How do you eat an ORLO?

25 March 2010. Edmonton, AB.

While talking about hyenas over lunch with my wife, we came across a mutant OREO cookie in a 550 g box.

"What's this, OREO in french?" asked my wife.

I took a look at this particular cookie, and on one side it said "ORLO" as if it was meant to be.

[Figure 1. J032510T01, an autapomorphic cookie of the OREO clade, not related to oreodonts]

How much of our current knowledge of fossil organisms is based on "ORLOs"?

A comment made by Dr. Michael Caldwell during a seminar talk he gave yesterday on marine lizards came to mind: the Discovery Channel asked Dr. Caldwell whether any mosasaurs ate dinosaurs. Well, he made a very rough estimate of the number of individual mosasaurs that ever lived (on the scale of trillions...error bar unknown), and said that it was possible ONE of them ate a dinosaur at least once, but there are only about 6,000 mosasaur specimens (representing fewer than 6,000 individuals) known to science.

I dare to make a statement that as far as the field of paleontology goes, and is probably true for all other scientific endeavors as well, our available data are outnumbered by reality.

If true, there are almost insurmountable odds against paleontologists accurately reconstructing past realities.

What if, eons from now, extraterrestrial scientists uncover fossilized remains of objects and creatures from the "Anthropocene" (a name some geologists have proposed for the 'Age of Humans'), and among them are cookies of some sort. Almost 99% of them say "OREO", but a few scattered throughout the former world we call Earth clearly say "ORLO".

What would they make of it? A new species or even genus of cookie objects? (I am assuming no one uses Phylocode beyond the bounds of humanity, and Linnaeus is already immortalized)

Does the identity of individual cookies even matter? Would you eat an "ORLO" differently than an OREO? Of course, the extraterrestrial scientists would not know right away, if no humans are around to tell them so (even then, only a small [but probably over-fed] fraction of the world population eat oreo cookies in the first place).

Over-analyzing what little we know is a slippery slope...suddenly my oreo doesn't taste so sweet anymore...


p.s. The figured specimen, J032510T01, has been destructively sampled by me.


Spencer said...

Excellent post. I completely agree; over-analysis is a plague and it bothers me.


jen.x said...

I just ate an ORLO cookie myself. I knew I should have taken a pic.