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When Historical Inaccuracy Is Good, as Shown by Dinosaurs

July 22 , 2016

by Luke Y. Thompson

Scholars generally hate when people don’t learn from the past, or get their history wrong. But can there be times when inaccurate history becomes… accurate history?

As Tom Scott demonstrates in his new video, the answer is yes. England’s Crystal Palace Park, created in 1854, is home to a famous set of dinosaur sculptures that have captured the imaginations of British children for years. In 1978, decades before Melissa McCarthy et al donned proton packs, Penelope Lively’s children’s book Fanny and the Monsters was satirically busting sexism with a tale about a Victorian-era girl who aspires to be a paleontologist after seeing the statues. But were Fanny to exist today, and have become the scholar she hoped to be, she might raise her voice to tell us these dinosaurs aren’t accurate, and fail to reflect the connections we now know exist between dinos and birds.

Yet by virtue of being over a century old, they themselves ARE history: the history of science, and what we thought we knew. And science is all about operating in theories that are based on our best knowledge, subject to change if and when even better knowledge comes along. To change the dinosaur statues that everyone grew up with would be a bit like, I don’t know…changing somebody’s favorite science-fiction film to have a different character shoot his laser pistol first. And you know we’d never stand for that.

After all, if Popeye cartoons can come out on DVD with a disclaimer that they reflect the prejudices of the day, but have been left unchanged to preserve their historical value, we can surely do that for the old dinosaurs. Besides, if cartoons have taught us anything, it’s that scientifically accurate dinosaurs would be gross and scary.

Do you disagree, or is this a no-brainer? Get Jurass down to comments and let us know!



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