Another news story caught my eye this morning and further reminded me of anecdotal experiences with college and high school students here in Lassen County. A great article by Eric Scott, Curator of Paleontology at the San Bernardino County Museums reports that there is always more to learn from the fossil record. Some quotes from the article:
On the paleontological regard for "missing links":
In the early days of paleontology, many scientists sought "missing links" and interpreted evolution to be progressive, from "lower" forms to more advanced (and therefore "better") species. These views, still promoted by the media and widely held in the general view, are considered outdated by paleontologists today.
On the nature of "perfection" in the design of living organisms:
Living horses and their relatives are marvelous biological machines, seemingly perfected by millions of years of evolution. But "perfected" is actually the wrong word. Living horses are the current outcome of horse evolution, but they were never the goal of evolution. Evolution is progression, not progress. It is not directed at improving earlier models with some ultimate über-species in view as an eventual end-product.
My Anthropology class just watched an episode in the PBS Evolution series, Great Tansformations, which discusses major adaptive changes in the fossil record and directly links them to current understanding of genetics. You could see that many students found it intriguing and had never been exposed to this kind of information before. Several wanted to know where they could get the entire series...