« And Then There Were Eight | Main | Tangled Bank #61 »

August 28, 2006


Ian York

Why do kids like dinosaurs in the first place? I'm not convinced it's all that sciency (although of course one can use it as a springboard to sneak across sciency stuff). It's more because dinosaurs are big, powerful, in-control, not being bossed around: all the stuff the kid is not, but distant enough that they aren't actually a threat to the kid. They're intrinsically fantasy material, not science material. As the kid grows up, and has perhaps less need of this particular kind of fantasy, they grow out of the fascination. I don't actually find it very surprising, or a general statement about science.

I think kids' interest in nature around them is much more science-related. There you see kids observing, making hypotheses ("that caterpillar will bite you if you touch it!), testing hypothesis ("I'm throwing it at you!!!"), revising hypotheses in light of new data ("Maybe it can't bite you, rats") and drawing conclusions ("Caterpillars can't bite people"). So perhaps a better question might be why kids lose interest in nature -- and I think that's something that actually happens less than the dino-interest, happens later, and stays to adulthood much more often. What does get lost is the poking and prodding and testing aspect, which is the most scientific part. Perhaps it's seen as less dignified, or more dangerous, or parental wash-your-hand-ness overcomes it, or the kid finally decides she knows it all, or something.


I have a serious, serious Dino Nerd in my family. He's just shy of 11, so either he came to the obsession late or the obsession has lasted beyond the usual point.

His interest is not at all like Ian describes above, and neither was mine when I became dino-obsessed at age 8, at any rate. (Although I certainly have observed Ian's take in much younger kids.) He's interested in names, anatomy, sympatry, timelines, and hypotheses about the functions that various characteristics served.

My sister is just completely at a loss to deal with it. She doesn't have the biology background or the background in ecology and evolution to deal with his questions (bear in mind, she has a PhD in chemistry and works in R&D for a company that develops new products to promote postoperative healing, etc.). When they were here in the summer, she kept telling him that he was bothering me with his questions. We now have quite the correspondence going, so I hope that that will serve to keep his interest fresh, even if he, like me, ends up going down a path that branches off paleontology, he has a real passion for the science, not just for the big, terrifying beasts, and from what I see it's either largely ignored or actively slapped down.

Ian York

My experience, obviously, is heavily weighted toward kids of around William's age. I see a lot of them becoming interested in dinos around 3- or 4-ish, and the interest fades away over the next couple of years. It sounds as if there's another group of kids who become interested at a later age, and I guess it would be reasonable for them to have different reasons. Did the zygotians get a sense of how old the kids who used to be interested were, at the time of itnerest, and when they lost interest?


Most of the people who used the "not anymore" line looked about 5 or 10 years older than me -- which would give them kids in junior high or high school.

That seems about right: in elementary school you're still one of the cool kids if you know a lot about dinosaurs, but by high school the brainy kids are in eclipse.

Puberty seems to be a factor. It happens to both sexes -- for some reason they feel the need to dumb themselves down. Being smart makes you less attractive.

Which is weird. Why is knowing minutiae about obscure bands or sports teams attractive but minutiae about stars or dinosaurs unattractive? I find it hard to believe that a high-school girl finds sports trivia more interesting that dinosaur trivia, so why does she date the sports guy?

Not to get all sociobiological, but shouldn't being interested with stuff associated with a high-status occupation (science) make you a chick magnet? And shouldn't girls cultivate an interest in such things to appeal to the chick magnet science geeks? But that doesn't happen.

I can understand the appeal of athletes -- a human in peak physical condition is naturally attractive. It's why a _vicarious_ interest in sports is somehow more acceptable than an interest in science. Makes no sense.

The comments to this entry are closed.

About Us

  • Diane A. Kelly
    Diane Kelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she studies the neural wiring and mechanical engineering of reproductive systems.
  • James L. Cambias
    Jim Cambias writes science fiction and designs games in the lonely wilderness of Western Massachusetts.