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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Dinos, radio, and fish eyes oh my! The Mac Weekly spotlights Joe Barter and Scott Persons

By Olivia Provan and Reilly Pruitt

In a weird twist of fate, Joe Barter and Walter Scott Persons ended up roommates on the third floor of Turck Hall their first year. A bond was formed over all things Darwinian, and since then the two have collaborated in running one of WMCN’s most popular programs – Stegosaurus X-ing. We sat down with these two to discuss dinosaurs, eye dissections, and the pesky problem of talking to your mom when being chased by charging elephants.So, how did you two first meet?

SP: Joe and I were roommates freshman year.

JB: Yeah, we had our first year course together-vertebrate paleobiology.

What were your first impressions of one another?

JB: Before we ever met, Scott emailed me a picture of himself standing in front of a giant dinosaur with his safari hat on. It didn’t dawn on me then that the dinosaurs were going to be an issue, or how much I dislike them. My actual impression was that he was a good guy, but condescending in a way I could appreciate. Some people might not get that though.

Joe glances at Scott.

JB: You are glaring at me.

SP: I would never. Joe’s personality takes a while to settle in. He was a bit toned down freshman year. I remember the first experiment he ever did. He took an apple from Café Mac and left it out to see how long it could rot.

JB: It took the entire school year. It turned from green to brown. There was one brown spot that didn’t fade away until finals week.

Did you get along well as roommates?

SP: We’re very different people. I’m neat, and he’s messy. I’m a morning person, and he’s a night owl. It doesn’t make for great roommates, but it does make for great radio.

JB: Yeah, plus you love dinosaurs and I hate them.

Can you tell us a little bit about your radio show, “Stegosaurus x-ing”?

SP: We are in our third season now. We categorize it as an offbeat nature show.

JB: It’s a show about dinosaurs; I’m just along for the ride.

Joe, you don’t like dinosaurs?

SP: He likes dinosaurs.

JB: Yeah, but I like talking about other things, too. Talking only about dinosaurs seems useless.

SP: He may have just overdosed on them.

If you don’t like dinosaurs, what kind of animals are you interested in?

JB: I like monkeys. I spent this summer at the University of Rochester on a visual neuroscience fellowship. I worked dissecting mice eyes. It’s actually my specialty; I have been doing it for about four years. I have been asked to demonstrate it for PhD students. That’s how I got into making tiny airplanes. They are the size of Lincoln on the penny.

SP: That being the Lincoln on the back of the penny. A lot of people don’t even know it’s there.

How did you manage to discover this talent?

JB: It was from all the time I spent dissecting eyes. I have really fine motor skills. One day someone in the lab brought in some cheap champagne and I drank a lot. I realized I could no longer be productive, so I spent a lot of hours making about 20 little airplanes under the microscope. I really love the eyes though. I’ve even dissected fish eyes – well, I guess I actually just extracted them. I had to buy the fish from Scott. His fish died but the pet store had a 14-day return policy, so I bought it from him for half-price. I guess you had to bring the dead body in to get the refund.

Scott, were you sad about your fish?

SP: Well, it was within the 14-day policy, so I didn’t have a chance to get too attached. We have another fish now. Its name is Oedipus.

JB: Scott named it. He says “we,” but that just means that I didn’t object. If you hit the tank really hard the fish will wiggle.

SP: I really wish you wouldn’t do that.

Is that how most things go with you two? Scott, you make the decisions, and Joe, you go along with it?

JB: I kind of let him kick me around.

Scott, would you ever let Joe do an all-primate radio show?

SP: We have had a primate-centered show for Joe’s benefit.

JB: I don’t really prepare for the show like Scott does. Maybe that’s where the bitterness comes from. Scott has the big, booming radio show voice. Except for once when a Russian girl told me I have a sexy voice.

SP: He’s very proud of that.

Scott, you studied last year in Tanzania. Can you tell us a little about the work you were doing there?

SP: I was enrolled in an ecology-based program, where I was primarily studying footprints. It has been speculated that large animals that dwell in, or frequent, wet habitats (such as swamps, estuaries, and marshes) are likely to evolve broad, wide-spreading feet. With greater surface area over which to distribute their weight, theoretically, big-footed animals will be less likely to become bogged down and therefore will have greater maneuverability in their presumably mucky homes. The goal of my study was to determine whether or not the proposed shoe-size/habitat correlation has any legitimacy for the modern mega fauna of the African savannah and if, by extension, it can be applied to the fossil record.

Can you tell us a good story about the African savannah?

SP: Sure. Once when I was tracking footprints I almost got run over by a herd of elephants. We knew from the footprints we saw that a herd had been recently in the area. I went to grab my sharpie to trace the print, when I realized the elephant herd must have snuck up on us from behind one of the low mounds, and when they saw me out of the vehicle and on the ground inspecting the tracks (a most un-tourist-like thing to be doing), the lead matriarch perceived me as a threat and resolved to trample first and ask questions later. The distance to the safari vehicle shortened, but the understated thunder of the elephants’ foot falls grew louder, and the gap between me and them had narrowed to less than twenty yards. It occurred to me that, if this were the movies, they would be trumpeting right now. I was struggling not to bang my head against the back of the front seat . . . when my cell phone rang.

“Hello,” I said, my elbow striking something dense.

“Hi, sweetheart,” My mom replied. “How is Africa? How are you?”

“I’m fine, Mom, but I’m being charged by elephants right now. Can I call you back?”

“Oh . . . All right . . .”

What is your favorite dinosaur?

JB: I like the Brontosaurus because it pisses Scott off.

SP: It’s not a real dinosaur. In 1879 paleontologist Othniel Marsh described the skeleton of what was then the largest dinosaur ever found. It was a long-neck or sauropod dinosaur, and he named it Brontosaurus. Marsh didn’t know it, but he had already discovered Brontosaurus in 1877. The 1877 specimen, which Marsh had called Apatosaurus, was much smaller than the Brontosaurus specimen, so Marsh assumed the two were different dinosaurs. The Brontosaurus skeleton had been found without the skull. When Marsh reconstructed the skeleton, he gave Brontosaurus the head of Camarasaurus (another long-neck dinosaur). In paleontology the first name that is given to a genus has priority, so the name Brontosaurus is invalid. Brontosaurus refers to a dinosaur chimera an Apatosaurus body with a Camarasaurus head. I don’t like it, and Joe loves to press my buttons…

I don’t have a favorite dinosaur; I like them all too much. It would be like a parent picking their favorite child – it’s just not right.

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    Jason ManningSep 6, 2019 at 1:47 pm

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