Brontosaurus: The Long Lost Ninth Planet

Earlier this week, many of us got the validation our childhood self needed. The dinosaur, Brontosaurus, is back (maybe?)!


If you aren’t familiar with the brontosaurus’s tragic story, it goes a little something like this: Paleontologists discover a new species of dinosaur that they call an Apatosaurus. In another part of the world at nearly the same time, scientists discover an almost identical skeleton, but they call it a Brontosaurus. By the early 1900s scientists realized that the proposed differences between these two animals were subtle, and since Apatosaurus was named first, it is the correct name.

You’re probably most familiar with the brontosaur affectionately known as Little Foot. What did they call his species on the show?  Simply “Long Necks.”

So why talk about this on a science communication blog? One of my favorite Twitter accounts, David Shiffman, summed it up nicely.

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 10.21.36 AM

Why are we obsessed with arguing back against science?  Why are scientists never allowed to change their position on something? And why do we group Pluto and the Brontosaurus into one big “bring back science of the good ol’ days” issue?



Seriously…Skeptics Blog, The Press Telegram News, NPR and TIME all put out pieces this week on what can only be called “Brontosaurus: The Ninth Planet.”

They all raise valid questions, though. Why do we need science to stay the same? Surly we’re capable of of life where Little Foot is an Apatosaurus and our mother served us nachos instead of nine pizzas! I wish I could tell you there was some scientific reasoning for our reluctancy to change, but there isn’t, at least not yet.

Robert Krulwich summed it up best when he said:

“People don’t want their eternalities to change. They hate that. But, in the end, science has to win. There are 5 year olds all over the world now growing up with Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus, but not that other guy, the one with the name of Mickey Mouse’s pet dog. In fifty years, Pluto may be just a dog again.

That’s how it goes.”

So are you ready to live and let go? Will you accept Little Foot for who he is, no matter what that might be? What about Pluto? Will you teach your kids about the long lost ninth planet? Please don’t, by the way. You’re part of the problem. Are you ready to accept a world where discovery sometimes means adjusting our science text books? I know I am, and I believe in you.


One thought on “Brontosaurus: The Long Lost Ninth Planet

  1. Reading through these again, I realized I didn’t comment on how much I enjoyed this post. I’m very much a brontosaurus booster, but I think I’ve got two good cases beyond “It’s what I learned in grade school!”
    1. Brontosaurus means “thunder lizard,” while Apatosaurus means “deceptive lizard.” One of those describes a long-necked swamp stompin’ juggernaut; the other describes some sneaky, skulking reptile you shouldn’t trust.
    2. Stephen Jay Gould says it should be.
    So, you know, I’ve got opinions.


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