I’m sharing with you a paper I’m preparing for submittal into a Paleontology Society for which I am a member. The paper, a summary of some spectacular research, is logically limited to the field of Paleontology. However, I also wanted you, the reader, to use this paper think about the implications of over-specialization and its theoretical negative impact upon creative-based productivity. Based upon the research overview below… on one hand, you’ve the specialist – the Paleontologist – this is his life’s work and encompasses all he knows. On the other you’ve the polymath – he knows a little about a lot and leverages different methodologies to supercharge his results in a diversity of fields. Ergo, I submit to you that this research would not have been undertaken to the degree it was without the influence of the polymath (knowing what I do about paleo-study).
We, as a race, will benefit to a higher degree if we can break-down the historical myopic paradigm inherent with our fascination with being a “Specialist”. Can you imagine a job interview where the HR rep asks “so I now know you understand database design… but what do you know about art and architecture? Do you play a musical instrument?” Art, Architecture… even Musical Theory offer a rich baseline in which to expand one’s knowledge of technological structure and design. This isn’t about being a generalist. This is about building a diverse foundation of knowledge from which to produce the necessary elements in which to optimally “think differently” about an esoteric or highly-specialized subject matter. To over-specialize without this foundation should be thought of as synonymous with “to maintain the conventional, to snuff-out change, and even to under-perform.” Broadening one’s array of interests should be considered in a similar fashion to how dissimilar foci was considered during the Renaissance – literally a standard for which all else depends. Some of my smartest friends display pure genius in highly-concentrated, very specialized areas. However to get to know them one would quickly understand that they pull from a diverse field of disparate interests (hobbies and even play [essential for creativity]) to stay fresh and relevant in their chosen path.
Without further ado…
Dinosaur Census Reveals Abundant Tyrannosaurus and Rare Ontogenetic Stages in the Upper Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation (Maastrichtian)
A recent study carried out by a seasoned paleo-group, two of whom unknowingly carry my “favorite person” designation, produced some groundbreaking evidence of certain bio-ecological niches during the Cretaceous period. Groundbreaking, not only from the presented results, but also by the sheer nature of these two cerebral rock stars working together. Paleo-High Priest John Horner (most likely known through his work as the “Jurassic Park” Movie Advisor) and Polymath Nathan Myhrvold (of Microsoft and Intellectual Ventures fame) engaged in building a dinosaur census via what they entitled, the Hell Creek Project (1999–2009). This study draws from multiple lines of evidence from geography, taphohistory, stratigraphy, phylogeny and ontogeny. The project set about to investigate the relative abundance of large dinosaurs preserved in the Upper Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation of northeastern Montana, USA. Overall, the dinosaur skeletal assemblages in the Hell Creek Formation (excluding lag-influenced records) consist primarily of sub-adult or small adult size individuals. Small juveniles and large adults are both extremely rare, whereas sub-adult individuals are relatively common. The studies conclusion proposes that mature individuals (of at least some dinosaur taxa) either lived in a separate geographic locale analogous to younger individuals inhabiting an upland environment where sedimentation rates were relatively less, or these taxa experienced high mortality before reaching terminal size where late stage and often extreme cranial morphology is expressed.
The surprises remained tied to the relative abundance of Tyrannosaurus skeletons. They were cited as being as abundant as Edmontosaurus, an herbivore, in the upper Hell Creek Formation and nearly twice as common in the lower third of the formation. Note for non-paleo enthusiasts, this data triggered an excited response from anyone who considers himself or herself a Vert-Paleo specialized Bone Hunter. The smaller, predatory dinosaurs (e.g., Troodon and dromaeosaurids) are primarily represented by teeth found in micro-vertebrate localities and their skeletons or identifiable lag specimens were conspicuously absent. This relative abundance suggests Tyrannosaurus was not a typical predator and likely benefited from much wider food choice opportunities than exclusively live prey and/or specific taxa. Of importance, it was indicated that Tyrannosaurus adults may not have competed with Tyrannosaurus juveniles if the potential for selecting carrion increased with size during ontogeny.
In conclusion, the study further validated that Triceratops (my specialty) remain the most common dinosaur and isolated skulls contribute to a significant portion of this census. Associated specimens of Triceratops consisting of both cranial and postcranial elements remain relatively rare (and that which comprise a high proportion of my personal collection). This rarity may be explained by a historical collecting bias influenced by facies (in this case the mixing of Cretaceous and Paleocene taxa) and oft-related taphonomic factors (decomposition dynamics). The limited discovery of postcranial elements may also depend on how extensive a fossil quarry is expanded after a skull is collected. Taken together, the survey paints a fascinatingly broad picture of life in the Cretaceous period in what would eventually become modern-day North America.