Study Guide

Jurassic Park Science

By Michael Crichton


She noticed that the lizard left three-toed tracks that looked exactly like bird tracks. (1.1.47)

The novel goes along with the theory that dinosaurs are closer to birds than to reptiles. Part of the thrill of the park for someone like Alan Grant is getting to see his hypotheses tested in real life.

"I am no longer certain she was bitten by a basilisk. Not certain at all." (1.2.64)

Before formally introducing the dinosaurs, Crichton builds the suspense by having minor characters off the island make false assumptions, which are then corrected through little scientific discoveries. It's not that science is never useful; it just depends on what kind of use it's put to.

Costa Rica was becoming deforested, and as jungle species lost their habitats, they moved to other areas, and sometimes changed behavior as well. (1.3.7)

Unbeknownst to Hammond and crew, dinosaurs have gotten off the island. You might think escaped dinosaurs would be noticed, right? Well, they are noticed, but no one realizes what they're seeing, because, duh, no one expects them to be dinosaurs—and also because geographical changes are changing the behavior of animals that do belong in today's world.

"The foundation has spent seven million dollars on amber." (2.6.55)

Hammond has obtained his dinosaur DNA by extracting it from blood-sucking insects caught in tree sap, which then turned to amber and preserved them for millions of years. As far as we know, no one in real life has tried this, but part of the appeal of Crichton's work is that it all seems so scientifically plausible. Hey, Crichton's not going to go criticizing scientists without showing us that he's smart enough to make a solid critique.

"The animals kept here are never to mix with the greater ecosystems of earth."

"Such isolation is impossible." (3.18.28-30)

The scientists working at Jurassic Park (Wu in this case) are, surprisingly enough, not very scientifically minded. Wu is making prehistoric animals, but he doesn't know many of the basics of animal behavior. The key motive at Jurassic Park is profit, not science.

Alan Grant was one of the principal advocates of the theory that dinosaurs were warm-blooded. (3.19.16)

Crichton makes his novel more believable by incorporating real scientific theories and debates into the story. Without the science, Crichton's critique might have fallen flat, but by showing us realistic dangers, we tend to understand his point.

"Afraid so, Henry," Malcolm said. "They're breeding." (3.28.43)

The computer system at Jurassic Park was set up to count the dinosaurs, but the designers of the system didn't think to set the count limit higher than the number of dinosaurs they expected to see. As a consequence, the animals have been breeding, and no one has observed it. It's a good example of the hubris of the scientists, and it's also a good example of the fact that tools and technology can only show you what you've figured out how to look for.

"But they're all female," Wu said. "It's impossible." (3.28.60)

Wu intended to make them all female, but he didn't test the process. He didn't consider even the known science on animal biology and reproduction. Maybe he was in a rush because Hammond wanted results as quickly as possible so that he could, you know, make money as quickly as possible.

"Any you never thought to investigate why?"

"Well, we just assumed…." (3.29.16-17)

Just assuming is seldom a good idea. In this case, it's downright negligent. Who builds an amusement park with real live dinosaurs based primarily on assumptions that everything will turn out fine?

"A very fashionable theory. Very trendy to apply it to any complex system where there might be unpredictability." (4.41.16)

Arnold isn't impressed by Malcolm or chaos theory. To him, Malcolm has bought into a trendy theory that gives mathematician some social clout but has little relation to reality. Fun fact: the novel Jurassic Park introduced a lot of the public to the basics of chaos theory.

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