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Brian Switek – Four Way Interview

Brian Switek is a freelance science writer based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. In addition to writing about paleontology and natural history for publications such as Smithsonian, Scientific American, the Wall Street Journal, The Times, and others, he has published academic articles on fossils and has participated in fieldwork in Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. He also writes the blogs Laelaps for Wired Science and Dinosaur Tracking for Smithsonian. Written in Stone is his first book, and he is currently working on a follow-up titled A Date with a Dinosaur.
Why science?
Science is our ongoing effort to interrogate nature and understand the universe we inhabit. The more we discover, the more questions we have, and how we perceive ourselves is intimately wrapped up in our endeavour to understand reality. Science is not just the systematic accumulation of facts – it is an essential part of the human journey filled with poetry, serendipity, and surprises.
Why this book?
There’s no shortage of books about evolution, but I was frustrated by the short shrift the fossil record received in many of them. How can we understand evolution at all if we virtually ignore the deep history of life on earth? The patterns and processes of evolution in the deep past provide the essential context for life on earth today, and wanted to introduce readers to the intricate beauty of what prehistoric life can teach us about how familiar parts of the natural world came to be as they are.
What’s next?
I am currently working on my second book – A Date With a Dinosaur. I have been a dinosaur freak since I was knee-high to a Stegosaurus, so this is a dream come true for me. This summer I have been travelling around the west, searching for fossils with different field crews, and I hope that the stories I bring back with me will help my future readers understand why our image of dinosaurs has changed so drastically over the years. Why is the Tyrannosaurus of today not your daddy’s dinosaur? That’s what I’m setting out to explain.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
Paleontology is the most integrative of evolutionary sciences. It isn’t just the combination of geology and comparative anatomy – ideas and techniques from various disciplines, from biochemistry to evolutionary theory, have been brought into the science to better understand how the world was long before our species evolved. From the body temperatures of ichthyosaurs to the colours of dinosaurs, paleontologists are finally starting to approach questions we have always had but have previously been unable to answer. There has never been a more exciting time for paleontology than now.

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