ponderous consciousness of matter—inevitable—dominated until the late eighties. Asimov imagined immense computers. Arthur C. Clarke let enormous steles fall from the sky.

    But today, what fascinates us most in Steampunk? Airships pulled upward by light gasses. Impossibly floating cities.

  • And finally, for something completely different, a dog mowing the lawn [via]: