from the world's big
She discovered Jurassic dinosaur fossils that challenged Bible-based creationism
Mary Anning lived in a time when women couldn't attend university.
Mary Anning was a British fossil collector, dealer, and paleontologist (before there was paleontology). Her studies challenged the Bible-based view of creation, and her gender and status challenged what a scientists should be. The fossils she found proved that there was something before man, which upset the established narrative of the history of life on Earth. The British Journal for the History of Science describes her as “the greatest fossilist the world ever knew."
Anning would roam the limestone cliffs in Dorset, England. This is where she made many fossil discoveries, including the first ichthyosaur skeleton. This creature must have looked quite strange, its skull was four feet long and its jaw was the shape of a pair of needle-nose pliers.
Ichthyosaur skull. Image source: Everard Home / Wikimedia Commons
Her discoveries would introduce a world of firsts to the scientific community, including the first two plesiosaur skeletons ever found, the first pterosaur skeleton located outside Germany, and fish fossils. She would collect fossils that became dislodged after mudslides and retrieve them before they were swallowed by the sea's tides. This work could be quite dangerous. In 1833, the landslide that took her dog's life nearly took her own.
It's important to note that during the early 1800s, most people in Britain maintained a literal interpretation of the creation story, believing the Earth was only a few thousand years old. But these new creatures buried beneath our feet made scientists consider there may have been an entirely different world before our own.
Her fossils became the evidence of a new idea in science: extinction. French anatomist Georges Cuvier had argued this after analyzing mammoth fossils, but many explained his idea away, saying these creatures still existed somewhere else on Earth. Extinction would imply God's creation was imperfect. However, Anning's findings were evidence towards Cuvier's hypothesis—that whole species have disappeared in Earth's history.
Duria Antiquior is a watercolor by the geologist Henry de la Beche depicting what life could have looked like in ancient Dorset. This representation of prehistoric life was influenced by the fossils Anning found, and proceeds from the sale of the painting were donated to her efforts.
Duria Antiquior by the Henry de la Beche, 1830
During her life, Anning received little recognition for her work. She lived in a time when women couldn't vote or attend university. As a woman of low social status, she had trouble receiving the respect of her peers and even getting credit for her finds in the scientific community.
Lady Harriet Sivester, the widow of the former Recorder of the City of London, thought it was "divine favour" that such a young woman could posses such knowledge in the sciences, indeed, even more than "anyone else in this kingdom."
"She says the world has used her ill ... these men of learning have sucked her brains, and made a great deal of publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages," wrote Anna Pinney, a woman who accompanied Anning when she would go in search for fossils along the cliffs.
However, history has not forgotten Mary Anning, and we remember her legacy of field research and the impact it's had on understanding life on our planet.
Big Think is proud to partner with the 92nd Street Y to bring you this series on female genius as part of its 7 Days of Genius Festival.
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
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Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.
- The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
- Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.
COVID-19 and the brain<p>A growing body of research reveals alarming neurological complications among COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, for example, researchers from University College London published a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/doi/10.1093/brain/awaa240/5868408" target="_blank">study</a> in the journal Brain that describes how some patients have suffered temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, and other neurological problems concurrent with COVID-19.</p><p>Some patients suffered brain inflammation as a result of a rare disease called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which can cause numbness, seizures, and confusion. One patient in the study even hallucinated monkeys and lions in her home.</p>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>A separate study published in the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198407/" target="_blank">Journal of Clinical Neuroscience</a> notes that some COVID-19 patients have also suffered neurological complications like impaired consciousness and acute cerebrovascular disease. The study notes that past viruses like MERS and SARS also seemed to cause neurological problems.</p><p>A troubling finding among this growing body of research is that some patients seem to suffer neurological damage even when respiratory symptoms aren't obvious. Additionally, scientists aren't sure whether damage from the disease will be permanent.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Dr. Ross Paterson, joint first author of the University College London study, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ucl-iid070620.php" target="_blank">press release</a>. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>
Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.