Arash Howaida has asked the neatest question I’ve seen on this site in months. How to shape society's values such that paleontology becomes the largest / most profitable industry?

I want to use this thread to brainstorm a good answer. Any useful answer coming out of this discussion I will post as a community answer.

I’ll add a bounty for this question once enough time elapses for me to do so.

Remember: the goal is to shape society to value the history behind fossils and not the fossils themselves.

So far, there are three sketchy ideas that seem to me to hold promise but need development:

  1. Time travel is profitable, so learning about history is profitable. Only problem is that direct learning by visiting the past will be more effective than paleontology.
  2. Aliens. We are at war with aliens who descend from our dinosaurs. Learning about the dinos may give us a way to defeat the aliens, so paleontology becomes part of the military industrial complex. Problem: seems unlikely that key military break will come since the aliens will be further (in time) from T-Rex than we are from the common ancestor of all mammals.
  3. Some sort of medical discovery. Like if we discover that a single virus killed all the dinosaurs, figuring out mumble mumble something about the dinosaurs might help us fight a similar virus that is slowly extinguishing sequential mammal species.

None of these is very compelling. Can we do better?

One of the current answers has this awesome summary of the problem: “If you want to make paleontology the largest/most profitable industry in real life, you need to make it so that it has some direct application to real life that makes it relevant. Relevant enough that it doesn't just benefit humanity when funded (and therefore could be passed off as a luxury), but there have to be actual reasons why cutting funding would be bad.“

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    $\begingroup$ in my opinion it need promotion or propaganda to make population interested, such as the time when movie was filled with dinosaur wonder, when dinosaur was not discovered to have feather and people was lead to believe dragon and reptile monster rule the world, as long as they keep public interested no matter how useless it actually is, it can be profitable just like most tv show lately which filled with alien and yeti stuff for their history channel which still shelter people expectation and imagination. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Jun 7, 2020 at 4:48
  • $\begingroup$ I'm kind of confused as to why you're asking this question! It's got 13 answers already -- isn't that brainstorming enough? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jun 8, 2020 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas All 13 answers currently have significant problems. I put this up to discuss the flaws and try to find a better answer in a more discussion-like forum. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Jun 8, 2020 at 13:00

1 Answer 1


Honestly I still think that something to do with aliens is the best direction to go. It makes fossils and knowledge about them the most immediately valuable, because alien tech is by default so far beyond our own tech, that everything else fades in comparison. For aliens to have come here, they need advancements in space propulsion, medical science, bio-engineering, etc., all way beyond our current understanding.

You do not even need the threat of an invasion; the discovery of alien science in creatures living 65 million years ago would make their study the most valuable form of research on the planet. Any country or NGO not studying dinosaurs would miss out on the chance to get hold of that sweet tech, and fall behind in the arms race that would inevitably ensue.

It can work if those advancements can be found in the dinosaur biology itself. What if the remains we see are actually the vessels that the aliens used to come here; which they genetically engineered to behave like creatures so they would multiply and take care of themselves, until the day the aliens needed another fleet? Then the asteroid wiped them out, and the aliens, stuck either on Earth or somewhere else in the solar system, perished there. If the aliens do not fossilise well, because they and their tech are too soft and perish quickly - either due to biology or as a self-destruct mechanism - then their presence could have gone unnoticed until the one well-preserved specimen is found, kicking off the research boom.

The key is that dinosaurs do not have to be aliens themselves; they fit too neatly in the earth biological tree for that; but they can be existing creatures engineered to be useful to aliens in a way we did not realise until we found an alien. The only way of studying the aliens would be by studying the remains of the creatures they created, which contain a shadow of their creators. And maybe only the Brontosaurus is actually an alien weapon or spaceship, but we won't know for sure until we have rigorously studied every Cretaceous creature on the planet. Any missed species might contain knowledge that would make the discoverer nation a superpower.

  • $\begingroup$ The time separation bothers me, but maybe relativity can be used to shorten the number of generations between Earth dinosaurs and the aliens. If the aliens have been at near light speed for a long time, might work. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Jun 6, 2020 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ But what could you learn about Neanderthals that would help you defeat Homo sapiens today? If we can answer that, maybe we could turn it around for dinosaurs. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Jun 6, 2020 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ I would not require any aliens to exist today. They can be more like the Protheans from Mass Effect, and they could have gone extinct with the dinosaurs. Studying them propels any nation to the Singularity. Dinosaur fossils would be a lot harder to get tech out of than ruins and libraries, but that would only make it more important to throw every resource at the science to get even a hint of the technological breakthrough hidden inside. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jun 6, 2020 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ Let’s run with that... what could be learned from bones about tech advances? Seems like we’d be looking at some sort of biotech. What could be in a dino bone that we have missed until today that would suddenly propel the field forward? $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Jun 6, 2020 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ As an example; imagine if the T-Rex actually held a laser weapon in its stubby front paws. The weapon is gone - wasted away, or destroyed on purpose - but radiation from the use of the thing could have affected the Rex's bone structure. Finding that pattern would let you know things about the original weapon, and the physical breakthrough required to have a proper Star Wars-style blaster be feasible. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jun 6, 2020 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ Crainial surgery patterns? $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Jun 6, 2020 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ Or it could be trace minerals. Maybe every dinosaur of a specific clade has a statistically excessive amount of strontium in its tailbones. That could again point towards a weapon it was using, or possibly the creature being a genetically engineered weapon itself. People would start studying strontium for undiscovered uses, but also the dinosaurs for a clue about in what manner the aliens were using strontium. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jun 6, 2020 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ It would be like studying orchids to get ideas about the extinct bees they were being pollinated by - but with aliens and the singularity as the reward. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jun 6, 2020 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ And stuff like trace minerals or radiation patterns could be overlooked until now, or just treated as curiosities. But once we have found one alien, and there is inexplicable proof that it was using dinosaurs for a purpose, then suddenly all those anomalies become significant and we need to study all of them. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jun 6, 2020 at 16:03

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