The Science of Paleontology

You are already a scientist

"Science" has become an intimidating word, but it shouldn't be. We are all scientists when we solve problems. Consider this simple problem: you turn the switch of your desk lamp, and the light doesn't come on. What do you do? Another name for the way scientists work is "common sense."

In the language of science, you make an hypothesis: the light didn't come on because it's not plugged into an outlet. You also make a prediction: you'll find that it isn't plugged in, and plugging in the lamp will solve the problem.. You then test the hypothesis: you check to see if the lamp is plugged into the outlet. You predict that it did blow out sometime in the past, and that a new bulb will solve the problem. After a few tries, you find the problem and you have light.

I want you to notice something: your predictions in this case were all about things that had already happened! The lamp failed to light a few moments ago (in the past) because of some natural event. "Prediction" doesn't require that the event occur in the future, only that the event has the expected effects.

Notice also that once the most probable hypothesis has been confirmed, testing need not go on. When you found that a new light bulb solved the problem, you did not go on to check if the lamp itself were broken, or the circuit breaker had reset, or that the line to the outlet had failed. The simplest explanation that passes the tests is the most acceptable one, and effort isn't spent on more remote possilibities.

Here's your chance to DO science

Paleontology is one of many sciences, and is little more mysterious that fixing that light. We've put together a few examples that will allow you to do science, to do paleontology, right here. Here are some areas to explore:

In each of these pages, you'll learn more about the area, see how it's studied, and get a chance to do it yourself. We hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoy doing them at PRI!