Science in action!

Today’s Material World podcast has something particularly interesting on it, and that’s despite having naught but the barest minimum of physics talk on it; an achievement indeed.

In South Africa, a group of palaeontologists have discovered a deathtrap* containing the oldest and most intact remains of a body displaying some of the nearest true human characteristics we’ve ever seen. By my understanding, that makes it our nearest dearest ancestor. To hear it explained better (using google and 9 year old kids, no less), actually listen to the program here.

No, no, their findings are not what I find most intersting. They are interesting, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

Nor is it that this finding is going to give us a specific date, from which we can start re-evaluating our current hominin fossils and data. Again, interesting but not the point.

What’s interesting is the guests brought on by Quentin Cooper, Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum and Dr Kristian Carlson, one of the team involved with the finding. When brought on, and after a bit of preamble explaining what was going on, they strayed from the standard interview process and began asking each other questions.

This is interesting because it shows that these findings are so new that the asker, Professor Stringer, had no idea what the answer to these questions were, and wanted to know, to settle his own curiosity. And with the help of Doctor Carlson, they hashed out some of the questions that even other scientists and experts wanted answers to.

You know you're on the cutting edge of science when experts want answers off each other.


A lot of people consider that science is either just facts being distributed, or a lone scientist with a piece of paper and a computer working those facts out. At the very extreme, it is a few people pouring chemicals into beakers. But for a few seconds, we got to see s glimpse of what science really is: people who are motivated by a genuine desire to know, talking with one another about the meaning of findings, and describing what conclusions can be drawn from them.

Science is curiosity, and it’s not just laypeople who have questions they want answering.


* Their words, not mine. Oh, don’t give me that look – they’re palaeontologists; studying dead bodies is what they do. It can hardly be surprising that they’d look for deathtraps and other means of effectively killing lots of people.


Posted on September 8, 2011, in GLOOP and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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