I wrote my first Misconception Monday post seven months ago. I admit that I was hoping for something more poetic like six months or even nine (the length of a school year), but as we all learned in Harry Potter, seven is the most magical number, so I’m going to go with it. What is “it,” you rightly ask? A test! I’m totally going to test you to see how much you have learned! And I’m super excited about it, I won’t lie. (Between this feeling of total joy at the thought of a test and my absolute giddiness at entering a Staples store, I sometimes question my decision not to be a teacher.)

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If you have been reading my posts for a while now, this will come as no surprise: I like order. I am the girl who puts away markers and crayons in rainbow order, who always keeps her money in descending order by denomination, who organizes books on the bookshelf in order of decreasing size…well, you get the idea. So you’d think that I’d love Linnaeus, right? He was all about order…and class, phylum, kingdom, species, genus, and family! It’s all so neat and tidy. Or it would be if it worked—but it doesn’t really.

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Okay, people, we’re getting back to the basics. After my (frankly) exhausting exasperation with Nicholas Wade, I need a palette cleanser. So what’s the most basic misconception I have on my to-do list? This one:

Misconception: Weather and climate are the same thing.

Correction: Weather and climate are related, but different, things.

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I want to start this week’s entry by saying that I really hadn’t intended this topic to take up three posts! It’s just that I kept adding and adding to make it all make more sense and before I knew it, I had 3000 words on dating fossils! Words fly when you’re geeking out…

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Last week, we discussed some of the ways paleontologists order events in Earth’s history—using the principles of original horizontality, superposition, and faunal succession—but we did not talk about actual dates. Let’s do that now.

Who’s up for some chemistry?

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After my three-parter on fossils, I was sure you'd be sick of them, but there was a request (seconded by a few people) to talk about one particular aspect of paleontology that I didn’t cover yet: How do you know how old a fossil is? It turns out to be a pretty interesting question.

Misconception: Paleontologists directly date fossils.

Correction: Most of the time, fossils are not directly datable.

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Last week, we explored what it takes to become a fossil and what exactly fossils are. Hopefully, you have some appreciation for the relatively rare conditions necessary to become a fossil. But let’s say you beat the odds and die along a floodplain and get buried in sediment before decaying or getting eaten. Is it time to break out the balloons and celebrate? Start designing your cushy museum exhibit? Not quite…you may be on your way to being a fossil, but now you have to be found.

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In last week’s somewhat belated post, I gave a long introduction to this question: What does it take to become a fossil, and what does it take to be found? I made the claim, too, that if you can understand how rare quality fossil finds are, you can begin to appreciate all that we do know and get excited about what we have yet to discover. So let’s get cracking!

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I apologize for missing a Monday post. Last week, I was in Cleveland* for the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) meeting and just didn’t have time to write anything up. So it’s only fitting that I pull from that meeting my inspiration for this misconception post, however belated.

Misconception: Fossils are everywhere. Just dig.

Correction: Fossils are very rare. And you don’t dig; you look.

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