What can an artist's rendition of a giant rabbit teach us about good science?

Sometimes a good picture — a photograph, for example, or even a detailed drawing — can mean the difference between scientific progress and scientific stagnation.

Take this recently published artist's rendition of a giant rabbit, for example. When vertebrate paleontologist Darren Naish first caught sight of this picture, he instantly knew something didn't look right with the shape of the creature's neck.

What can an artist's rendition of a giant rabbit teach us about good science?

He immediately brought this to the attention of the authors of the publication, noting that an "s-shaped" curve in the neck was far more anatomically feasible, and accompanied his observation with x-ray photos of two other rabbit necks to illustrate what he believed to be a more likely neck-shape for the rabbit in the original drawing.

"Alright, alright," you're saying. "So some paleontologists got into it over a drawing of a giant bunny. So WHAT?"

The point, as Scientific American's Kalliopi Monoyios points out in this very astute blog post, is that even more important than who is ultimately right about the position of the rabbit's neck "is the clear fact that this conversation could never even have happened without the impeccably clear image that [the authors] included in their paper on the giant bunnies."

In a time when media should be opening up communication between scientists in ways that drive science forward, Monoyios notes that the absence of clearly-depicted, let alone compelling, visual evidence ultimately leads to an unhealthy break in the scientific conversation — an abrupt halt in science's march towards better understanding through shared ideas.

You can read Monoios's entire piece over at Scientific American
Images via Scientific American