Most Dinosaurs Waiting to Be Discovered, Statistician Says
For Immediate Release: September 4, 2006
Contact: Alisa Giardinelli
Most Dinosaurs Have Yet to be Discovered, Says Swarthmore College Statistician
The Good News: Many More Will Be Found This Century
Despite the popular exhibits of dinosaur skeletons in the world's natural history museums, most dinosaurs that existed remain unaccounted for, according to a new study by Swarthmore College statistician Steve Wang. But based on historic discovery trends, Wang estimates that 75 percent of those currently still unknown will be discovered in the next 60-100 years.
"It's no surprise that most kinds of dinosaurs remain unknown to science," says Wang, an assistant professor of statistics. "Complete dinosaur skeletons are in fact quite rare, and many dinosaurs are known from just a skull or a few isolated bones."
Wang and study co-author Peter Dodson, a professor of anatomy and geology at the University of Pennsylvania, combined a database of known dinosaur diversity and a statistical method to account for the incomplete fossil record.
"Our work quantifies what we can learn from the dinosaur fossil record," he says. "For example, how does our knowledge of dinosaurs compare to that of other fossil groups, such as primates or other mammals? And the big question: What does the fossil record tell us about why dinosaurs went extinct?"
Wang and Dodson estimate total dinosaur diversity to be at least 1,850 genera. However, they note that estimate is at the low end, since some dinosaurs may not have left any fossil evidence and will never be discovered. Their study was published this month by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - USA.
Although he says there is no direct connection between this study and his previous work on baseball stats, Wang — a sports fan who voraciously read dinosaur books as a child — says it demonstrates the wide variety of questions one can address using statistics. "That's a message I try to communicate to my students," he says. "No matter what major you're in, or what field you study, chances are you'll benefit by knowing statistics."