Day 13: The baker's dozen

Bonus field day!

Although it's technically another "office day" at camp, I returned to Logan Butte with an instructor and some classmates to collect what turned out to be a near-complete oreodont skeleton.

After the sweat and the tears. Photo courtesy Win McLaughlin.

After the sweat and the tears. Photo courtesy Win McLaughlin.

We took turns, four at a time, carrying a several-hundred-pound lump of rock across terribly uneven terrain for a mile and a half. It was simultaneously not fun and incredibly awesome. (Mostly not fun.)

Thus does field camp come to its exhausting end. Of course, there's plenty left to be done with the material we've found: preparation, identification, study, etc. With so many disciplinary categories challenged, I'm left to wonder about one more.

We philosophers of science have devoted hundreds of thousands of pages to a distinction between experimental and historical sciences. (I tend to think it's a poor distinction, but to explain why would require devoting even more pages to the topic.) I've seen less work dedicated to a distinction between field sciences and lab sciences (although I'm sure there's some work out there). I keep remembering the advice that I've taken to heart: anal retentive works in the lab, but not in the field. Field work and lab work require different value judgments and epistemic tools. Given the current "replicability crisis" in the sciences, the field/lab distinction seems more robust than the repeatable/non-repeatable distinction between experiment and history.

Food for thought! More important now, though, is food for body, without which this journal will never make it back to civilization.

Day 12: Project runway

Returned to the field on our final day of collection. Most of what we did was cleanup--removing flags, noting what we couldn't collect, etc. It's funny how much my standards have changed: fossil fragments that would have excited me on the first day now don't seem worth the two minutes it would take to wait for my GPS to register a satellite signal. (Again: Logan Butte is very fossiliferous.) My first field experience and I'm already spoiled.

With all that said, I want to make a few notes about field attire.

Workin' it. Photo courtesy Win McLaughlin.

Workin' it. Photo courtesy Win McLaughlin.

I've developed a reputation among my classmates as an over-dresser. I'm also one of two people in camp who hasn't gotten horribly sunburnt in the past two weeks. (The other is an instructor who also covers up head-to-toe.) Correlation or causation? You decide.

We're working in the Oregon high desert. It's hot. I can get why others are inclined to strip down to t-shirts, shorts, and a thin layer of sunscreen. But I also remember how I was first introduced to desert attire in the original "Star Wars."

Image from dailymail.co.uk.

Image from dailymail.co.uk.

Look: the sun is a murderer. It is constantly trying to kill us. It does so with a creative variety of murderous schemes ranging from dehydration to heatstroke to skin cancer. Given its boundless rage, it seems unwise to taunt it with exposed skin. Obi-Wan knew this to be true.

On a more serious note, there's no avoiding discomfort in the field. The work is a reminder that "comfort" itself is a relatively new human invention: we're only comfortable in a narrow range of temperatures that are not normal in most of the places we live and most of nature is not cushioned. We might call these atmospheric discomforts. They can't be avoided.

By contrast, there are plenty of discomforts that can be avoided: scrapes, cuts, bug bites, pebbles in your shoes, sunburn, etc. These can be avoided with the aid of things like long sleeves and scarves and ridiculous Legionnaires' caps. Using these aids might heighten atmospheric discomfort, but you're going to feel that discomfort anyway.

Of course, this is a utilitarian argument. One might argue that I should ditch the getup out of a sense of dignity or self-respect. To such an argument I would respond: if I don't care, then why should it matter? We're in the middle of nowhere; it's not as if a picture is going to wind up on the internet for all the world to see.

Day 11: The penny drops

Today I received the best advice I'm likely to receive in my development as a field paleontologist.

Anal retentive may work in the lab, but it doesn't work in the field.

Following my obliteration of the oreodont skull I found earlier in the week, I turned to the second skull that needed collection. This one was larger and likely more complete. In other words: this one was more important. Terrified that I'd repeat my last performance, I kept my hammer and chisel as far away from the fossil as I could.

Of course there was more to the fossil than we expected, and of course I eventually began to chip away at previously-obscured bone. I called a labmate over in a panic.

She shrugged: these things happen. How could they not? The bones are hidden, after all. That was when she offered the above advice.

The perfect is the enemy of the good, as they say. Being too careful with a fossil--treating it with the sort of deference I've always given fossils--may keep a paleontologist from collecting it at all. An uncollected fossil is worthless: it might as well not have been found at all. This is true even if collecting damages the fossil, especially if the damage is documented and described in such a way that the preparator handling the fossil back in the lab can compensate.

It's interesting: as an observer from the outside my awe of fossils became a sort of fear, but as a researcher that fear has to be overcome. These are not relics; they're data. At least, they will be after they're out of the ground.

I got the fossil out, minus some chips and flakes, to everyone's satisfaction. It's a great feeling and quite a reversal from the other day.

Photo courtesy Win McLaughlin.

Photo courtesy Win McLaughlin.

Day 10: The paleontologist as an artist

One thing that's always struck me about the paleontologists I've followed is how each seems to be a relatively competent artist. I've always taken this to be a function of outreach: paleontologists know how effective a cool drawing of an extinct critter can be for inspiring public interest. After a few days in the field, I'm now convinced it's a skill that comes with having to maintain a field notebook.

One of the author's field sketches.

One of the author's field sketches.

It really is true that a picture is worth a thousand words. (This is especially true when an author isn't sure which words to use, as may be the case when the author is describing anatomy nine weeks before starting an anatomy course.) When you're in the field and the sun is doing its normal murderous thing and you have a van to catch in an hour or else you'll have to stay out in the field with the murderous sun and fossils and coyotes, drawing a picture can be a lot more effective than writing out those thousand words. As it turns out, the field notebook is a much more visual medium than I initially expected.

I've used pictures in my notebook for two purposes. The first is to communicate fossil locations with maps. The second is to communicate fossil shapes and relative positions for preparators back home in the lab.

One of the author's field notebook maps. Obviously as good as Google makes 'em.

One of the author's field notebook maps. Obviously as good as Google makes 'em.

I'm not good at the maps.

After drawing half a dozen fossils, however, I'm feeling a bit more confident in those.

Another fossil sketch with directions indicating where particular fragments have been stored.

Another fossil sketch with directions indicating where particular fragments have been stored.

Actual fossil depicted in sketch above.

Actual fossil depicted in sketch above.

None of these will pass muster for a textbook--hell, they're vaguely embarrassing for a blog post--but they're good enough to communicate information such as, "what did this look like when it was found?" or "how does the stuff in this collection bag relate to the stuff in that collection bad?" or "should I blame geology or the paleontologist for this mess?" Learning the necessary technical lingo would obviously help, but what language could be more standardized than pictures?

NOTE: epistemologists and philosophers of language should take that question as rhetorical.

Day 9: Royal crumble

My first attempt at paleontological work was twenty years ago, during the summer after my sophomore year in high school. A local archaeologist had received an ichthyosaur phalanx and, not knowing what to do with it, had me try cutting some thin sections for further study. Long story short: it did not end well for the fossil and I spent two decades wrestling with a not-insignificant amount of guilt.

This memory sprang immediately to mind as I failed in my first attempt to collect a sizable fossil. The specimen in question was an oreodont skull--or at least it very likely was, given the size and stratigraphic location--whose sagittal crest poked out of some fossilized soil. Given the importance of fossil skulls, my goal was to get it out in one piece. That meant jacketing.

Nice fossil you've got there. Be a shame if it had an accident.

Nice fossil you've got there. Be a shame if it had an accident.

A fossil jacket is a covering that overlays the surface of a fossil, holding it and the rock surrounding it together during removal. Museum displays often tout the use of plaster-soaked fabric, but any relatively sturdy covering will do--aluminum foil and duct tape do a great job in a pinch. Before applying the covering, however, one has to carve out a "mushroom," or a pedestal of rock that surrounds the fossil and tapers off below, where it can be broken off and flipped after the top layer of the jacket is applied.

Jacketing carries two clear risks. The first comes in carving out the mushroom: since most of the fossil is still buried, one has to make an educated guess as to how big the fossil is and so where to start chiseling. Chisel too close and you'll cut through the fossil; chisel too far away and you'll be stuck carrying a lot of extra rock weight back to camp. The second risk comes from disturbing the area around the fossil: if the rock matrix is brittle and starts to crack from, well, hitting it with a hammer and chisel, then you run the risk of creating a fracture plane that goes through the fossil.

And in extremely brittle rock--fossilized soil, for example--you can create dozens of fracture planes that go right through your fossil skull.

There are ways to guard against this, of course. Chemical consolidants can be useful in making the fossil more cohesive than the surrounding rock. But sometimes all the glue in the world can't stand up to the percussive force of a newbie paleontologist's rock hammer.

I am admittedly dejected. The instructors assure me that it was a difficult specimen to remove, and they've even given me a vote of confidence by asking me to try again on another skull tomorrow (have I mentioned that Logan Butte is fossiliferous?), but I can't ignore the fact that I've destroyed an irreplaceable part of natural history. Against all odds, this skull became a fossil and survived all disturbance for more than 20 million years; after all that, some idiot philosopher jostles it into oblivion within minutes.

Making mistakes is a necessary part of the learning process, but it's much easier to accept that when the mistake is an abstract failure of a thought experiment. There's no loss of data there. But we have little enough to work with in paleontology that the concrete destruction of fossil material honestly feels upsetting.

Day 8: My heart going boom, boom, boom

Among my accomplishments for the day: an exchange of one phobia for another.

I've been acrophobic for as long as I can remember. It was an admitted liability when I lived in New York, which is largely a vertical city. It is also a liability in the field, where a lot of the good stuff is hidden along steep slopes. I therefore decided to conquer my phobia by climbing the highest, steepest slope in Logan Butte's south canyon.

I did conquer the hill, but then came the rattlesnake nest. Three rattlesnakes formed a triangle around the spot where I crested the ridge, trapping me against a way-too-steep-for-my-liking slope downhill. There was much rattling, confused steps in every direction, more rattling, and panicked deep breaths.

One of the young homeowners atop Rattlesnake Hill.

One of the young homeowners atop Rattlesnake Hill.

I did eventually make my way off Rattlesnake Hill. I'm not sure how. I didn't record the details in my field notes and all I can remember at this point is the flood of endorphins that my body released once I got back to ground level.

So, today's lesson learned: collecting fossils can be dangerous. If the murderous sun doesn't get you, then gravity will; if not gravity, then mother nature is next in line to violently guard the skeletons in her closet.

I did find a variety of fossils today--Logan Butte is fossiliferous in much the same way that the Willamette Valley is rainy--but this is overshadowed in my mind by the discovery of three freaking rattlesnakes.

Day 7: Noteworthy

Camp has divided into two tracks: paleontology and geological mapping. Guess which one I took.

The paleo group taking a lunch break under the shade of a juniper tree. Photo courtesy of Win McLaughlin.

The paleo group taking a lunch break under the shade of a juniper tree. Photo courtesy of Win McLaughlin.

It is a good day that starts out with John Williams' "Jurassic Park" theme. Yes: I've kept that one in my back pocket for just such an occasion as heading out for paleontological field work. (Literally: the music is stored on every mobile device I own.)

Two items stick out on the first day of what is essentially a mini expedition. The first is how field notes are standardized. The second is the importance of preparatory surveying.

Paleontology is an historical science and historical sciences notoriously have a repeatability problem. (The problem is notorious in philosophical circles, at least.) The paleontologist's field notebook seems to be designed specifically to counter that problem by allowing future researchers to retrace the steps taken during an expedition, even if the outcomes--i.e., fossil discovery and collection--can't be replicated. Field notes include two elements: specimen entries and narratives.

Specimen entries give information about what we've found. This information includes:

  • Specimen number
  • Taxon
  • Skeletal elements
  • GPS coordinates
  • Stratigraphy
  • Lithology
  • Location description

Most of the information included (coordinates, stratigraphy, lithology, location description) seems designed to help future researchers find precisely where the paleontologist pulled a given fossil out of the ground. That reading is supported by our maintenance of a detailed narrative of each day's activities. I never thought anyone would care where or when I shoved a sandwich into my face, but here we are.

On the one hand, I know that this is meant to help me more than anyone else: when I come back tomorrow to collect material I couldn't collect today, I won't have to rely on my admittedly spotty memory. On the other hand, I'm reminded of Mark Norrell's attempt to retrace Roy Chapman Andrews' expedition to Mongolia for the American Museum of Natural History--maybe we should all just hope that a future paleontologist will return to do a better job of our work than we're doing ourselves.

Not that we aren't trying to do the best job we can right now. Unfortunately, the "best job" requires a lot of preparatory scouting and stratigraphic description and relatively little upfront fossil collecting. Yes, it's important: without the context of stratigraphy, we can't do things like biostratigraphic dating. But I can't help but feel like I'm being tested every time I see a fossil that I don't yet have enough information to collect.

And there are plenty of fossils, too. Logan Butte is literally covered with them. I had to make a conscious decision to stop looking after only a couple of hours. But that prohibition goes out the window after we get the rest of our stratigraphic column sorted out tomorrow morning.

Day 6: Field camp field trip

Field trip!

Panoramic view of Fort Rock, OR. Not pictured: students scrambling to take advantage of unexpected cellular service.

Panoramic view of Fort Rock, OR. Not pictured: students scrambling to take advantage of unexpected cellular service.

Two destinations today: Crack-in-the-Ground--yes, an actual place name--and Fort Rock. Our travels also took us through Christmas Valley, which definitely wins the day's "Least Accurate Name" award.

Quite a bit of fascinating geology. Imagining the gigantic lake that stretched over the region after looking at the evidence of its ancient shoreline, etched into the Fort Rock rock, is just the kind of mental exercise that I always imagined paleontologists performing.

Alas, our schedule didn't permit a chance to visit the caves of Fort Rock, wherein archaeologists found the world's oldest shoe. That's Oregon for you: always at the forefront of fashion.

Day 5: Circles

"Office day" in camp. Ironically, the "office" here has fewer paleontology toys than my actual office.

Our morning was spent completing geological maps of the area. Imagine tracing the boundaries of rock strata on a Google map and that the lines are invisible and also that the map is drawn from an angle that requires drawing the lines basically on top of one another.

The exercise does give me a much better appreciation of mapping's utility. Foe example, I can now identify parts of the area that just won't be worth prospecting given how unlikely they are to have the right kinds of rocks. I should be less surprised than I am about the degree to which rocks factor into paleontological work. One of the hazards of coming to the field from a philosophy-of-biology angle, I guess. Let me tell you: that angle is oblique.

Mapping only required a couple of hours' work, so the rest of the day was recreational. Most of the campers here chose to find ways to shower or bathe. I accompanied our instructor back to Hawk Rim for some additional prospecting. I'm here to find fossils, not to smell good.

Practical lesson: finding fossils and smelling good are mutually exclusive.

Scenic Hawk Rim.

Scenic Hawk Rim.

Another practical lesson: when you flag a fossil that you've collected, also collect the flag. My only find during this trip was the memory of my equid toe find three days ago. The memory was physically encoded in the flag I planted where the toe laid on the ground. I'm going to go ahead and call the flag a fossilized memory so that the day seems like less of a bust.

Day 4: Maps and legends

New lesson learned: "carrying someone's water" is a phrase that denotes taking on someone's burden because literally carrying someone's water--for a mile, say, over broken and uneven ground beneath a spiteful sun--is really, really burdensome. At least I'm no longer worrying about not making it to the gym.

Logan Butte presents a wide variety of opportunities for re-education. Yesterday I learned about colors. Today I learned about walking.

The ground and slopes here are all blanketed in sediments that pretend to support your weight just long enough for you to shift your balance, after which point the sediments give up the ruse and scatter away. This requires mindful concentration on where and how one walks across the landscape. In some ways this is a blessing: being forced to concentrate on the landscape is really helping me to develop mental images of these new shades of "blue" and "green." My strat map might be more valuable than a frustrated scribble.

Students surveying Logan Butte.

Students surveying Logan Butte.

This is good: the locality is covered in fossils and collecting those fossils requires mindfulness of the very features that provide necessary context for the fossils. Without mapping out the relations of different rock strata in the area, it would be impossible to draw anything other than tenuous connections between fossils collected from different locations. So as much as I'd love to start filling my field pack with all the little ex-animals I see lying around, I'm willing to accept this as a necessary first step.

Day 3: The missing shade of blue

I tend to think of myself as a basically competent person; July 12, 2017 marks the day that I'm forced to admit error. It is the day that I first confronted stratigraphic mapping in the field.

"Do you see that blue layer over there?" asked one of the geologists, gesturing towards a literal mountain of brown rocks. Everyone around me nodded while the part of my mind that earned the philosophy Ph.D. reassured me, "Don't worry, the ancient Greeks didn't have a concept of 'blue,' either."

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

So here's what I've learned: "blue" is a term that denotes both genuinely blue things and some shades of a color that I previously only labeled with the word "rock." (I suddenly remember that in third grade I chose gray as the color of my bedroom carpet because it was "rock-colored.") This is an important lesson given that successful mapping of stratigraphic layers requires an ability to distinguish a variety of rock shades visible only to the eyes of geologists.

I'm hoping that the arrow of causation goes this way:

become earth scientist -> see all the colors of the rocks

Rather than this way:

see all the colors of the rocks -> become earth scientist

This has at least provided decent enough distraction from the fact that I literally cannot turn around in this locality (Logan Butte) without stepping on new fossils, but I also can't collect any of those fossils until we get the go-ahead to do so. I might not yet have a search image of the geological color palette, but at least I can now distinguish fossils from vaguely fossil-shaped rocks.

Day 2: Kuhn on the brain

I FOUND MY FIRST FOSSIL. (Note: this sentence is underlined several times in my original notes.)

"Real paleontologist" certification. Picture courtesy Win McLaughlin.

"Real paleontologist" certification. Picture courtesy Win McLaughlin.

Spent the day on Hawk Rim. For anyone who's never had the experience of walking on loose paleosols, here's an easy way to broaden your horizons: buy a few million ping pong balls, scatter them on a slope, and then go for a stroll. Alas, going the recreation route is likely to cheat you out of the chance to find an early Miocene horse toe (like the one pictured above) unless you also stock your gigantic ball pit with various fossils.

"So you're a real paleontologist now," my advisor said. I guess that another graduate degree wouldn't be necessary if becoming a paleontologist depended on performative utterance, but I'll take it for now.

None of that was really the main point of the day.

More to that point, we spent the day getting familiar with the area's stratigraphic units. The day was rife with allusions to the strong alliance between paleontology and geology, which shouldn't come as a surprise in a camp hosted by an Earth Sciences department. There's a lot of common language and shared methodology.

This is only worth noting insofar as my previous experience with paleontology has been almost entirely in the context of evolutionary biology, a field whose terminology has been entirely absent from camp discussions so far. I found myself wondering at one point, "What would Kuhn say?" He'd say that shared language (and not some stuff you read in Stephen Jay Gould essays) is the key indicator of disciplinary alliance, is what.

It's kind of a zebra stripe thing--are paleontologists doing geology that helps biology or biology that depends on geology?

Kuhn is also making an appearance in the blog post I'm writing. (Note: we can now change "I'm writing" to "I wrote.") This is not how I'd prefer to decorate my headspace, but here we are.

The field camp journals

I'm not dead yet! I was working on stuff like this.

The University of Oregon conducted its annual geology field course over the past six weeks. Sandwiched between geological mapping sessions was a two-week paleontology camp. After thirty-five years of mental preparation and a night of packing enough bug spray to clear a forest of all invertebrate life, I hopped into a van and joined the camp in central Oregon.

In the subsequent two weeks I kept a daily journal while training as a field paleontologist. Now that I've re-established Internet contact, I'll be posting my journal entries here. You, too, can experience one philosopher's transformation from bookworm to...I dunno, field mouse?

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DAY ONE

Arrived at field camp to find the campground claimed by swarms of mosquitos. I have already killed two with my bare hands. I feel no remorse. I have moral standing and they don't.

In the perfect future to come, mosquitos will be nothing more than an intellectual exercise for invertebrate paleontologists.

Two auspicious events on the drive over:

  1. The van driver--another grad student in U of O's Earth Sciences program--listened to an episode of Radiolab wherein the hosts discussed the possibility of back-breeding Pinta Island tortoises. Since I've already hosted a couple of reading group meetings about de-extinction, my classmate asked if I had any thoughts. "Just a few," I said, feeling like Bruce Wayne discussing a news report about The Batman.
  2. We stopped at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, where we met the rest of the camp. I walked through the exhibits with one of my classmates from the paleontology lab. She pointed to an oreodont and confidently promised, "We'll find some of those." Bring it on.

My first big find is just a relatively flat spot for my tent. It isn't even really my tent. I don't own a tent. This says all that need be said about my current level of experience, I think.

Headed out to our first site tomorrow. We've almost made it, Five-Year-Old Lenny!

A divine census

Does anyone remember Terra Nova? It was a television show that started when Steven Spielberg asked, "What if the monster in Lost was really a bunch of dinosaurs?" and ended with me telling a friend halfway through the premiere, "I think I'd rather go to sleep." For all its faults, the show did have one interesting conceit: the dinosaurs appearing on the show were, for the most part, unknown species. "Unknown" here doesn't mean "unpopular" or even "undiscovered." It means "lived in environmental conditions that would not fossilize or preserve remains."

I was thinking about Terra Nova as the Data Analysis class discussed inference from samples to populations. In particular, our professor suggested that knowledge about an entire population would be "god-like." I've read enough science fiction and fantasy to know the dangers of god-like power, but I'm totally in for god-like knowledge.

Yes: I know it was a joke. Bear in mind that I'm the kind of philosopher who has tried to disprove that the "jokes" in "Family Guy" are, in fact, jokes.

Yes: I know it was a joke. Bear in mind that I'm the kind of philosopher who has tried to disprove that the "jokes" in "Family Guy" are, in fact, jokes.

And so I found myself wondering: when I finish this Masters degree and finally have god-like knowledge of extinct species, what will I have knowledge of? As it turns out, not much turns up in a four-minute search of the philosophical literature about populations. So here are some half-baked thoughts on the issue of extinct populations.

First: populations (in the data analytical sense of the word) are made up on individuals. One has to be able to observe some subset of the population's individuals in order to infer something about the whole population. This might sound trivial, but maybe stating the obvious is the part of philosophy that separates the dabblers from the professionals. (That looked better in my head.)

Second: I think it's clear that a population (in the data analytical sense of the word) is an object of scientific study only if we can draw inferences about it. No statistic can help us to know more about the number of angels that will fit on the head of a pin and so, as far as science is concerned, angels don't form a population. As a corollary: the inferences we make about the population help us to make further inferences about individuals in the population.

Third: there are very likely (say) dinosaur species that for which no individuals have been preserved. Mountain- or rainforest-dwellers, for example, are unlikely to die and have their bodies settle in depositional environments conducive to permineralization. What if you were a dinosaur that made its living on a small island that's been submerged in the last few tens of millions of years? Or what if you were a dinosaur that made its living acting on Terra Nova? In that case, certainly no one would ever find you.

Fourth: even in the species for which we do have preserved fossils, individuality is a problem. I already wrote about that. (See? I have two drums that I keep banging.)

And so: I don't think that the study of fossils can yield any god-like knowledge about biological populations, even in principle. If the normal chain of scientific inference would be [information about observed individuals in sample]→[information about target population], and we acknowledge that there is inaccessible information about dinosaur populations and that fossils don't necessarily represent biological individuals, then inferences from fossils to dinosaur species don't follow the scientific pattern.

And, returning to the other drum I keep banging: fossils do give us information about fossil species, and so I'm just growing more and more convinced that we need to draw a hard distinction between (say) the fossil species named T. rex and the as-yet-unnamed population of organisms that left those fossils behind.

The room where it happens

Taking paleontology classes (in an official capacity) is exciting. Joining a paleontology lab is a thirty-year-old dream come true.

The room where it happens has fossil skulls haphazardly strewn about, much in the same way that one finds my copies of Hume's works just wherever the hell I set them down after I last needed to cite them. I took my seat in the posthumous gaze of what was once a bear. It looked surprised to see me. If the lab discovers this is a new species then I'm going to suggest the name "Ursus judgmentalis."

Each of this term's lab meetings is scheduled to include a presentation about some important figure in the history of paleontological study. We started with Leigh Van Valen. A message went around to lab members last week, asking us to download his paper "Ecological Species, Multispecies, and Oaks." I might have giggled: that paper has featured in every PhilBio course I've ever taken or taught. It's gotten to the point that I hadn't heard any new takes on the paper from a philosopher in nearly half a decade. As far as the paleontological take goes: it's new to me, at least. And the paleontological take is: my philosophy dissertation was wrong. (Don't follow that link.)

One way to summarize my dissertation might be to say, "species must be real because paleontologists use species to explain natural history." (I kind of wish I had figured out that way of summarizing it when I wrote it.) I was fairly surprised, then, to hear my labmates* comfortably denying the reality of species in nature. Ursus judgmentalis dared me with a toothy grin.

I haven't yet been privy to any data collection or analysis, so maybe there's a reason for this disconnect. Hopefully I'll figure it out--after all, this sort of issue is the reason I'm doing this in the first place.

*Is "labmate" the right word here? This isn't the sort of thing we philosophers normally do. My former adviser tried to start a "thought lab" once, but it proved to be a passing thought.