You know, television really sucks! Why do
I say that to this group of people, who, for the most part, surely
agree with me? I say it for two reasons, really. One is, if
you look at the statistics, 98 percent of Americans are scientifically
illiterate. That means that over 196 million adults in this country
are scientifically illiterate! They cannot evaluate how science
is done, how it's practiced or who to trust. Less than 10 million
people can! The second thing that worries me is that we spend
billions of dollars each year in this country on science education.
I know because I see statistics showing that the Federal Government
spends hundreds of millions of dollars. Each state spends some,
not enough, but millions more. Each school district spends another
piddling little amount. You yourself spend your own money. It
all adds up. So as taxpayers, what's happening to our money?
What's happening to our efforts? I'm outraged and I'm really
annoyed that people like you are out there spending your time
and money, our tax money, and I'm spending my time helping
you on topics that we will get to in a moment to do this. Yet
our population remains scientifically illiterate. This is a prescription
for disaster in America!
Where did we lose the vast majority of people?
I don't think it's just hormones after you get done with them.
I think it is the media, especially television. Television is
really rotten when it comes to science and it's getting worse.
I say this to my scientific colleagues and every once in awhile
they'll say to me, "Oh, no it's really good, Jere. I watch
PBS." Oh, sure, but only about three percent of the population
watches PBS. You're talking to the converted already. Let's
get to those other people who understand very little about science,
and let's get them through NBC, ABC, CBS and that absolute pseudo-scientific
Oh, I've got to tell you about the Learning
Channel. How many of you watch the Learning Channel? How many
of you caught "Alien Abduction Week" last March on
the Learning Channel? Did you see "The Mysterious Origins
of Man" in October on the Learning Channel? They bought
it after NBC showed it to a few tens of millions of people. It
dealt with paleontology, my field, and I can tell you it was pure
pseudoscience and antiscience. That's the un-Learning Channel,
actually. Don't let your kids watch that. I don't.
So let's talk then for a moment about a couple
of other media. You know Time Magazine. I hold up my
copy because I asked Time Magazine if I could use pictures
of their covers. They said, sure for $200 a snapshot. So I'm
holding it up. I bought this one with my own money so I can show
it to you. This cover shows "Evolution's Big Bang",
and I want to tell you about that today because I want you to
use this, if you can, as an exciting thing in paleontology, and
look at some of the pictures in here and at what I'm going to
show you today--pictures of the field, pictures of scientists,
and I'll tell you this: these paleontologists are every bit as
weird and fun and exciting as anybody on those situation comedies
or dramas on NBC. You see us up here in suits now, and usually
I do throw on a tie for these things, but I wanted to come across
a little more like an outraged person. Am I doing OK so far?
But how many people--and you know, I'm really
proud that Time magazine has covers on evolution's big
bang and the origin of life. There was one on dinosaur extinctions
that actually had two dinosaurs on the cover; one was T. rex
and up in the corner was Ronald Reagan. Does anybody know the
circulation of this magazine? How many? I think it's four or
five million. It's not very many, really. I talked to editors
of scientific magazines like Discover magazine and they
say, "Oh, we're doing a great job." You sure are, your
circulation is 1.2 million. Earth magazine--how many of
you get Earth magazine? That's almost the total circulation.
I exaggerate a little bit. It's 100,000. So, a lot of this
exciting science and the scientists themselves are going unnoticed
and unknown to the general public. This museum has about a million
visitors on a good year. Most of those people are converted.
The people that read this kind of stuff are converted already.
They find it interesting. But even, I point out, on Time
magazine's cover the subtitle is "New discoveries
that show life as we know it began in an amazing biological frenzy
that changed the planet almost overnight". I think that
misleads a lot.
I should point out that Time magazine,
although they've done these three covers I mentioned to you in
the last two decades, they've done a cover on the Roswell Incident
with a big alien on the front, they did one on angels, they did
one on all kinds of superstitions and paranormal and anti-science
stuff. They're no better, in some regards, than television.
We've got to change this.
You guys, I think, are doing a great job.
You're under paid but you're doing a great job. But you ought
to get out there and fight to get this kind of good science, the
exciting science and the exciting people that have interesting
lives into the media and your class materials. I know a little
bit about Stan's life. I won't say anything about it! I don't
know anything about Richard's. But I bet you could build some
good TV programs around them. I don't want them to touch my life,
So, let me get on with some of the excitement
a little bit farther up in the geological column. Charles Darwin
was faced with a major problem in "The Origin of the Species".
He had several of them and his major arguments for natural selection
and evolution were not based too much on the fossil record at
all. It was based on geography and some other things that he
observed. But one of the big problems he had was what happened
at the base of the Cambrian.
Here in the Grand Canyon,
is the base of the Cambrian. That's the Tapets Sandstone, and
these rocks (here) come in at an angle and they're cut, eroded
across by the Tapets Sandstone. It's an unconformity.
This was Darwin's great enigma because he felt that it was perhaps
a road block to a complete understanding of evolution as he set
it out. Because all of sudden in rocks of this age around the
world, you see a great diversity of animal life, as shelled fossils.
But, in Darwin's time, they didn't know about any kind
of fossils in rocks below that.
I'd like to point out a few of these things
as we look at these rocks in more detail around the world. We're
going to start down in the lower part to set the stage for what
happens at this point in time. That point in time is about 545
million years ago, when we see the first appearance of abundant,
skeletonized--in other words, with shells--animal life. I think
this is exciting. Here's a close-up of that boundary.
That's my backpack and my father's rock pick. That's the boundary.
Down here Darwin and geologists at the time, paleontologists,
did not see much. There was some speculation. Up above here
they saw many fossils. So what was going on?
In order to understand that, I think we need
to go back just a little bit. Here's an RNA phylogeny of
life, very simplified, and you've seen this many times. I want
to point out a couple of things. We're talking, when we talk
about animals, about a little tiny twig out here on this end of
the Eucaryote lineage, 545 millions years ago--actually probably
a little bit more than that; we'll talk about that later on.
That branch popped up there. There are about 26 other major groups
that, if animals are considered to be a Kingdom, then they would
have to be Kingdoms too, in the old terminology. And we have
these two groups of prokaryotes, the Eubacteria and Archaebacteria.
Some Eubacteria formed various organelles in the multicellular
organisms that became incorporated in the Eukaryotes through symbiosis.
Now, Stan was talking about organisms over
here and I want to go back and pick up where Stan left off with
those and why they evolved, as Stan was saying. Some time,
probably around 4 billion years ago, we see these bacteria that
he showed us. I'll show you a few more pictures of those at about
3.5. The important point to realize here is that all the way
around here, until about 1.4 or 1.5, we see the first true fossils
that might be Eukaryotes. There's some evidence at 1.6 or around
there that there were Eukaryotes existing, chemical evidence.
And you've got to remember, every point here, when I say 2.5,
each of those points is 100 million years. So when you go from
2.0 to 1.4, that's 600 million years. That's as much time as there
has been from now back to the time period we'll be talking about
I say this because I was at a teacher's presentation
once and somebody was talking about the origin of oxygen at 2
billion years ago, and he said there was evidence for it at 1.8
and no evidence for it at 2.2 and therefore he said it was probably
about 2.0 billion years. And somebody raised their hand and said,
"Gee, how come it happened so fast?". Well, ma'am,
that's 400 million years. That goes back twice as long as the
dinosaurs have been around. That's plenty of time, as Stan was
saying, for most stuff to happen.
So, what I want to talk about then is what
happened in this period of time up to about here and then look
at the period of time where we have the radiation, not only of
animals, but of some other groups that we'll talk about in a moment.
The important point, again, is that Eubacteria in the fossil
record dominated for 7/8th of the history of life on Earth
and they still dominate. We live in a bacterial world.
Do not get excited about dinosaurs! It is bacteria that is important!
I don't even work on the darned things, but Stan, now you owe
me lunch! Here's one of these stromatolites, like Stan
was talking about, from Western Australia at 3.5 billion years
and from this kind of domal structure, they have found these kinds
of fossils. And Stan has shown you some of those previously.
They are inferred, as he did, to be cyanobacteria, fairly advanced
kinds of things. We see these kinds of stromatolites throughout
the geological record but mostly in Precambrian rocks. There
are some in other rocks and we still have them around today, for
example at Shark Bay. These domal structures, as Stan pointed
out, were built, at least in the Precambrian, totally by these
bacteria, cyanobacteria, which were cementing and trapping sediment
on top of them to make these domal structures like mushrooms,
He also pointed out that there are bacterial
mats that lay flat, and I've dove all around the world and seen
them. Bacterial mats are really far more abundant than what we
think. These kinds of stromatolites became less important after
the arise of animals, presumably because the animals were grazing
on these kinds of bacteria that make the mats. Well, if we go
back to the Grand Canyon and we look at this large or very
thick sequence of rock which is known here as the Chuar Group,
there are lots of different kinds of fossils, as it turns out.
Darwin just didn't have enough information. Not only are there
stromatolites like the things that we just talked about but there
are other things. So we made an expedition to fly into
the Grand Canyon and collect just in that group of rocks that
are around 800 million years old.
Here's a view of some of the sedimentary
rock, very well preserved, very well bedded. And it's from those
kinds of rocks, and rocks elsewhere in the world, we find
some perhaps algae of some kind, fairly large, you can see the
scale down here. And we see in rocks like these with some
of the paleontologists over there collecting fossils, organisms
like these which are probably some kind of an alga, an eukaryotic
alga. These are still under study by various people around the
world. That pretty much completes what we have in the biological
record--I've left out a few things--up to about 600 million years,
or a little bit less than that, when we see the first animal fossils.