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Department/School of the Primary Author

Science and Mathematics

Keywords

Thomas Kuhn, Philosophy of Science, dinosaurs, paleontology, history of paleontology

DOI

10.15385/jch.2018.2.2.5

Abstract

Thomas Kuhn in his famous work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions laid out the framework for his theory of how science changes. At the advent of dinosaur paleontology fossil hunters like Gideon Mantell discovered some of the first dinosaurs like Iguanodon and Megalosaurus. Through new disciples like Georges Cuvier’s comparative anatomy lead early dinosaur paleontologist to reconstruct them like giant reptiles of absurd proportions. This lead to the formation of a new paradigm that prehistoric animals like dinosaurs existed and eventually went extinct. The first reconstructions of dinosaur made them to look like giant counterparts of their modern cousins. Then in 1841, Richard Owen coined the term dinosaur, and put the newly discovered dinosaurs into a special group based on similar morphological characteristics. He reconstructed them to look like giant elephant like reptiles. They were slow, sluggish, and their tales dragged the ground. Then in 1858, William Foulke and Joseph Leidy discovered the dinosaur Hadrosaurus which had morphological characteristics that hindered the animal from being quadrupedal. As a result a new paradigm was formed and some dinosaurs were lifted off the ground. They were reconstructed to look like giant reptilian kangaroos in stance, but they were still considered slow, sluggish, with tails still dragging behind them. This paradigm persisted until the 1960’s when paleontologist John Ostrom realized that there was an anomaly within dinosaur paleontology. The environments that dinosaurs inhabited did not match with the reconstructions of swamp dwelling animals, and dinosaur anatomy also did not match those reconstructions. Ostrom’s discovery and description of Deinonychus with its very bird like skeleton lead him to conclude that dinosaurs were energetic, and probably endothermic. This resulted in a crisis which lead other paleontologist to research this anomaly. More discoveries proved Ostrom’s new paradigm and dinosaur paleontology underwent a scientific revolution from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. Formally termed the dinosaur renaissance this revolution lead to dinosaurs being reconstructed as active, intelligent animals no longer with their tails dragging behind them.

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