-Stage 4.4-

Fun Quotes from the Geological Literature


After all of the geology articles I have read, I sometimes come across a quote that is either laugh out loud funny or so ridiculous that I have to pass it on.

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I was reading through a book on chaos theory and geology and I just found this line funny.

"With the help of a technical device called a return map which we shall not attempt to describe..."

i.e., yea, we don't know what it is either.


Goodings, D., 1991, Chaos in a time series, in Middleton, G.V., Ed., Nonlinear dynamics, chaos and fractals with applications to geological systems,Short Course Notes, V. 9: Toronto, Ontario, Geological Association of Canada, p. 35-46.


This quote is from a book about evolutionary convergence.

"Continuing work has shown that the resolution of oilbirds' echolocation is rather crude, at least when it comes to avoiding discs deliberately suspended in their flight path."

This just makes me think of scientists throwing disks at birds and watching them crash.


Morris, S.C., 2003, Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe: Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.


Although not from the geology literature, and not even from a scientific journal, I feel this quote applies to anyone who has written a book or a journal article (just replace "book" with "Journal Article", or something similar).

"'I never thought, when I used to read books, what work it was to write them.'


'It's work enough to read them, sometimes,' I returned."

Dickens, C. 1850. David Copperfield. p.891


The background on this quote is that the authors were trying to get a group of fish to swim in a school using electrical shocks.

By thus time it was clear that the punishment of the mild electric shock was causing an association to be established. The association made by the fishes at this time was definite and distinct but not at all of the nature anticipated. At this time the reaction was for either or both fish to rush at the other and to bite at its fellow. These fish lack jaw teeth and are evidently unable to inflict any considerable injury. They can exhaust one another, however, by such attacks. Thus by the time about fifty shocks had been administered, one of the fish was rather badly beaten and doubtless would have died if the experiment had been continued.

Besides being rather cruel, I thought it was hilarious that the side effect of the shocks would turn the fish against each other instead of making them swim together. Turns out the fish assumed the other fish was the one causing the shocks, hence the attacks.


Breder, C.M., Jr., & Halpern, F., 1946, Innate and Acquired Behavior Affecting the Aggregation of Fishes: Physiological Zoology, v. 19, p. 154-190.


The next geological quote comes from Don't be Such a Scientist by Randy Olson and it rings especially true as someone who is just starting to get into the academic publishing world. Sorry for a little bit of foul language.

As I waded through my first decade of rejection in Hollywood as a filmmaker, people would ask me whether I found the rejection hurtful or depressing. And I would respond, "Are you shitting me? Do you have any idea what it's like to deal with the rejection of scientists? Hollywood folks reject things on the basis of the idea that 'it just didn't grab me,' and they can't even articulate the reason for their decision. When scientists reject you, they hit you with a stack of data and sources that are the basis for it. That's the sort of specific, substantive rejection that truly hurts."

Olson, R., 2009, Don't be Such a Scientist: Talking substance in an age of style: Washington DC, Island Press, 206 p.


This quote will likely be familiar to people who study invertebrates, and even if it isn't, it is certainly apropos:

"I also here salute the echinoderms as a noble group especially designed to puzzle the zoologist."

Hyman, L., 1955, The Invertebrates: Echinodermata, IV: New York, Mcgraw-Hill, 763 p.


This next quote discusses trace fossils, in particular dinosaur footprints. I was reminded of this by a conversation between Tony Ekdale and Tony Martin (of Life Trace of the Georgia Coast blog). The paper describes dinosaur footprints that were found in the ceiling of coal mines.

"Dinosaur footprint casts which extend down from the roof several inches are a nuisance where the coal seam is thin, causing the roof to be low; mine workers continually bump their heads on them. More serious problems have existed with them since mining began in the area in the early part of the century, because they fall and kill or seriously injure mine workers.... We are unaware of other lethal trace fossils, nor do we know of other circumstances where dinosaur activity has contributed to the possible death of human beings."

Parker, L.R., & Rowley, R.L.J., 1989, Dinosaur Footprints from a coal mine in East-Central Utah, in Gillette, D.D., and Lockley, M.G., Eds., Dinosaur Tracks and Traces: New York, Cambrdge University Press, p. 361-366.


This next quote comes from a paper that first illustrated a very famous evolutionary theory called the "Red Queen Hypothesis". This theory stated that two groups of animals evolved together both changing but not changing in relation to one another (i.e. the cheetah and the gazelle both evolving to be faster, although one does not outpace the other). The paper though is very poorly written and apparently the author could not find any place to publish is so he set up his own journal to publish this. The quote comes from the acknowledgements section of the paper.

"I thank the National Science Foundation for regularly rejecting my (honest) grant applications for work on real organisms (cf. Szent-Gyorgyi, 1972), thus forcing me into theoretical work."

Apparently he was a bitter person. You can check out the source of the Red Queen Hypothesis HERE.


van Valen, L., 1973, A new evolutionary law: Evolutionary Theory, v. 1, p. 1-30.


Apparently my work is done. This sentence states it all.

"We know that closely related species are similar among themselves, and they differ in many ways from other less closely related species"

Harvey, P.H., & Nee, S., 1997, The phylogenetic foundations of behavioural ecology, in Krebs, J.R., and Davies, N.B., Eds., Behavioural ecology; an evolutionary approach: Malden, MA, Blackwell Publishing, p. 334-3349.


We have a nice quote this time that illustrates the value of good science.

"All glycerids examined by Blegvad (1914, 23 specimens) had empty stomachs and he concluded from this that they are carnivores"

Fauchald, K., & Jumars, P.A., 1979, The diet of worms: A study of polychaete feeding guilds: Oceanography and Marine Biology Annual Rev, v. 17, p. 193-284.


Here is a nice, straightforward one. No humor intended but a nice recollection from the past that I think still holds up today.

"In most of the sciences this deeper exercise of scientific thought requires for its successful pursuit artificial aids to the common senses of observation. Chemistry must have its purified acids and reagents, test tubes, and delicate scales for measurement of weight and volume. Mineralogy must have its chemical analyses, or optical measurements so fine that microscopes of highest power are essential tools for the investigation. Physics must have the most delicate measurements of time and space and weight. Botany, for the earlier stages of study, is fully equal to geology in these respects, but its scope is much less general, Zoology requires dissections calling for skill in manipulation, and in other respects is ill adapted to general classes. But precision in the intellectual processes of observation and reasoning can be cultivated in the use of geological facts to their highest and widest perfection, with scarcely any aids to the normal faculties of observation. A couple of hammers, a pocket lens, a chisel and a few pointed steel tools for revealing fossils, a tape line, compass and clinometer are the few equipments that will enable the geologist to carry his investigations to almost any degree of thoroughness."

Williams, H.S., 1893, Geology as a Part of a College Curriculum: The Journal of Geology, v. 1, p. 38-46.


Another one from the article below.

"Ecology rather than St. Patrick was probably responsible for the absence of snakes in Ireland and the same consideration puts a minimum viable figure on the population density of monsters in Loch Ness"

Ager, D.V., 1976, The nature of the fossil record: Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, v. 87, p. 131-159.


No introduction needed on this one I feel.

"Returning, as always in all discussions of extinctions, to the dinosaurs, almost every kind of fate has been suggested for them, from cometary collisions to chronic constipation. If I had to choose, I would opt for the latter, since this might relate to the well-known floral change in the Cretaceous from the dominance by the resinous ferns and gymnosperms to the less laxative qualities of the flowering plant."

Ager, D.V., 1976, The nature of the fossil record: Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, v. 87, p. 131-159.


This one seems a rather odd quote in general. But to top it off, it was completely out of nowhere. This has absolutely nothing to do with the material preceding it in the paragraph. The last part of the article that this may have been in reference to was at least 10 to 11 pages previously. So it was rather out of nowhere, making it even more bizarre.

"A cyclops will always have the nostrils above the single eye."

Again, what?


Alberch, P., 1989, The logic of monsters: Evidence for internal constraint in development and evolution: Geobios, v. 22, p. 21-57.


"Although we have referred to relatively few examples, and with differing degrees of confidence, our model for climate distribution of shallow marine trace fossils appears to be robust."

As a peer of mine put it, "What?"


Goldring, R., Cadee, G.C., D'Alessandro, A., de Gibert, J.M., Jenkins, R., & Pollard, J.E., 2004, Climatic control of trace fossil distribution in the marine realm: In McIlroy, D., Ed., The application of ichnology to palaeoenvironmental and stratigraphic analysis: Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 228:77-92.


To give a little bit of a background, the reason I picked this quote is that when reading the abstract I came across the term "preadaptation", at which I shuddered and told my wife "I hate that word". Well then we came to the quote:

"I can often produce a wave of nausea in some evolutionary biologists when I use the word (preadaptation) unless I am quick to say what I mean by it."

Now for those that don't understand, preadaptation gives the connotation of Intelligent Design, in the regards that features were preexisting for a specific trait. Kind of like a bunch of feathers evolving for flight before birds could fly. They were preadapted to flight.


Gould, S. J. and Vrba, E. S. 1982. Exaptation - a missing term in the science of form. Paleobiology. 8:4-15.


"The classic objection to hopeful monsters - that a pig with wings has no chance of finding a similarly endowed mate - misses the point that if you have one pig with wings, there are more where that came from - in the developmental pathways of the relatives of Archaeoptopig."

Pig with wings


Rachootin, S. P., Thomson, K. S. 1981.Epigenetics, paleontology, and evolution. Proc. 2nd. Int. Congr. Syst. Evol. Biol. Evolution Today, ed. G. G. E. Scudder, J. L. Reveal, pp. 181-93. Pittsburgh: Carnegie-Mellon Univ. Press


This pretty much sums all options up.


“Forms a smooth or slightly irregular slope, except where it forms a cliff…”

Blakey, R.C. 1973. Stratigraphy and origin of the Moenkopi Formation (Triassic) of southeastern Utah. The Mountain Geologist. v. 10, pp.1-17


Keep in mind that this book is from 1987, not 1967.

Whale of a Theory Quote

"The subterranean engine driving this motion is as much a mystery to us as it was to Dutton although geologists and their side-kicks, the geophysicists, have cooked up a whale of a theory lately, called plate tectonics."

Blakey, R.C. 1973. Stratigraphy and origin of the Moenkopi Formation (Triassic) of southeastern Utah. The Mountain Geologist. v. 10, pp.1-17