Perhaps this will make an interesting plot twist in the next Jurassic Park movie

Jack Horner, the paleontologist who was the model for Dr Alan Grant in the Jurassic Park, has been ‘forced out’ of his position at the Museum of the Rockies, and is now working at the Burke Museum in Seattle. Good for the Burke, was my first thought, but the second was, “Why is the Museum of the Rockies kicking out their most famous scientist?” Then I read the story.

First reasonable reason — he’s 70. That’s a good age to step back from the grind…but ask me again in 10 years.

The second reason Horner gives is politics. The second reason is that museum director Shelley McKamey, the museum director, is married to Pat Leiggi, director of paleontology and exhibits. He says they’ve had it in for him, and criticizes the fact that their marriage creates an automatic alliance that overpowers other obligations. He’s basically objecting to the marital status of other people at the museum, claiming it gives them an unfair advantage. Which answered nothing — why would the fact that a couple of museum directors are married mean he’d be squeezed out?

And then Horner himself explains why they opposed him, and my sympathy evaporates.

The problem started in 2012, Horner said, when he married then 19-year-old undergraduate student Vanessa Weaver. He “adored” Weaver, but the marriage was their way of telling the university — she wasn’t one of his students — to butt out of their relationship after Horner was instructed to officially disclose the nature of their relationship and was told they would be scrutinized.

“And then they could check on it and they could decide on it. They could come say anything they want, so we got married so we could do anything,” Horner said. “And through the whole thing she had a boyfriend. There wasn’t like something nefarious going on. I adore her. She’s adorable, obviously we really like each other.” They’re divorced now, but still friends.

McKamey and Leiggi “went apoplectic” over the marriage, Horner said. “Before that happened they were my best friends. They basically haven’t talked to me since.”


OK, so he was fooling around with a student who was less than a third of his age, and thought he could legitimize it with the university by entering into a sham marriage? I don’t think university’s objection would be to sexual activity out of wedlock — this is the 21st century, and as we all know, universities are bastions of liberalism — but to sexual activity with a student. Trying to get around that problem with what he openly admits was a fake marriage makes the problem worse.

And now he’s divorced? Does that mean he’s going to be looking for another sweet young thing?

Now I’m wondering if the Burke Museum is keeping an eye on him.


  1. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    but ask me again in 10 years.

    That is presuming there is no major changes in the health events to either you or Mary in that interval. I would hope that.

  2. Crys T says

    Maybe it’s because I’ve been awake for far too long, but I’m stuck on the fact that this guy’s name is actually Jack Horner.

  3. johnmarley says

    @Crys T (#4)

    but I’m stuck on the fact that this guy’s name is actually Jack Horner

    I’m relieved that I’m not the only one.

  4. microraptor says

    Matrim @6: He was, which was why he was described as having a large beard in the original novel. He was also the basis for Robert Burke in the second film (the guy who was eaten by a T-Rex). Horner’s big contribution to the JP film line, IIRC, was convincing them to use Spinosaurus in the third film because he didn’t like T-Rex.

  5. brett says

    Yikes. I don’t totally oppose students and faculty having relationships as long as they’re not in the same department and the professor has no power over the academic career of the student*, but this is skeevy as hell (more so if she worked in his lab). Good on the Museum of the Rockies for pushing him out, and a pity that the Burke Museum brought him on full-time – he should have been told that now would be a good time for him to retire.

    * I do find it dodgy if there’s a massive age difference and the student is in their early 20s, but not every undergraduate is a teenager/early twenties person.

  6. Holms says

    The second reason Horner gives is politics. The second reason is that museum director Shelley McKamey, the museum director…

    Editing / composition error? Or perhaps I am still groggy as I have yet to have caffeine today. But as to the incident itself …nope, consider me even more baffled.

  7. penalfire says

    PZ, are you against romantic relationships with students under all conditions? E.g., a 23-year-old male graduate student and a 40-year-old female professor.

  8. Artor says

    I have some friends with a significant age difference: he’s 50, and she’s 28. Not quite as extreme as the Horners, but still quite a spread, and they are one of the most solid couples I’ve known. They certainly have a better relationship than my parents ever did. So I won’t fault Horner for that. But using relationship status and marriage as a tool to complain about the hierarchy in his department? That’s pretty skeevy.

  9. Lofty says

    The age difference is not the issue, it’s the power differential. My wife is 18 years my senior but we married as equal partners. The proof is 30 years of continuing solid friendship.

  10. birgerjohansson says

    If the next film has a paleontologist made from hybrid DNA -part human, part Greenland shark- the age issue could become really interesting.

  11. Siobhan says


    PZ, are you against romantic relationships with students under all conditions?

    Are all of your “gotchas!” this obvious?

  12. penalfire says

    Not a “gotcha.” I’m genuinely curious.

    A long, healthy relationship might have started under questionable circumstances. That does not disqualify the relationship; nor does the long, healthy relationship justify starting relationships under questionable circumstances.

    One might even acknowledge later that it was an abuse of power to seduce a student, but that one was blinded by love, etc., and thankfully it worked out, etc.

    But I’m curious if PZ sets boundaries. Perhaps he would approve of professor-student romances under some conditions.

  13. monad says

    @6 Matrim:

    Also, I thought Alan Grant was based off Robert Bakker?

    For what it is worth, Bakker is one of a few paleontologists mentioned in the movie. Horner isn’t, and considering how prominent he was at the time, it seems to fit the common story that Grant was a stand-in for him. He sure does really seem to dislike T. rex, though, being the only real reason the “just a scavenger” thing shows up in so many books.

    It sounds like he earned his dismissal. To those wondering about such relationships, even if you suppose the relationship was otherwise ok, it would earn a dismissal! Because otherwise there is the power differential making it extra inappropriate.

  14. andyb says

    How is everyone certain this wasn’t a platonic relationship? He said she always had a boyfriend, and he’s grandfatherly. Maybe it’s just like he said – he was irritated with the inquiry into the relationship and he saw getting married as a way of sticking it to his superiors. It’s easy to get married – you don’t have to go to Vegas, just get a free online ordination and file in a county (at least in MN). Some 19-yr-olds would think it would be funny to have a pretend marriage to a famous scientist.

    I just wonder how everyone can be so sure of the truth from such a brief article.

  15. Vicki, duly vaccinated tool of the feminist conspiracy says


    Your hypothesis isn’t consistent with the idea that either of them has good judgment or knows much about contemporary American culture. “Oh, gee, the administration thinks we’re fooling around, when really we’re talking about work and mountain climbing. What should we do? Well, we could tell them that we’re just friends, and maybe spend less time alone in the lab, or invite other people along on our next hike. No, that’s not going to convince them. You could spend a lot more time with your boyfriend? No, that isn’t working. Why don’t you look for an actual girlfriend? Too much trouble… I know! We could get married. That will make clear that we’re not romantically involved and there’s no unreasonable influence or favoritism here!”

    It doesn’t fly. It doesn’t even hop along.

    The assumption is still that if people get married they are romantically and/or sexually involved, unless there’s some obvious other motivation. Nowadays that’s more likely to be immigration or medical insurance than strengthening the relationship between two families or countries. What it isn’t is a plausible way of convincing people that you aren’t having sex with the person you have just married after the two of you were being gossiped about.

    Horner states in so many words that he expects a married couple to support each other’s opinions and decisions, whether or not they actually agree. That’s not a universal, but it is fairly common (as fact and as assumption).

  16. Rob Grigjanis says

    Vicki @20:

    What it isn’t is a plausible way of convincing people that you aren’t having sex with the person you have just married after the two of you were being gossiped about.

    No, but it is a plausible way of giving those people the middle finger, which was andyb’s point.

  17. says

    Umm, he wasn’t trying to “legitimize” the relationship; he doesn’t seem to care about that aspect at all. The marriage was clearly a way to get the university to be unable to pry into the details of the relationship (at least post marriage) as it is nearly impossible to get at information between married partners because of spousal privilege.

    Still seems to like a very questionable and sleazy thing to do, but let’s not pretend the man is an idiot.

  18. evodevo says

    Wouldn’t be the first time a bright person was led around by his little head … 60-something and 19-year-old – really ? Well, maybe stretching the May-December thingy. But the REAL problem is … he was her supervisor, no matter how he tries to weasel out. That is a definite no-no. Even in the Postal Service, where I work, you can’t do that, when the ages are a lot closer – it’s cause for discipline/dismissal.

  19. Rob Grigjanis says

    evodevo @23:

    But the REAL problem is … he was her supervisor, no matter how he tries to weasel out.

    Yeah, let’s totally ignore what Weaver had to say, because you know the REAL problem;

    He is not my advisor, teacher, employer, and has no say in my grades at MSU.

    You know nothing about their relationship, and neither do I, but you’ve heard of skeevy profs (I’ve known some!) therefore he must be one. Hilarious.

  20. Teh kiloGraeme says

    Grant was based on Bakker. The book that Tim is talking about reading in the tour car is actually one of Bakker’s, and they had problems shooting the scene as Bakker is on the front of the book and kept slipping to grin at the camera.

  21. monad says

    Not sure where you are getting Bakker from, but double-checking: Beyond Jurassic Park says Grant was based on Horner. And the movie does mention Bakker separately. In the Lost World there is a different character Burke based on him, who is killed in what seemed like a pointlessly cruel scene, that I now learn was a favor for Horner related to the predator-scavenger dispute.