Share

cover art for Babbage: Are auctioned dinosaur fossils lost to science?

Babbage from The Economist

Babbage: Are auctioned dinosaur fossils lost to science?

Natural history auctions are on the rise and are generating millions of dollars for private fossil hunters, but the commercialisation of ancient bones is worrying some palaeontologists. They argue that specimens sold privately are lost to science. Yet others say that by disincentivising the black market and encouraging more enthusiasts to search for rare finds, fossil auctions could improve the scientific understanding of ancient reptiles. 


The Economist’s Dylan Barry explores the Natural History Museum’s fossil collection in London, with Paul Barrett, a palaeontologist. Dylan also chats to the “dinosaur cowboy”, Clayton Phipps, a commercial fossil prospector, about his discovery of the “duelling dinosaurs” and how ranchers benefit from finding dinosaur bones. Plus, Cassandra Hatton, the vice president and head of natural history of Sotheby’s, an auction house, argues that auctioneers and palaeontologists should see each other as being on the same side. Kenneth Cukier hosts.


For full access to The Economist’s print, digital and audio editions subscribe at economist.com/podcastoffer and sign up for our weekly science newsletter at economist.com/simplyscience.

More episodes

View all episodes

  • Going platinum: the new economy in space

    44:35
    A new economy is emerging in space. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has driven down launch costs, helping to revolutionise space travel. As the cost of reaching Earth orbit falls, ideas for new businesses that could operate there are gathering steam—from manufacturing drugs to hotels and tourism. At the more exhilarating end of the spectrum is asteroid mining. Once a staple of science fiction, could it soon become reality?Host: Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor. Contributors: Peter Diamandis, founder of the XPRIZE Foundation; Sara Russell of Britain’s Natural History Museum; Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University; Mitch Hunter-Scullion of the Asteroid Mining Corporation; The Economist’s Geoff Carr and Laurence Knight.For more on this topic, listen to our podcast on Starship.Transcripts of our podcasts are available via economist.com/podcasts.Listen to what matters most, from global politics and business to science and technology—subscribe to Economist Podcasts+.For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.
  • AI meets reality: How to make robots for a human world

    42:33
    After years of slow progress, robots have suddenly been getting a lot cleverer and more capable. The technology behind ChatGPT—large language models—has given machines in the real world a dramatic brain upgrade. How is artificial intelligence bringing about a renaissance in robotics and allowing them to finally work in the world of humans?Host: Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor. Contributors: Dinesh Jayaraman, Arjun Krishna and Jason Ma of the University of Pennsylvania; Tom Standage, Shailesh Chitnis and Trisha Parayil of The Economist.Want to learn more about generative artificial intelligence? Listen to our series on the science that built the AI revolution.Transcripts of our podcasts are available via economist.com/podcasts.Listen to what matters most, from global politics and business to science and technology—subscribe to Economist Podcasts+.For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.
  • Explaining the paranormal: An interview with Chris French

    38:43
    Have you ever had a visit from an angel, a ghost or perhaps even an alien? Plenty of people throughout history think they have. Some even report real, physical symptoms from their interactions with supernatural beings. But, although alien abductions and ghosts are not likely to be real, the stories around these paranormal events tell scientists a lot about how the human mind works. Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor, interviews Chris French, a psychologist and author of a new book, “The Science of Weird Shit”.Transcripts of our podcasts are available via economist.com/podcasts.Get a world of insights for 50% off—subscribe to Economist Podcasts+For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.
  • Trailer: The Modi Raj

    04:58
    Narendra Modi is one of the most popular politicians on the planet. India’s prime minister is eyeing a third term atop the world’s biggest democracy. A tea-seller’s son, Mr Modi began life an outsider and the man behind the political phenomenon remains hard to fathom. India has become an economic powerhouse during his ten years in charge. But he’s also the frontman for a chauvinistic Hindu nationalist dogma. Can Mr Modi continue to balance both parts of his agenda and finish the job of turning India into a superpower? The Economist’s Avantika Chilkoti finds out what makes him tick. Launching June 2024.To listen to the full series, subscribe to Economist Podcasts+.If you’re already a subscriber to The Economist, you have full access to all our shows as part of your subscription. For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.
  • AI and health part two: The medicine of the future

    43:45
    A technological revolution is under way in the world of health care. In the second of two episodes on the potential of artificial intelligence to transform the field, we gaze into the future to ask: how will medical researchers and doctors use the latest AI models to understand and treat disease in completely new ways?Host: Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor. Contributors: Natasha Loder, The Economist's health editor; Frank Uhlmann of The Francis Crick Institute; Regina Barzilay of MIT; Parashkev Nachev of UCL; The Economist’s Trisha Parayil.Want to learn more about generative artificial intelligence? Listen to our series on the science that built the AI revolution.Transcripts of our podcasts are available via economist.com/podcasts.Get a world of insights for 50% off—subscribe to Economist Podcasts+For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.
  • AI and health part one: DrGPT will see you now

    45:35
    Artificial intelligence is already making its mark in health care—but new, bigger, models promise to improve how patients access services, help doctors spot diseases faster and transform how medical research is done. In the first of two episodes on the potential of AI in health care, we ask: how will patients benefit from the technology behind ChatGPT? Host: Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor. Contributors: Natasha Loder, The Economist's health editor; Gerald Lip of NHS Grampian; Peter Kecskemethy of Kheiron Medical; Pranav Rajpurkar of Harvard Medical School; Hugh Harvey of Hardian Health.Want to learn more about generative artificial intelligence? Listen to our series on the science that built the AI revolution.Transcripts of our podcasts are available via economist.com/podcasts.Get a world of insights for 50% off—subscribe to Economist Podcasts+For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.
  • Gone south: the global fallout of a melting Antarctica

    42:29
    Earth’s southern pole has traditionally been neglected in the narrative around climate change, partly because scientists used to think that Antarctica was a relatively stable place. Their models, it turns out, were wrong. Some jaw-dropping events and extremes in recent years have shown that Antarctica is undergoing massive changes on land, sea and in the atmosphere. As a result, a new portrait of the continent is emerging which has, so far, received little attention. Polar scientists are warning of a “regime shift”. Host: Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor. Contributors: Catherine Brahic, The Economist’s environment editor; Jonathan Bamber of the University of Bristol; Nadine Johnston of the British Antarctic Survey.Transcripts of our podcasts are available via economist.com/podcasts.Get a world of insights for 50% off—subscribe to Economist Podcasts+For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.
  • Babbage: Why disinformation is more dangerous than ever

    42:57
    Disinformation—falsehoods that are intended to deceive—is on the rise. AI is making it easier to create deceptive content, while social media enables it to spread faster than ever before. With half the world’s population heading to polls in 2024, this presents a growing threat to democracy. There is a glimmer of hope, though. Scientists are starting to understand the technology and tactics behind disinformation campaigns, opening up new possibilities to fight them. Can countries and companies come together to fend off fake media? Host: Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor. Contributors: Tom Standage, The Economist’s deputy editor; Hollie Berman, a news editor at The Economist; Ainslie Johnstone, our data and science correspondent.Transcripts of our podcasts are available via economist.com/podcasts.Listen to what matters most, from global politics and business to science and technology—subscribe to Economist Podcasts+For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.
  • Babbage: Teens and their screens

    42:16
    Ever since there have been smartphones and social media, there have been concerns about how they might be affecting children. Over the past decade, doctors have seen a decline in mental health in the young in much of the rich world. But whether that rise can be attributed to technology is still a matter of fierce debate. Nevertheless, demands are growing to proactively restrict teenagers’ access to phones and social media, just in case. How concerned should parents and teachers be? Or is this just another moral panic? Host: Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor. Contributors: Tom Wainwright, The Economist's technology and media editor; Clare Fernyhough, co-founder of Smartphone Free Childhood; Carol Vidal of Johns Hopkins University; Pete Etchells, a psychologist at Bath Spa University and the author of “Unlocked: The Real Science of Screen Time”.Listen to what matters most, from global politics and business to science and technology—subscribe to Economist Podcasts+For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.