American Experience Presents Dinosaur Wars, January 17, PBS
There are two things Americans can be sure of: America's scientific community has always been respectful, professional, ethical, and responsible; and things were a lot more genteel in the nineteenth century. What? They can’t be? Oh…you must have seen Dinosaur Wars, premiering Monday, January 17, 2011, at 9:00 p.m. on American Experience (PBS).
In the mid- to late-nineteenth centuries two paleontologists engaged in a competition that was immature, petty, fanatical, paranoid bordering on psychotic, and thoroughly unethical. In the process the two men—O.C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope—would provide evidence supporting Darwin’s theory of evolution. They uncovered more than 130 previously unknown dinosaur species; what could they have done if they worked in concert?
With the number of fossils lying around the plains and mountains in 1868, one would have thought there would be plenty to go around. Unless, of course, one was O.C. Marsh. Marsh was obsessed with being the dinosaur expert, and there was no depth to which he wouldn’t stoop, from humiliating Cope to destroying fossils so no one else could “discover” them. He devised a plan that would strip Cope of the fossils he had uncovered, only to become a victim of his own deviousness (and sloppy record-keeping), forced to send tons of dinosaur bones to the Smithsonian Institution.
Participating in this clever—and somewhat gossipy—documentary are Robert Bakker (Dinosaur Heresies), Mark Jaffe (The Gilded Dinosaur), historian Steven Conn, and paleontologists Jacques Gauthier, Tim Rowe, and Peter Dodson. The information shared about Cope and Marsh and their 30-year competition is insightful, thought-provoking, and often amusing. Filmmaker Mark Davis has put together a captivating hour of edutainment for dinosaur fanciers (and who isn’t?).
(Dinosaur Wars is also available to purchase on DVD.)