Podcast Episode 217: The Bone Wars

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The end of the Civil War opened a new era of fossil hunting in the American West — and a bitter feud between two rival paleontologists, who spent 20 years sabotaging one another in a constant struggle for supremacy. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Bone Wars, the greatest scientific feud of the 19th century.

We’ll also sympathize with Scunthorpe and puzzle over why a driver can’t drive.

Intro:

Nepal’s constitution contains instructions for drawing its flag.

The tombstone of Constanze Mozart’s second husband calls him “the husband of Mozart’s widow.”

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Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope.

Sources for our feature on the Bone Wars:

David Rains Wallace, The Bonehunters’ Revenge, 1999.

Mark Jaffe, The Gilded Dinosaur, 2000.

Elizabeth Noble Shor, The Fossil Feud, 1974.

Hal Hellman, Great Feuds in Science, 1998.

Tom Huntington, “The Great Feud,” American History 33:3 (August 1998), 14.

Richard A. Kissel, “The Sauropod Chronicles,” Natural History 116:3 (April 2007), 34-38.

Keith Stewart Thomson, “Marginalia: Dinosaurs as a Cultural Phenomenon,” American Scientist 93:3 (May-June 2005), 212-214.

Genevieve Rajewski, “Where Dinosaurs Roamed,” Smithsonian 39:2 (May 2008), 20-24.

James Penick Jr., “Professor Cope vs. Professor Marsh,” American Heritage 22:5 (August 1971).

Alfred S. Romer, “Cope versus Marsh,” Systematic Zoology 13:4 (December 1964), 201-207.

Renee Clary, James Wandersee, and Amy Carpinelli, “The Great Dinosaur Feud: Science Against All Odds,” Science Scope 32:2 (October 2008), 34-40.

Susan West, “Dinosaur Head Hunt,” Science News 116:18 (Nov. 3, 1979), 314-315.

P.D. Brinkman, “Edward Drinker Cope’s Final Feud,” Archives of Natural History 43:2 (October 2016), 305-320.

Eric J. Hilton, Joseph C. Mitchell and David G. Smith, “Edward Drinker Cope (1840–1897): Naturalist, Namesake, Icon,” Copeia 2014:4 (December 2014), 747-761.

John Koster, “Good to the Old Bones: Dreaming of Dinosaurs, Digging for Dollars,” Wild West 25:2 (August 2012), 26-27.

Daniel Engber, “Bone Thugs-N-Disharmony,” Slate, Aug. 7, 2013.

Walter H. Wheeler, “The Uintatheres and the Cope-Marsh War,” Science, New Series 131:3408 (April 22, 1960), 1171-1176.

Lukas Rieppel, “Prospecting for Dinosaurs on the Mining Frontier: The Value of Information in America’s Gilded Age,” Social Studies of Science 45:2 (2015), 161-186.

Michael J. Benton, “Naming Dinosaur Species: The Performance of Prolific Authors,” Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 30:5 (2010), 1478-1485.

Cary Woodruff and John R. Foster, “The Fragile Legacy of Amphicoelias fragillimus (Dinosauria: Sauropoda; Morrison Formation-Latest Jurassic),” PeerJ PrePrints 3 (2014), e838v1.

Paul Semonin, “Empire and Extinction: The Dinosaur as a Metaphor for Dominance in Prehistoric Nature,” Leonardo 30:3 (1997), 171-182.

Jennie Erin Smith, “When Fossil-Finding Was a Contact Sport,” Wall Street Journal Asia, June 10, 2016, A.11.

Adam Lusher, “The Brontosaurus Is Back After 150 Million Years… At Least in Name,” Independent, April 8, 2015, 10.

Will Bagley, “Rivals Fought Tooth and Nail Over Dinosaurs,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 25, 2001, B1.

Clive Coy, “Skeletons in the Closet,” Ontario National Post, Jan. 22, 2000, 10.

Rose DeWolf, “Philly Is Facile With Fossils,” Philadelphia Daily News, March 27, 1998, D.6.

Mark Jaffe, “Phila. and Fossils Go Way Back,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 22, 1998, 2.

Malcolm W. Browne, “Dinosaurs Still Star in Many Human Dramas and Dreams,” New York Times, Oct. 14, 1997.

John Noble Wilford, “Horses, Mollusks and the Evolution of Bigness,” New York Times, Jan. 21, 1997.

Jerry E. Bishop, “Bones of Contention: Should Dr. Cope’s Be The Human Model?” Wall Street Journal, Nov. 1, 1994, A1.

“Dinosaur Book Has Museum Aide Losing His Head,” Baltimore Sun, Oct. 17, 1994, 6A.

“The Bricks of Scholarship,” New York Times, Jan. 21, 1988.

Dick Pothier, “Fossil Factions: Dinosaur Exhibit Points Out a Battle in Science,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 9, 1986, B.14.

Rose DeWolf, “Dinosaurs: Bone in the USA,” Philadelphia Daily News, Jan. 24, 1986, 52.

William Harper Davis, “Cope, a Master Pioneer of American Paleontology,” New York Times, July 5, 1931.

George Gaylord Simpson, “Mammals Were Humble When Dinosaurs Roved,” New York Times, Oct. 18, 1925.

“A Prehistoric Monster,” Hartford Republican, Sept. 1, 1905.

“The Scientists’ New President,” Topeka State Journal, Oct. 9, 1895.

Listener mail:

David Mack, “This Woman With a ‘Rude’ Last Name Started the Best Thread on Twitter,” BuzzFeed News, Aug. 29, 2018.

Natalie Weiner, Twitter, Sept. 6, 2018.

Wikipedia, “Scunthorpe Problem” (accessed Sept. 6, 2018).

Declan McCullagh, “Google’s Chastity Belt Too Tight,” CNET, April 23, 2004.

Daniel Oberhaus, “Life on the Internet Is Hard When Your Last Name is ‘Butts,'” Motherboard, Aug. 29, 2018.

Matthew Moore, “The Clbuttic Mistake: When Obscenity Filters Go Wrong,” Telegraph, Sept. 2, 2008.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener David Malki.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Singular

Churchill himself is a talented heckler. Sir William Joynson-Hicks was making a speech before Commons and noticed Churchill shaking his head so vigorously that attention was distracted from the address. ‘I see my right honourable friend shaking his head,’ cried Joynson-Hicks with exasperation. ‘I wish to remind him that I am only expressing my own opinion!’

‘And I wish to remind the speaker that I am only shaking my own head,’ replied Churchill.

— Brisbane Courier-Mail, 1952

Podcast Episode 216: The Tromelin Island Castaways

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1761 a French schooner was shipwrecked in the Indian Ocean, leaving more than 200 people stranded on a tiny island. The crew departed in a makeshift boat, leaving 60 Malagasy slaves to fend for themselves and wait for rescue. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Tromelin Island castaways, which one observer calls “arguably the most extraordinary story of survival ever documented.”

We’ll also admire some hardworking cats and puzzle over a racer’s death.

See full show notes …

The Body Politic

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This iconic image of Abraham Lincoln is not authentic — Lincoln never posed in this “heroic” style during his lifetime, so after his death an enterprising artist added Abe’s head to a portrait of South Carolina Democrat John C. Calhoun.

Both men would have been aghast. “Many in the South once believed that slavery was a moral and political evil,” Calhoun once wrote. “That folly and delusion are gone. We see it now in its true light, and regard it as the most safe and stable basis for free institutions in the world.”

Podcast Episode 215: The Lieutenant Nun

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In 1607, a 15-year-old girl fled her convent in the Basque country, dressed herself as a man, and set out on a series of unlikely adventures across Europe. In time she would distinguish herself fighting as a soldier in Spain’s wars of conquest in the New World. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Catalina de Erauso, the lieutenant nun of Renaissance Spain.

We’ll also hunt for some wallabies and puzzle over a quiet cat.

See full show notes …

Cameo

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This is the only known photograph of Connecticut’s Charter Oak, a famous symbol of American independence before a storm blew it down in 1856.

Curiously, the father of the country seems to appear among its branches.

Podcast Episode 214: The Poison Squad

wiley and the poison squad

In 1902, chemist Harvey Wiley launched a unique experiment to test the safety of food additives. He recruited a group of young men and fed them meals laced with chemicals to see what the effects might be. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Wiley’s “poison squad” and his lifelong crusade for food safety.

We’ll also follow some garden paths and puzzle over some unwelcome weight-loss news.

See full show notes …

Potential

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His father also relates another amusing little incident: ‘When he was about ten years old, a distinguished phrenologist came along and stayed several days in the place. He was frequently asked to examine heads, blindfolded. The phrenologist, among others, examined the boy Grant. He felt his head for several minutes without saying anything. Then he was asked if the boy had a capacity for mathematics. The phrenologist, after some further examinations, said: “You need not be surprised if you see this boy fill the Presidential chair some time.”‘

— William Ralston Balch, Life and Public Services of General Grant, 1885

Better Late

The Peloponnesian War ended in 1996. The bloody conflict between Athens and Sparta had stopped in 404 B.C. without an official peace pact, so after 2,500 years the cities decided to sign a symbolic agreement. It read, “Today we express our grief for the devastating war between the two key cities of ancient Greece and declare its end.”

Similarly, when the First Anglo-Dutch War ended in 1654, the Dutch Republic forgot to include the Isles of Scilly in the Treaty of Westminster, so the Dutch and the Scillonians remained pointlessly but arguably at war for 332 years, until they signed a symbolic peace in 1986.

The Dutch ambassador said, “It must have been awful to know we could have attacked at any moment.”

Podcast Episode 213: Grover Cleveland’s Secret Surgery

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In 1893, Grover Cleveland discovered a cancerous tumor on the roof of his mouth. It was feared that public knowledge of the president’s illness might set off a financial panic, so Cleveland suggested a daring plan: a secret surgery aboard a moving yacht. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the president’s gamble — and the courageous reporter who threatened to expose it.

We’ll also audit some wallabies and puzzle over some welcome neo-Nazis.

See full show notes …