Why kids don’t understand evolution

In Britain Top Trumps cards have been favourite games of 5 to 11 year olds for at least 30 years (one of my most traumatic childhood memories is dropping my entire collection while crossing a main road and seeing it become Top Trumps roadkill). I recently bought my son the Dinosaurs set as in-flight entertainment when going on holiday. The cards describe lots of dinosaurs, and have good pictures and descriptions, but I’m really annoyed with the Stenonychosaurus (also called Troodon) card. They are perpetuating the very problematic interpretation of paleontologist Dale Russell which moves from the large brain to body mass ratio of Stenonychosaurus to conclude that they were very intelligent and then that this dinosaur would have evolved into a humanoid dino-man if only they hadn’t gone extinct at the K-T boundary. This has been criticized many times previously. This quote comes from a blog by Darren Naish

“Furthermore, the humanoid body shape is not a prerequisite for the evolution of big brains given that brains proportionally as big as, or bigger than, those of hominids are found in some birds and fish (that’s right: humans do NOT have the proportionally biggest brains)”

Although the dinoman is often labeled as a “thought experiment” it is thought but no discernible experiment. The idea of human(oids) as the pinnacle of evolution is quite pervasive and is an easy thing to pitch at kids. No wonder teaching evolution is so difficult. This is especially bad as the real Stenonychosaurus is really cool.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    I just found that card while playing with my 5 year old. Thankfully, he suggested it looked stupid, and off to the webs we went. He's now happy "it doesn't look anything like that".


  2. Dave Lunt says:

    Good for him- my 5 year old thought the same. He was much less impressed with this one than the real dinosaurs and just tends to ignore it now.


  3. Spharion says:

    Inteligence is a function of brain/body mass ratio AND absolute brain size. In a related group, brain/body mass ratio tends to grow as the body size goes down, so it's fairly common to have animals with a large ratio but with a tiny brain anyway.Few have our brain size combined with a large ratio. Dolphins come to mind.


  4. adrian says:

    so did the stenonychosorus exist ___


  5. adrian says:

    and we also have that card


  6. Dave Lunt says:

    Yes it definitely existed Adrian. The problem is really that the picture on the card is not how it was, but rather how someone imagines it would have evolved over the next 65 million years if it hadn’t gone extinct with the other dinosaurs.


  7. Flynn Mitting says:

    I agree. This card offered no explanation about the image. I had to read this article to understand the reasoning behind it. Now, thanks to Dave Lunt, my 7 year old son is a little less confusted


  8. Dsekules says:

    Guess how we got here… We wanted to find the truth behind the made-up-looking dinosaur…


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