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Black Sci-Fi Talks To Paleontologist David Wilcots

By Tatiana Bacchus

dw2David Wilcots, P.G., a geologist, paleontologist and artist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania launched the website Dinosaurs Fossils and Adventures in December of 2014 to connect young people with information, photos and news about fossils and paleontology. He is an active member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, the Delaware Valley Paleontological Society, the Philadelphia Geological Society, and is a registered professional geologist in the states of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Mr. Wilcots holds a BS degree in geology from Temple University in Philadelphia and an MS Degree in geology from Fort Hays State University in western Kansas.

David has over 20 years experience working as an environmental geologist and has worked for several environmental/engineering consulting companies in the Pennsylvania­New Jersey area. He has over 30 years experience collecting fossils. David is a docent and volunteer paleontologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University museum, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

He volunteers in the museum’s dinosaur lab which is accessible to museum visitors. In addition to performing scientific work on the fossil specimens, he speaks to visitors and answers their questions about dinosaurs, fossils and related sciences. David is also a volunteer expedition paleontologist for the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, Washington. As part of the Burke Museum’s expedition team he discovers and collects fossils for the museum’s research collection. David has also been an expedition paleontologist for the following institutions; the Utah Geological Survey in Salt Lake City, Utah; the University of Utah Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah; and the American Museum of NaDtural History in New York City.

The paleontologist took some time to speak about his career, the field of paleontology, and his interest in science fiction.

BlackSci-Fi.com: What inspired you to become a scientist?

David Wilcots: I always liked animals and loved TV shows bout animals. I was always curious about the natural world, so I liked going to the zoo when I was little. By the time I was 4 I had been to the zoo several times. When I was 4 they (my parents) took me to the American Museum of Natural History (in New York City). I went into the Hall of Jurassic Dinosaurs and saw that they had a full skeleton of a Brontosaurus.  I’m looking at this 90-foot, mounted, long neck dinosaur. Ever since that trip to the American Museum at age 4, I have been interested in And then, when I was in 5th grade or so, I found this book in the school library called “After the Dinosaurs” and I still have that book. Dinosaurs had been extinct for the last 65 million years. So what’s been happening since the dinosaurs? This book answered that question.

After the Dinosaurs

BSF:  What television shows did you watch growing up, which might have pushed you towards the paleontology, or the field of science?  

DW: As a kid I loved watching Marlin Perkin’s Wild Kingdom . I would watch that religiously. I’d watch shows like Wild Wild World of Animals, Untamed World ­ late 1960’s and early 1970’s nature shows that would come on at about 7 O’clock (PM).

I was into some sci­-fi. I liked Land of the Lost, Johnny Quest, Ultraman.  I liked Star Trek a little bit. I also liked Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea as a kid because there were cool monsters. Land of the Lost occasionally had dinosaurs and that was cool. I hated the Flintstones because I thought that they made fun of dinosaurs and insulted them. They didn’t treat dinosaurs seriously and I thought that was a sacrilege. I would vehemently speak out against it at about age 10. I liked any big monster movie. I liked Godzilla, Monster Zero (1965) and that whole genre of movies that had big monsters tearing up big cities.

BSF:  How can we get kids interested in paleontology?

DW: Take them (kids) to museums, and get them dinosaur books at an early age. I went to the museum when I was four and have been going ever since. Now I’ve been to about 10­15 natural history museums. I have links to about 250 museums and fossil venues listed on my websiteDinosaursFA.com.  They are listed by state and in alphabetical order so you can see your home state or the state you are looking to visit. Don’t wait until they are 17!

You have to take them when they are five and you keep going back. You‘re not one and done. Then you have to balance that off with visits to the zoo or the aquarium. So you get to see fossil animals in the museum and live animals in the zoo, and then you can compare. Paleontologists are always comparing the past to the present and the present to past. We do that day in and day out. We do that in our sleep. There’s a ton of videos on the internet and cable about prehistoric animals. There’s a lot more material about that topic now than when I was a kid. Now there’s Dino Dan, Jurassic Park, Land Before Time, it goes on and on.

BSF:  How can adults get involved in paleontology?

DW: Visit museums, go on field trips, volunteer or work at museums and zoos. Watch the videos on the internet. There are hundreds of books out there. There is so much out there in terms of videos and literature. There was hardly any of this information in the late 60’s. If you wanted to see dinosaurs on TV in the late 60’s you’d have to watch Johnny Quest and hope that there was a dinosaur. If you were lucky enough you might have seen Valley of Gwangi (1969) or One Million Years BC. You had a black and white TV to watch, and you had to be lucky enough to have your parents let you stay up so you could watch it. If you’re into fossils and it’s the late 60’s or 70’s this is what you were limited to. There was no internet.

National Geographic was limited to the savannah, the deep sea or the arctic topics. They weren’t even covering dinosaurs. NOVA wasn’t on TV. So you’re severely limited in the late 60’s, early 70’s. These kids now have so many options. They can watch a new video every day about dinosaurs or fossils. If you’re interested in paleontology you should major in either biology or geology or both. Chemistry helps. You are going to have to take biology and geology courses because paleontology is the study of biology in a geologic time context. So it’s biology with an exponent on it. That’s why we’re more cool than biologists. Biologists are one dimensional. They are only living in one time frame. Paleontologists are living all time frames.

dw5dw6

 

BSF: So why aren’t there many Black paleontologists?

There are not that many paying job opportunities in paleontology.  Also, most full-time paleontologists are college or university professors with doctorate degrees.   Some paleontologists work in museums and museums depend upon funding from the government and donors while trying to keep visitor costs low.  As a result, museum salaries are often modest.

Often times young people aspire to what they see in their surroundings or who they meet when growing up.  Most people see and/or have met for example; firefighters, lawyers, doctors, teachers, athletes, entrepreneurs, retailers, and managers.  But since there are only a scant number of paleontologists relative to other occupations, paleontology isn’t a very visible occupation.

BSF:  What’s your take on Jurassic World?

DW: Excellent movie! They did a great job with the animation. They threaded the needle in that they did a great job in reviving the plot. They also came up with a new storyline and that was really good. There were no feathered dinosaurs in this one. Velociraptors have been proven to be feathered dinosaurs, so why they were naked in this movie, I don’t know. Now they had feathered Velociraptors in Jurassic Park 3, so they did the right thing. Then they decided to not do it in Jurassic Park 4. It just doesn’t make sense.

One piece of artistic criticism is all that the largest dinosaurs were grayish brown. The artistic instinct should come naturally but they showed a stunning lack of imagination by making all the dinosaurs the same color. It’s baffling why they made that mistake. They had a world-famous paleontologist, Jack Horner on the film. I’m sure he advised them on the right things to do, but they didn’t listen. I have met Jack Horner. He’s full of information and he’s a friendly and approachable guy. Based on my interaction with him I know he’s warm, welcoming and wants to share information and why they would choose to let his advice stack up in papers and collect dust. I don’t know.

And all three species of flying reptiles are all the same color. So you have males and females of three different species of Pterosaurs all the same color, which is also the same color as the big dinosaurs ­ the ultra, ultra conservative grey brown, no stripes. The Velociraptors had some stripes – the others no stripes, no spots, no mottling, no blocking of color.  No color zoning. An overall lack of color.

I give the movie an A minus

BSF:  Do you like comic books?

DW: I liked Spider-man. I got into comic books as a teenager.

Looking back I realize that part of the reason I liked Spider­Man was that Spider­Man was the first integrated comic book. There were Black people in the environment. Peter Parker had Black co­workers and there were Black people in the city scenes. They didn’t have that in Batman or Superman where there were no Black people. Although the main character was White, the environment that Peter Parker (Spider-man) lived in was representative of New York City.I made a Spider-man costume in my sophomore year in college. Spider-man is still my favorite.

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Aquaman comes in as a close second because he had an Aqua Lab in the bottom of the ocean. He had the sophisticated machines, but he still had time for wet bench chemistry (handling liquids and fluids standing up at the chemistry lab bench rather than using sophisticated machines) in his Aqua Lab. In about 50% of his episodes he had some type of experiment that he had to run in his Aqua Lab. This is a superhero that is also scientist and he had his own lab. I thought that was pretty cool.

BSF: If you had a superpower what would it be?

DW: Time travel. I’d go back in time. I’d be checking out dinosaurs and stuff.  I’m not going back in time to meet William the Conqueror; I have important things to check out!  I want to see a migration of sauropods (big long neck dinosaurs.) I’d want to see a herd of 30 or 40 ton individuals, with juveniles in the middle of the herd, plowing through vegetated landscapes, leaving devastated vegetation in their wake. The largest flying reptiles had wingspans of about 45 feet. I’d want to see an animal with a wingspan of about 45 feet take off.  From motionless to take off, it seems improbable, but they did it.  I want to see how they did that.

BSF:  What character or movie would you like to see made into a sci-fi movie?

DW: I wanted to see the Atom (DC Comic superhero) but they made Ant­Man instead, which is a poor take off on The Atom. I liked that this guy could shrink down to microscopic size to do his superhero powers. Ant­Man is a great effort to avoid The Atom.

BSF:  Are you a fan of science fiction?

DW: The fantasy has a limit with me. I’m interested to a point and then the science kicks in. What keeps me up at night and going to conventions is the next discovery. The discovery is what drives me, not the fantasy.

Interesting fact ​­

The mascot for my website DinosaursFA.com is an African dinosaur, the Kentrosaurus, a late Jurassic stegosaur (plated dinosaur) from Tanzania.

dwdino

Thank you for time out to talk to blackscifi.info. Click on video below to watch David in action.


Tatiana Bacchus, Owner and Senior Producer of Teaspoon & Pound Media, is an emerging independent filmmaker/actor who curates the untold stories of invisible characters, drawing from the wisdom of the past. A kid of the 80’s, her love of sci-fi was cemented by shows like Thundercats and Transformers, and has extended to her fascination of technological advances such as performance capture used in Avatar.

 

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