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Influential Paleontologist, John Ostrom, Dies at 77

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posted on Jul, 21 2005 @ 12:06 PM
Obituary from John Noble Wilford. There is also an ATSNN Submission on this

John H. Ostrom, a paleontologist influential in the revival of scientific research about dinosaurs, notably previously unsuspected clues to their speed and agility and their probable ancestral link to modern birds, died on Saturday in Litchfield, Conn. He was 77.[...]
Although Dr. Ostrom had long since withdrawn from the field work of fossil hunting, two of his early discoveries had a profound effect on dinosaur research in the last half of the 20th century, shattering stereotypes and inspiring sweeping changes in thinking about their lives and times. His work attracted many young researchers to dinosaur studies, a field that had been moribund for several decades.

If you've ever heard of Deinonychus, or 'raptors', then you've come into contact with the work of John Ostrom. If you've ever heard of paleontologist Robert Bakker, which his characteristic cowboy hat and beard, then you've come into contact with one of Ostrom's students. If you've ever looked at a bird and thought, 'yowza, it used to be a dinosaur', then you've thought about something that John Ostrom helped to demostrate. Its even arguable that without Ostrom that there'd've not been this idea that birds really did evolve from dinosaurs. Other researchers, like Huxely ('darwin's bulldog') and the German Gegenbauer, had hyothesized that birds and dinosaurs were very closely related, but those ideas were ultimately rejected. Most biologists seemed to prefer the hypothesis set forth by Gerard Heilman, that birds evovled, essentially, from something like arboreal lizards. Ostrom recognized the implications of an organism like the active and lively-looking Deinonychus, with its gracile bone structure and wickedly and famously recurved foot-claws.

This is very relevant to the ideas invovled in creationism v. evolution. Creationism posits, quite often, that there are absolute 'kinds' of animals, and that evolution can't get past an imaginary 'kind barrier'. Therefore dogs allways evolve into other dogs, not cats or bears, and lizards allways remain lizards, not birds or anything else. The programme of research that followed and was dependant upon Ostroms ideas clearly demonstrates that there are no 'kinds'. There are organisms that are just as much 'bird' as they are 'dinosaur' or reptile, and indeed there aren't really any 'kind characteristics', like feathers, perching feet, flight, wings, etc, that are exclusive to birds.

Ostrom was highly well respected and very well liked within the paleontological community. This loss will be missed, but even without Ostrom himself, his ideas live on throughout the entire field of dinosaur and bird paleontology.

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