Rules in Science and the Loss of the Brontosaurus

A hundred years earlier, a very popular dinosaur mistakenly got named twice. The first time it was called "Apatosaurus" or "deceptive lizard" and nobody much cared, because the name was dull and the fossil wasn't all that spectacular, but later discoveries were more dramatic and looked different enough that scientists mistakenly thought they'd found a new dinosaur. They called it "Brontosaurus" (meaning "thunder lizard").

Brontosaurus stuck, in part because of the cool name, plus the Sinclair Oil Company adopted the Brontosaurus as its corporate logo and that long, gangly, smiling "Dino" showed up on TV. Kids got enchanted.

When it became clear that Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus were the same genus, pretty much the same animal, one name had to go. In science the rule is, first names get priority, and Brontosaurus wasn't first. Scientists were willing to let it go, but kids (and former kids) wouldn't. They still won't.


The story of the Apatosaurus and the Brontosaurus and how one was lost as a dinosaur because of some, fabled "rule" of science. Are there really rules of science? Aren't they just cultural conventions of scientists? Why not adhere to broader cultural norms?

Folksonomies: science facts science culture

Brontosaurus (0.959876 (negative:-0.470329)), broader cultural norms (0.761669 (neutral:0.000000)), Sinclair Oil Company (0.693524 (neutral:0.000000)), Apatosaurus (0.554338 (negative:-0.582721)), popular dinosaur (0.529597 (negative:-0.291251)), deceptive lizard (0.518673 (negative:-0.555992)), new dinosaur (0.501492 (neutral:0.000000)), thunder lizard (0.499060 (neutral:0.000000)), cultural conventions (0.491297 (negative:-0.429871)), later discoveries (0.490963 (neutral:0.000000)), science (0.474128 (negative:-0.582721)), corporate logo (0.471222 (neutral:0.000000)), TV. Kids (0.444352 (positive:0.517397)), scientists (0.398773 (positive:0.027968)), rule (0.344951 (neutral:0.000000)), rules (0.343223 (negative:-0.582721)), Loss (0.267321 (negative:-0.582721)), story (0.267165 (negative:-0.582721)), priority (0.261750 (neutral:0.000000)), fossil (0.260777 (negative:-0.622299)), time (0.259271 (neutral:0.000000)), genus (0.257672 (neutral:0.000000))

Apatosaurus:City (0.834101 (negative:-0.582721))

Dinosaur (0.968349): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Apatosaurus (0.756428): dbpedia | freebase
Diplodocus (0.716108): dbpedia | freebase
Othniel Charles Marsh (0.702928): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Brachiosaurus (0.691473): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Allosaurus (0.643572): dbpedia | freebase
Supersaurus (0.625999): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Jurassic (0.584362): dbpedia | freebase

 The Triceratops Panic: Why Does Science Keep Changing Its Mind?
Electronic/World Wide Web>Internet Article:  Krulwich, Robert (April 14, 2011), The Triceratops Panic: Why Does Science Keep Changing Its Mind?, NPR, Retrieved on 2011-04-15
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  • Folksonomies: science facts science facts