Computer as a Research Tool in Paleontology

  • David M. Raup
Part of the Computer Applications in the Earth Sciences book series (CAES)


In many areas of paleontological research, the computer has taken its place with the microscope and handlens as a basic research tool. Most of the standard applications are digital and include various types of biometrical analysis, information processing (including collection management), computer graphics, and statistical testing of hypotheses.

There is some evidence that paleontology, especially evolutionary paleontology, is undergoing a major transformation: from a primarily idiographic science devoted to building a chronology of the history of life (who begat whom?) to a more nomothetic science in search of general statistical laws. The computer may not be responsible for this shift of emphasis but it may be the vital catalyst. In the nomothetic approach species are treated as particles and the group behavior of large numbers of species (or evolutionary events) is best treated by computer. This is true for two reasons: (a) testing models with real data requires massive data-processing capability, and (b) Monte-Carlo and numerical simulations may be necessary in the formulation and testing of theoretical models.

Along with the search for general statistical laws in the evolution of life, there is new emphasis on complex Markov processes. Any history and particularly evolutionary history contains Markovian elements. Whether the computer analysis is done analytically or by simulation, it is important to be able to treat Markov series (especially time series and branching processes) in a massive and rigorous fashion. For this, the computer is indispensable.


Random Walk Stratigraphic Section Shell Diameter Classic Random Walk Rigorous Fashion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • David M. Raup
    • 1
  1. 1.Field Museum of Natural HistoryUSA

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