Tag Archives: Science & the Media

Jurassic World – my thoughts about the trailer

 

Given a few of my recent posts it will come as no surprise that I’m a fan of dinosaurs.  In fact it was these wonderful creatures that got me into geology in the first place.  The original Jurassic Park movie was the ‘grown up’ movie that I ever saw and already being into dinosaurs you can imagine my reaction…I loved it.  I’ve read the novel several times (my copy is now somewhat battered) and loved that too.  The sequels I found less entertaining…despite the addition of Spinosaurus I wasn’t too impressed with the third movie.

I’ve been looking forward to a new film for a while now, and I’m liking the look of the trailer.  It would have been nice to see some more practical special effects instead of all CGI as it appears to be.  I’m not sure about the use of a mutant dinosaur although I agree with some of the comments in Screen Junkies Jurassic World Trailer Fight video (see YouTube) that if they are using the mutant as the ‘bad guy’ and having trained dinosaurs working with the humans (like trained zoo animals I suppose) to help, then that could work.

They’ve shown some nice looking creatures in the trailer; Sauropods, Stegosaurs, Ornithomimosaurs and the obligatory Velociraptors.  Problems…we’ve known that Velociraptor and Ornithomimus were both feathered and have know this for several years now (2007 & 2009 respectively).  This actually reminds me of a part in the book where John Hammond & Henry Wu have a conversation about the nature of dinosaurs.  Hammond is telling Wu that they need to make the dinosaurs look more like people’s expectations.  Hammond is saying that the dinosaurs are too energetic & active and not the slow, stupid lumbering beasts that people have perceived them to be.  Wu argues back that he was tasked to clone dinosaurs and that is what he did, if they’re different to the public image then the public need to change their image.  We’ve known that many dinosaurs (including Velociraptor, Ornithomimus and Yutyrannus) had feathers and we’ve known for over a decade in some cases.  So why not put that into the movie?  Because it doesn’t fit the public image of dinosaurs.  My answer to that is we need to change to public image of dinosaurs as the science progresses.

One thing that did make me go “oooo nice” was the addition of the Mosasaur.  It looks good, and its introduction in the trailer was suitably dramatic.

Jurassic-World-19

It looks a little large to me.  The shark looks a lot like a great white (which grown to about 6m in length) and the largest Moasaurs are Hainosaurus and Tylosaurus about 15m in length, meaning that the creature in the movie should be a maximum of 3 times the length of the shark…and it looks a little bigger than that to me…assuming the shark is a great white and assuming it is an adult.  It still looks cool though lol.  One of the details I did like is in the mouth.  Take a look at the upper jaw in the picture above and you’ll see a second row of teeth – the pterygoid teeth, a feature pretty much unique to Mosasaurs and a nice bit of detail added for those of us that know some stuff about these ancient creatures.

Overall I’m looking forward to the movie, but a little cautious in case they make a mess of it (I really hope not).

Deinocheirus – mystery solved

There has been a new announcement from the world of dinosaur palaeontology; after almost a decade of putting the pieces together we can finally reveal the shape of Deinocheirus.  For those not family with this creature, Deinocheirus mirificus was first discovered in 1965 (formally named in 1970 by Halszka Osmolska and Ewa Roniewic).  The original fossil was found in the Nemegt formation (70ma)  in Mongolia and was just a set of forelimbs as shown in the featured image above (taken from Wikipedia).  These arms are a considerable length (2.4m), hence the name Deinocheirus or “terrible hand”.  The rest of the dinosaur was unknown and it has at times been placed with the Dromaeosaurs or Therizinosaurs, before being tentatively group with the Ornithomimosaurs due to similarities in the arms & hands (Weishampel et al.).  This however was not a certainty as there were some differences  in the radius and the ulna, as well as a few other locations (Weishampel et al.).

Due to research done on two new finds from 2006 and 2009 a Korean team led by Yuong-Nam Lee has finially revealed a complete image of the creature.

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(Image form the journal Nature – published 22nd October 2014)

1413995319991_wps_10_Embargoed_to_1800_Wednesd(Image from the Daily Mail website – taken 24th October 2014)

D. mirificus has been confirmed as an Ornithomimosaur, the largest known one at 11m in length.  It does however include some interesting features;

“[It] has many unique skeletal features unknown in other ornithomimosaurs, indicating that Deinocheirus was a heavily built, non-cursorial animal with an elongate snout, a deep jaw, tall neural spines, a pygostyle, a U-shaped furcula, an expanded pelvis for strong muscle attachments, a relatively short hind limb and broad-tipped pedal unguals.”          – Yuong-Nam Lee et al. (Nature 22/10/14)

So overall not quite what people were expecting, but still in the general area.  As for D. mirificus lifestyle the presence of both fish remains and numerous gastroliths in the stomach region suggest a omnivorous diet in a semi-aquatic environment.  This is similar to other Ornithomimosaurs, with other species (such as Sinornithomimus) having gastroliths and fine-combed filter feeding strainers such as those found in Gallimimus (Weishampel et al.).  To be honest this doesn’t surprise me.  The connection between Deinocheirus and the other Ornithomimosaurs has been long suspected, as has their omnivorous diet.  The only that really surprised me was the hump on its back, the purpose of which is still a bit of a mystery.  Other dinosaurs have similar humps/sails made from elongated neural spines and there is still much debate over the exact nature of the feature.  The popular ideas being that it was used for either sexual/territorial display or for body temperature regulation.

On more thing I would like to add is be careful of the media and how they represent science.  I was first alerted to this announcement via Sky News which titled the article “Duckbilled Dinosaur Looked Like Jar Jar Binks” (Sky News Website & iPhone App 23/10/14).  I have problems with this.  First of all it’s much better looking and certainly more relevant to…well anything than Jar Jar Binks (oh come on we all like to pick on that Star Wars character).  Secondly – and for me most importantly – is that they misidentify it.  By calling it a duckbilled dinosaur they are implying that it is a Hadrosaur, commonly called duckbilled dinosaurs due to their beak being broad, flat and…well shaped like a duck’s bill.  This it most certainly not.  Take a quick look on Wikipedia for something like a Hadrosaurus or Edmontosaurus and you’ll quickly realise the difference.  In the article itself they also say it “is a relative of the ostrich belonging to the dinosaur branch often known as ostrich dinosaurs.”  Well that makes it a completely different Order of animal to the Hadrosaurs, but at least that line is half-correct.  D. mirificus is a member of the Ornithomimosaurs – often called the Bird/Ostrich mimics – with some of its members being called Ornithomimus (Bird Mimic), Struthiomimus (Ostrich Mimic) and Gallimimus (Chicken Mimic), due to their superficial resemblance to birds.  They are however not thought to be the ancestors of birds, more like distant cousins.  The exact connection between birds & dinosaurs is still up for debate but is thought to be closer to Maniraptora like the Troodonts, Dromaeosaurs or Alvarezsaurs rather than the Ornithomimosaurs.  Knowing evidently more about dinosauria systematics than the person who wrote the Sky News article I had to do a little digging as they didn’t even mention which Journal it had been published in.  This took me to the Daily Mail who had a much better write up of D. mirificus and then onto the actual Journal article in Nature.  Moral of the story; check the sources for yourself.

References: Sky News Website article Duckbilled Dinosaur Looked Like Jar Jar Binks – author unknown (accessed 24/10/14), the Dail Mail Website article The dinosaur that looked like a hump-backed ostrich: Enormous creature that roamed Earth 70 million years ago recreated in 3D by Jonathan O’Callaghan (accessed 24/10/14), Resolving the long-standing enigmas of a giant ornithomimosaur Deinocheirus mirificus (Yuong-Nam Lee et al. Nautre 22/10/14), The Dinosauria (David B. Weishampel et al. 2004), Wikipedia article on Deinocheirus (accessed 24/10/14).

Science & the Media: developments at the BBC

Last week there was a development at the BBC regarding a change in its impartiality regarding science.  This can be found in the Trust Conclusions on the Executive Report on Science Impartiality Review Actions, which can be found on the BBC website in their downloads section (or as I found it, via the Guardian website).  So what has changed?  The BBC has had a long standing tradition (and policy) of impartiality and of giving equal airtime to opposing views.  Have they always got this right?  In my opinion not always, but they have done a considerably better job of it than some other news networks.

The Trust Report is making a slight change to this, and I my opinion a good one.  Basically it says that;

“…impartiality in science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views, but depends on the varying degree of prominence (due weight) such views should be given.”

And that;

“The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make it clear to the audiences.”

Essentially what the whole report says is that although impartiality guidelines should still be followed, the weight in coverage should reflect the weight in scientific consensus.  This should apply to science in general, but there is specific reference climate change and environmental science.  This got me thinking about how science in the media is portrayed.

Most people are not scientists (I include myself in that), but what is more, most people don’t understand what science is, how it works or the conclusions it has reached.  If you don’t believe me just go on the Gallup polls website for surveys about evolution, education or climate change and you’ll see what I mean.  Most people haven’t dealt with science since their time in the school classroom, and as most don’t work in a scientific job they will not be as familiar about the material as someone who does.  This is where the media comes in.  They have the responsibility to present the information in a non-biased format.  This does not always happen for a number of reasons.  First of all although the journalist may be reporting on the science and has a good understanding of it, they may not have a scientific background and my not be familiar with all the terminology, conclusions etc.  The second is that a lot of media outlets have a political agenda.  This is true of most media, but is often exaggerated in certain news networks in the USA, and will often twist or misrepresent the material to fit that agenda.

This is why I’m glad to see the BBC’s move.  Although it could be seen as ignoring other points of view (and I hope it never comes to that), the guideline change is basically saying that in the case of overwhelming scientific support, why should you be giving equal airtime to side that has little to no evidence supporting their position?  Although reference was made to climate change, this applies to every issue in which there is a general consensus.  This then means though that the media has a considerable amount of power in bringing science to the masses, and to quote the cliché “with great power comes great responsibility”.  And this is why the BBC change matters.

One of the things that I have found interesting is who the news media has on TV talking about.  In regards to climate I have found it interesting how the climate-change deniers often bring up politicians or economists to degrade climate change science.  Let’s look at it from a different angle.  If you get sick with say a tumour do you see the surgeon or the mechanic?  The obvious answer should the surgeon.  Why?  Because that he/she has spent several years studying medicine at university, then several more years training as a specialist and a surgeon.  If your car breaks down do you take it to the surgeon or the mechanic?  Again the mechanic should be the obvious answer, because he/she has spent years working on car engines and is an expert in their functioning.  So when it comes to climate science why should people trust the politician or the economist (especially if they have a vested interest in the oil or coal industry) over the scientist who has spent the past 10 or 20 years working in the science?

And this is why I like the BBC’s change of guidelines.  They’ve done science training workshops for the editors, better and more detailed fact checking is recommended along with the above mentioned change in air time balance being related more to the weight of scientific support rather than the equal 50/50 balance that was before.  The idea being to better inform the audience on what the scientific evidence actually supports.  So go BBC News for being more science orientated, may you lead the way.