Another Day, Another Blog

March 20, 2007

Worlds lost in time

Filed under: science, the joy of life — iamza @ 1:21 pm

When I was at university, we’d spend one Saturday a year ensconced in a tent stall in the town’s central park. The outreach program was aimed at kids of middle school age, and tried to embue them with an interest in earth sciences. To this end, the graduate students would take over the Grad Club for weeks on end, and, over a jug of beer or three, try to come up with a winning display.

One year, the palaeontologists got together, and came up with a jigsaw puzzle, which tried to show how the Earth’s surface has changed over the past 180 million years. This, together with a giant ammonite fossil (complete with tooth marks from a prehistoric shark), went out on the table in our stall, and we were all feeling justly proud.

The kids seemed to like it — the puzzle gave them something to do for three seconds, and the highlighted tooth marks on the ammonite shell made for suitably scary stories. “Have you seen Jaws?” we’d ask, and their eyes would widen, round as dinner plates.

There was a young mother who was not so enchanted. She waited, frowning, as her daughter and friends did the puzzle, and exclaimed over the shell, and then, a minute or so later, ran off to the stall next door. When they were gone, the young mother pulled me to one side.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

“I’m sorry?” I was a little confused.

“You’re teaching these kids all kinds of junk!”

I hastily thought back on all that I’d said, trying to remember where I’d screwed up. “I, uh…” Eloquent as always, yep, that’s me. Fortunately, the blank incomprehension must have shone through.

“Like plate tectonics!” she said, and pointed down at the puzzle. “Everyone knows that the Earth was created by God, and not 180 million years ago, either.”

To this day, I cannot think of a single witty retort.  

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