A Bone to Pick

Lunch with a paleontologist

Eminent scientists, however, don't like being shown up, especially by young graduate students, so Curtice was advised against challenging Jensen, with whom he and his wife were friendly. "Everyone said, 'Don't publish 'til he dies.' I said, 'Aw, that's dumb, why not just show it to him?'" At first, his faith in human nature was rewarded. "He was very excited, happy, wrote great letters of praise. I still have them. Then this thing happened." He holds up a copy of the January 1997 issue of Discover magazine, which ran a short article on Curtice's findings. The headline was "Superultrahypermegasaurus. Long, Anyway" -- a headline, Curtice claims, he had nothing to do with.

Curtice says Jensen thought the magazine was making fun of him and was insulted that Curtice kept Supersaurus instead of Ultrasaurus as the name. He wrote Curtice "one of the most scathing, hostile letters I'd ever received in my life."

The two men never made peace. "He died mad at me. I feel bad about it."

Brian Curtice
M.V. Moorhead
Brian Curtice

Rancor came from other quarters because the article called Curtice a paleontologist instead of a student -- he had his master's degree and was working toward a doctorate in anatomy at SUNY Stony Brook. "This caused me so much political grief. The paleontology world has a gargantuan ego. This came out, and it was like, 'Why is this student not being labeled a student? What did you tell them? What was said?'"

Despite his pride in his own scientific rigor, however, Curtice remains sympathetic to the plight of paleontologists like Jensen. "Because paleontologists have no money, the only way to get publicity is to find the E-S-Ts: the old-est, the bigg-est, the heavi-est, the long-est. 'Cause then the media pays attention, and you hopefully get more money from your university, or a corporate sponsor. So it's never just another T. Rex, it's always 'the largest T. Rex ever discovered.' It's a game."

There's nothing of the poor mouth to his attitude, however. He makes good money at Insight Direct, and his nights are free to continue his studies. He notes that the situation wouldn't be much different if he were in academia -- his days would be taken up with classes and grant-writing, and paleontology would have to wait until after hours.

Private-sector work has even given him new ideas for funding his researches. "Get some corporation to fund you, and then name your dinosaur after them. I'll call it 'FedExasaurus,' or whatever, what do I care? "

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