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Featured Collection

D-Lib Magazine
March 2003

Volume 9 Number 3

ISSN 1082-9873

Strange Science: The Rocky Road to Modern Paleontology and Biology

By Bonita Wilson
Corporation for National Research Initiatives

Image of Elephant

Illustration of mammoth skeleton originally published in the Mammoth of New York exhibition, 1802. Courtesy of Strange Science. Used with permission.

Once in a while, the collection or web site selected for D-Lib Magazine's "Featured Collection" is one that I find to be a bit quirky and fun. Perhaps because there are so many serious matters dominating the news as the March 2003 issue of D-Lib goes to press, I found myself attracted to just such a small, personal, and amusing site to feature this month.

Strange Science presents a primarily light-hearted look at some of the stumbles along the path to discovery in natural science. As the site's creator, Michon Scott, describes it, Strange Science is "a collection of misguided attempts to explain natural history, including honest and dishonest mistakes about dinosaurs, mammals, sea monsters, and prehistoric beasts."

The image of the furry pterosaur (mistakenly displaying elements of birds, bats, and amphibians) on this month's table of contents and the image on this page of the mammoth skeleton (with tusks protruding from eye sockets of the mammoth's skull) are both from the Strange Science Goof Gallery, "a collection of mistakes about living and extinct organisms."

Image of Fish Skeleton

Illustration of fossil fish from Les Poissons Fossiles, Louis Agassiz, 1843. Courtesy of Strange Science. Used with permission.

In categories such as "Dinosaurs and Dragons", "Mammals", "Sea Monsters", "Forgeries and Frauds", and others, Michon Scott provides illustrations from various centuries-old science books. Accompanying some of the illustrations is text theorizing how some of the creatures of mythology might have resulted from erroneous guesses made from fossil discoveries, as, for example, when ancient Greek sailors found elephant skulls and mistook the nasal openings for the elephants' trunks as single eye sockets, which may have led to the myth of the Cyclops. Scott makes a plea for compassion for those who came to the wrong conclusions in those long ago eras, however, reminding the visitor to Strange Science that "someday others will look back on the turn of the 21st century and share a good chuckle over some of our latest and greatest theories."

Map of Iceland

Excerpt of a map of Iceland originally published in Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, ca. 1570. Courtesy of Strange Science. Used with permission.

Other sections of interest at the Strange Science web site include a timeline of major events in paleontology and biology, biographies of scientists, artists and collectors who have contributed to our body of natural science knowledge, and a fairly extensive annotated list of references.

The Strange Science web site is at <>. Enjoy!

Copyright© 2003 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

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DOI: 10.1045/march2003-featured.collection