Hope is a duty from which paleontologists are exempt. Their job is to take the long view, the cold and stony view, of triumphs and catastrophes in the history of life. They study teeth, tree trunks, leaves, pollen, and other biological relics, and from it they attempt to discern the lost secrets of time, the big patterns of stasis and change, the trends of innovation and adaptation and refinement and decline that have blown and evaporated, like sea winds among ancient creatures in ancient ecosystems. Although life is their subject, death and burial supply all their data. This gives to paleontologists a certain distance, a perspective beyond the reach of anxiety over outcomes of the struggles they chronicle. If “hope is the thing with feathers,” as Emily Dickinson said, then it's good to remember that feathers don't generally fossilize well.1
1 David Quammen, “The weeds shall inherit the Earth,” The Independent (London), 11-22-1998, pp 30-39.