Saturday, June 25, 2011

GeoJeopardy! Fridays #52

Time for GeoJeopardy! Fridays, because it's still Friday somewhere, right?.

- Prehistoric Times -

Scientists believe that  Eohippus, about the size of a small dog, was the earliest ancestor of this animal


Scientists have placed 5 species of prehumans into the genus Australopithecus, which means "southern" this


This prehistoric people that followed Neanderthal man produced the first examples of human artwork


The 2 dinosaurian orders are saurischia, which means "lizard hips", & ornithischia, which means this


This coal-forming period of geologic time is split into Mississippian & Pennsylvanian periods

All the answers as well as any other previous GeoJeopardy! questions can be found over at my website by clicking the link.  

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Questions, images, and videos courtesy of


  1. Scientists believe that eohippus, about the size of a small dog, was the earliest ancestor of this animal

    Trick question! (A) Scientists don't "believe" anything, at least not when it comes to science. (B) No self-respecting paleontologist (or any other scientist, for that matter) touts _Eohippus_ (note capitalization and italics!) as an "ancestor" to anything. Identifying ancestors in the fossil record is extremely difficult and requires a huge amount of evidence. All we know of _Eohippus_ is that it's an early branch on the equid tree, but it is basically impossible to determine whether or not it's directly ancestral to anything else on that tree, let alone something far up the tree like moden _Equus_!

  2. Sometimes I think that you are just out to bust my chops :-) and thanks for the catch on the italics and caps, I missed that.

    For the record, these are questions straight from Jeopardy! so the blame should fall on them for poorly worded questions. That being said I think "believe" is a fine word to use. Scientists believe things just like anybody else, they just have facts to support their beliefs. I feel that is more a matter of semantics.

    And I can understand your argument against "ancestors" but I think the science was just dumbed down a bit for the show. I agree, true ancestors would be near impossible to determine. Perhaps a better word would have been "close relative" but I'm not sure if that would have gotten across the same point.

  3. I didn't mean to blame you for the errors; I suspected you were cutting and pasting from somewhere else! But anyway:

    "Beliefs" inherently do not have evidence to support them. From the Oxford English Dictionary:

    "a. The mental action, condition, or habit, of trusting to or confiding in a person or thing; trust, dependence, reliance, confidence, faith. Const. in (to, of obs.) a person.(Belief was the earlier word for what is now commonly called faith. The latter originally meant in English (as in Old French) ‘loyalty to a person to whom one is bound by promise or duty, or to one's promise or duty itself,’ as in ‘to keep faith, to break faith,’ and the derivatives faithful, faithless, in which there is no reference to ‘belief’; i.e. ‘faith’ was = fidelity, fealty. But the word faith being, through Old French fei, feith, the etymological representative of the Latin fides, it began in the 14th c. to be used to translate the latter, and in course of time almost superseded ‘belief,’ esp. in theological language, leaving ‘belief’ in great measure to the merely intellectual process or state in sense 2. Thus ‘belief in God’ no longer means as much as ‘faith in God’ (cf. quot. 1814 at sense 2)."

    Scientists may believe that what they behold represents reality (an argument that has been both supported and refuted on purely philosophical grounds...well outside the scope of science, except that everything for which scientists have found support has predictive ability, in turn supporting that it does represent reality), but beyond that, if it has support and is therefore "real," then it leaves the realm of "belief." If it would be true even if there weren't humans around to understand it, then it's a matter of scientific fact, not "belief." "Belief" is what one resorts to in the absence of facts and data. It's not a word that has any real part of science.

    And yes, "ancestor" is all-too-commonly used as shorthand for "distant relative" (or something similar), but "ancestor" has a very specific connotation that "relative" does not. Because we scientists are (or should be) educating the public, we should be wary of perpetuating misconceptions, no matter how much easier it is for non-scientists to understand. That's the job of the media! ;)


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