ATTENTION, Dino-fans! It has come to my attention that 'Clash of the Dinosaurs' is bunk. It's not science, it's pseudoscience.

'Well', you might say. 'Big deal!' You'd be right - because that's not even close to the worst part of it. It has more recently come to my attention that the producers of the show also have engaged in some extremely dishonest QUOTE-MINING, taking quotes out of context to distort their meaning. In other words - "SPIN"! You know... the same BS tactic that crooked politicians in America use to talk about imaginary 'death panels' and 'taxpayer-funded abortions' in the hopes that their money-grubbing insurance company campaign contributors never have to worry about REAL health care reform putting a damper on their rampant greed and ungodly price-gouging profits. The same BS tactic that Creationists use to claim that such and such respected paleontologist is against evolution when they are really for it, etc...

Except now the Discovery Channel is doing it. Or rather, more precisely, the production company they hired to do the show, Dangerous Ltd. This is a very influential documentary production group with lavish offices in the famous and expensive Covent Garden district of London. What exactly did they do that was so dishonest?

Well, let's make it short and simple: Dr. Matt Wedel, the PhD paleontologist who described Sauroposeidon, was deliberately edited out of context on Clash of the Dinosaurs to make it look like he supported the outdated (and nonsensical) notion that sauropods had a "second brain" in their hips. In fact he was merely discussing and then rejecting this popular but false myth.

Judge for yourself; here is what Matt Wedel REALLY said in the full video interview (bold letters and underlines mine):

Ok one of the curious things about sauropods is that they did have a swelling in the spinal chord in the neighborhood of their pelvis.  And for a while it was thought that maybe this was sort of like a second brain to help control the back half of the body.  Erm there are a couple of misconceptions there.  One is that most animals control large part of their body with their spinal chord.  If you’re going through day to day operations like just walking down the street and your minds on something else your brain isn’t even involved in very much controlling your body.  A lot of that is a reflex arc that’s controlled by your spinal chord

So its not just dinosaurs that are controlling their body with their spinal chord its all animals.  Now the other thing about this swelling at the base of the tail is we find the same thing in birds and its called the glycogen body.  It’s a big swelling in the spinal chord that has glycogen which is this very energy rich compound that animals use to store energy.  Problem is we don’t even know what birds are doing with their glycogen bodies.  Er the function is mysterious – we don’t know if the glycogen is supporting their nervous system – if its there to be mobilised help dry [should be 'drive' -ed.] their hind limbs or the back half of their body and until we find out what birds are doing with theirs we have very little hope of knowing what dinosaurs were doing with their glycogen bodies.

Here is what the show had him saying, courtesy of Dangerous Ltd's inane editing room staff:

One of the curious things about Sauropods is that they did have a swelling in the spinal cord, in the neighborhood of their pelvis.  This was sort of like a second brain to help control the back half of the body.

Wow! They actually CUT OUT the "And for a while it was thought that maybe" part! That wasn't even a whole sentence separating those two lines, it was like 2 seconds worth of airtime difference, so WHY did they cut that out to make it look like Wedel endorses the "second brain" myth? I mean, assume you forget about the whole glycogen body part (which isn't too terribly hard to make understandable for non-scientist viewers; glycogen is basically nothing more than a sugar compound, and sugar = energy, not brain). Even THEN, it's very odd that Dangerous Ltd. would edit out those few words "And for a while it was thought...." to make it look like Matt was expressing his own personal view if they simply were editing things for brevity's sake. They are flat-out LYING in his name.

Here is Matt's own testimony from SV-POW:

"I was very clearly explaining why a misconception is no longer held, and they edited the tape to make me regurgitate the misconception as if it was not just a commonly accepted fact, but a fact that I accepted. That is beyond quote-mining, it is the most blatantly dishonest thing that you can do with someone’s recorded words. Let’s see what they have to say about it (quote continues with no omissions):
In your email, you said: ‘Someone in the editing room cut away the framing explanation and left me presenting a thoroughly discredited idea as if it was current science.’ In your interview you carefully set out a context in which you made your argument, a context that was perhaps not included in the show as carefully as it could have been. Whether this was in the interests of brevity or not, I entirely appreciate your position. We had no wish to suggest you were presenting an old, discredited argument, we were simply working on the show ever aware of the demands of our audience. This does not excuse a part of the program which was perhaps not edited with as much finesse as it could have been and consequently I will make your concerns clear to the production team in the hope that we may avoid such situations again.

While I hope this clarifies our position, I will endeavour to call you to ensure all your concerns are properly heard.
Notice that there is not even a whiff of an apology anywhere in here. They were “ever aware of the demands of [the] audience”, this part “was perhaps [!] not edited with as much finesse as it could have been”, and they’re going to try to do better next time.
This is crap, crap, crap, just total crap from top to bottom. If you have a segment of an interview that covers ground that you decide is too complex for the audience, JUST DON’T AIR IT. Or, if you insist on presenting this very old and very stupid idea is if it is accurate and current, LEAVE ME OUT OF IT."
That should make things pretty clear. The producers deliberately cut Matt's sequence to support this inane "second brain" theory that, much like a bad case of shingles, just won't go away....

This isn't just a case of misinforming the public; Dangerous Ltd. has also put Matt's credibility (and quite possibly his very career as a published researcher) on the line and may have already damaged it severely by dragging his name through the mud of pseudoscience-inspired LIES. This is nothing short of SLANDER and it is both UNETHICAL and ILLEGAL. Frankly, they deserve to be sued for every last dollar they made from that show.


I wrote to Dangerous Ltd. as well as Discovery (as did a number of other dino-bloggers), and to my knowledge, Matt Wedel and the other SV-POWsketeers were also contacting them regularly. Eventually, a man at the Discovery staff (who has asked to remain anonymous) promised to fix the problem today, which was a lot faster than anyone had expected. In Matt's words:

"He said that the program would not be broadcast again until that segment was fixed, and that the fixed version would be in the DVD/Blu-ray release."

This is an amazingly good response by Discovery to this whole embarrassing quote-mining situation. And they are to be commended for their speedy resolution to this problem. However, there is one burning question in my mind - WHY did Discovery or Dangerous Ltd. let this happen in the first place?

I mean think about it:

1. They had plenty of interview material from Matt Wedel, from which it is obvious that the second brain is not even a valid theory - more like a whimsical tongue-in-cheek hypothesis that was long ago discarded for sheer lack of evidence in the face of far more credible and well-supported possibilities.

2. There were plenty of paleontologists that were interviewed for the show and served as consultants. They had Robert Bakker, Tom Holtz, Larry Witmer, Mike Habib... does Dangerous Ltd. expect us to believe that NONE of them had any objection to the "second brain" myth in all the time it took to produce the show? Sorry, no dice there.

3. It takes months of planning, animation, production, filming, and post-production to make such a series. They had months to get it right and listen to Wedel's advice. Yet it seems that months before the final cut, the production staff already was hell-bent on presenting the "second brain" myth (and plenty of other dinosaur myths) as absolute fact. According to Matt Wedel, they had indeed been pushing the idea for months. Indeed, this is a pattern I've seen with a lot of science programs. It seems that only NOVA and a few other PBS documentaries have any scientific integrity these days. I haven't seen a decent dinosaur show on ANY corporate network since the days PaleoWorld aired on TLC in 1995 (in those ye olde days, The Learning Channel wasn't plagued by its present pitiful lineup of endless house-hunting fad shows and 3-hour long blocks of  "who-has-the-cutest-baby-after-40" programming - back in those days, it was a lot less dumbed-down and actually lived up to its titular obligation of promoting LEARNING).

In fact, I'd venture to say that the more corporate a science program becomes, the more idiotic and less scientific it's bound to be. And it's flat-out shameful how they claim their BS myths are "fact" in order to drive up their ratings. If dinosaur fact is truly stranger than fiction (and let's be honest here - it often IS) then why do corporate production teams feel such a need to support so many blatantly FALSE and ridiculous theories for their shows? Aren't REAL dinosaurs already interesting enough without having to turn them into magical dragons, or circus sideshow pinheads with the IQ of a cactus? Why are these guys so obsessed with things like second brains? Come to think of it, why did Spielberg make his Velociraptors too big and leave them unfeathered when they had both Robert Bakker and Gregory Paul as consultants, both of whom supported feathered raptors? There's just too much of a profit motive in producing stereotypical movie monsters. A real dinosaur film or series would DUMP the stereotypes and shock audiences with the TRUTH so they don't have to wait 15 years to learn that raptors actually did have feathers... And the same is true of Clash of the Dinosaurs. There was a good deal of BS "junk science" in Walking with Dinosaurs and Jurassic Fight Club. But that all pales in comparison with what was done in Clash. Because NOW, for once you have a literally all-star lineup of the top experts in the field, offering their commentary, but the show still manages to get so many things wrong! And in Wedel's case, the producers deliberately and dishonestly twisted his words to SUPPORT an obviously wrong conclusion! And then they claimed that they were merely doing this to "meet the needs of the audience" which is an insult to the audience, the scientists, and the science itself. Basically they're TRYING to say: "we lied and quote-mined because we felt the audience is too stupid to understand the real science".

Well then, if that's the case, you're producing nothing more than dumbed-down entertainment, so don't call it a frickin' documentary!

What were these guys thinking? Here's one quick guess: "Hey Mac... lets make some changes to the script to "meet the needs" of our "audience".... A smart sauropod that cares for its eggs? No way, scratch that - it will hurt our ratings and profits because it isn't what we think the "audience" wants to see. Big plant eaters HAVE to all be dimwits who can't tell their front from their rear! Didn't you new guys ever see Fantasia as a kid? And what's this - a raptor that actually has some realistic limitations on its strength? No way, that will also hurt our ratings and profits, everyone likes to see the bad guy win, the plant eater can only be allowed to live if he has horns..."

And in the end Dangerous Ltd. STILL never apologized, it was the Discovery Channel that finally bit the bullet and promised to fix Dangerous Ltd's dishonest editing of Matt's comments. Once again, Dangerous Ltd. has FAILED to apologize for its actions, which are still SLANDEROUS, UNETHICAL, and ILLEGAL.

I won't even bother putting up a "Wall of Shame" for the unrepentant guilty parties at Dangerous Ltd. - they've already done that job for me! Just click HERE to see who's who....

But let's just quickly go over what ELSE the Dangerous Ltd. production staff got wrong besides the "two brains" fiasco - the list is indeed damning:

1. They claim T. rex was so slow that it often needed to scavenge to survive. This is pure outdated NONSENSE to anyone who has actually bothered to look at a T. rex tibia, let alone read Bakker's and Paul's papers on giant theropod limb biomechanics. Seriously people, just save yourself the embarrassment and buy a secondhand copy of The Dinosaur Heresies. If you can't understand it, RESIGN!!!!

2. They claim T. rex could see fine details from four miles away. In reality there's no way to tell how far it could see because the eyes are soft tissue and don't get preserved! They just pulled that figure out of their asses. All we know for sure is that T.rex had binocular vision and PROBABLY had large and very good eyes. How good? We just don't know.

3. They claim Sauroposeidon had a cheeseburger-sized brain with a barely developed cerebrum - in reality, the brain they're talking about is a 3D model of a Camarasaurus brain, a creature barely a third the size (i.e. mass) of Sauroposeidon. Nobody has ever found the braincase of Sauroposeidon, and the Camarasaurus brain wasn't even scaled up. In addition, the cerebrum of Camarasaurus actually looks to be the BIGGEST part of its brain...

4. They claim Sauroposeidon just abandoned their eggs and moved on - and then they show animation of Sauroposeidon leaving its eggs UNCOVERED in the middle of a barren desert. This is bullcrap; even animals as primitive as sea turtles hide their eggs before returning to the sea - and sauropods were not bound by any aquatic lifestyle. Even cold-blooded crocodiles care for their young for weeks or months. Even if they wanted to push the whole outdated "dinosaurs were cold-blooded idiots that didn't care for their young" myth down our throats, they could AT LEAST show it correctly with them COVERING the nest with sand or leaves!

5. They show a teenage Sauroposeidon the size of a house, being killed by TWO puny dog-sized raptors (meanwhile they show Matt Wedel describing how a LARGE PACK of raptors could kill Sauroposeidon HATCHLINGS). Are these guys so incurably addicted to portraying sauropods as pathetic failures unworthy of their 100 million-year survival record, that they will blatantly animate anything that CONTRADICTS the simultaneously broadcast statement of the foremost sauropod expert on the show, just to have their way???

6. They misspell Sauroposeidon and also mispronounce Parasaurolophus REPEATEDLY. That's just stupid. Learn your ABC's, Dangerous Ltd! It's Para-sauro-LOAF-us, not "Para-sa-ROFL-us". Methinks these guys have been chatting a bit too much on AIM. ROFL-us... next they'll have an "LMAO-a-saurus". Just watch them.

7. They make all kinds of bogus claims about the supposed "abilities" of creatures, such as the claim that Quetzalcoatlus could detect dino-urine from miles above in some sort of infrared vision, or the claim that "Parasa-ROFL-us" produced some insanely loud, eardrum-shattering noise form its crest to keep predators away. In reality, the crest was only acoustically capable of producing a harmless mating call.

8. They claim that Sauroposeidon had stomach acid strong enough to dissolve iron. Again, total BS. And it's not even necessary BS. Acid doesn't even digest the food! It only weakens the chemical structure of the plants, and provides an environment where pepsin and other digestive juices can function. Those are what REALLY breaks down the plants, and it's bacteria in the cecae of the intestines that digest the cellulose into more manageable compounds. Crazy-corrosive iron-melting acid isn't necessary, and it would probably also kill the animal by eating through its stomach mucus layer and thus the stomach wall as well!

9. They show T. rex attacking a Triceratops HEAD ON and trying to bite off one of its horns, losing an eye in the process! This is ridiculous - would any SANE predator try such a needlessly risky attack? Is it worth breaking all your teeth, let alone losing an eye? I thought predators were supposed to be opportunists, picking off the sick and weak, and always going for vulnerable spots on the flanks and the ribs, never the front of a horned animal! That T. rex truly deserves the Darwin Award for eliminating herself from the gene pool...

10. They imply in the baby T. rex segment that Deinonychus and T. rex lived at the same time. In reality, Deinonychus was already extinct millions of years before T. rex evolved. Someone really needs to teach those ignorant producers at Dangerous Ltd. the difference between Early and Late Cretaceous.

11. There are some mistakes that are just plain silly and unnecessary - for example in one of the T. rex segments, the narrator is talking about T. rex while a silhouetted scientist is shown examining the skull of Acrocanthosaurus instead! Another segment shows a Camarasaurus skull while the narrator talks about the teeth of Sauroposeidon. ARRRGH! Camarasaurs are NOT brachiosaurs! They don't even look the same! And brachiosaur skulls are not that hard to locate... there's the Felch Quarry skull in Wyoming, the O' Hare airport mount's skull (for which the Field Museum undoubtedly has casts and molds) and of course the three Giraffatitan skulls in Berlin. Any of these would have been a far better stand-in for Sauroposeidon than a Camarasaurus skull. And don't tell me that Dangerous Ltd. can't afford the plane tickets! They filmed American paleontologists in the USA, but their headquarters are in London! A film company with an international presence surely has the budget for a couple of cameramen to fly to Berlin and film the correct damn skull... Berlin isn't THAT far from London. Heck, they could just buy the licenses for some stock photos of the Berlin skulls at the very least!

12. A whole HOST of anatomical errors: the Sauroposeidon's neck is too short. Just call it a Brachiosaurus altithorax instead, it'll be a lot more believable. Sauroposeidon, if nothing else, is most famous for having a freakishly long neck even by brachiosaur standards. Also, their T. rex has these big ugly jowls under its lower jaw, which are completely copied from horizontal-necked crocodiles. No theropod had this sort of neck-throat structure, it looks like the Dangerous Ltd. guys didn't know a bloody thing about dinosaur throat/hyoid anatomy...

And unlike the quote-mining disaster, the Discovery Channel staff has shown no inclination or even INTEREST in remedying these obvious errors! And I've done my part by making them known to Discovery... This is corporate "science" at work my friends, and until you make your opinions known to Discovery Channel (which hired Dangerous Ltd. to do such a crappy job in the first place) then nothing will change. I encourage you all to write to Discovery about your concerns HERE. Just keep your complaints about the mistakes short and to the point, and avoid any insults or threatening language. Also be sure to make your voice heard by Dangerous Ltd. HERE, and inform their parent company Zodiak Entertainment of their subsidiary's dishonest and illegal behavior HERE (choose the "scripted products" email address). And this isn't some airy-fairy utopian fantasy ideal. Discovery did, after all, cave in and promise to fix the quote mining issue after Wedel and company turned up the heat on them. With enough grassroots email pressure they and Zodiak/Dangerous may well feel inclined to fix these other mistakes as well.


Michael O. Erickson said...

Good smackdown Nima! I have some info that may of interest - John Hutchinson* was a consultant (not a talking head, a consultant) on the show. So that's why T. rex was depicted as a slowpoke.

*John Hutchinson has wrote at length about T. rex's locomotion, but he has never even examined a T. rex hindlimb. He could not possibly have, or he would KNOW that old rexy DID NOT have elephantine column-style legs and straight knees, as this is ANATOMICALLY IMPOSSIBLE. I hope I don't sound too harsh, but what else am I supposed to assume? He can't have ever seen a rex knee, because if you look at a rex knee, the first thing you notice is that it fits together EXACTLY like a bird's knee, with ABSOLUTELY NO possibility of straightening it out AT ALL! Let alone while the beast was actually moving!

Nima said...

John Hutchinson? Wait, I remember him... he's the one that came out with that new "study" which claims that a T.rex-sized chicken would need 90% of its mas to be in its leg muscles, "therefore" a T.rex could not run fast.

When it comes to T.rex, Hutchinson is, to put it politely, guilty of poor science, ignorance of evidence (whether willful or not), and depending on who you ask, outright hackery. (And no, I'm NOT criticizing the man himself, just his models and methods).

He's basically an elephant biologist/veterinary expert. That's it! He's apparently got no real experience with dinosaur locomotion, he only focuses on elephants (though he'd do fine dinosaur-wise if he just stuck to sauropods!) Read his Curriculum Vitae, HERE:

Practically all of the papers he's authored are about elephant locomotion. What we have here is a "holocene bias" - i.e. if it's bigger and more extravagant than what we have today in the holocene, it MUST have been worse or less efficient, or it would still be alive today!

His new study seems to simply IGNORE all the logical evidence that Bakker and Paul have turned up in favor of a fast T.rex for the past 30 years! For example, the cnemial crest.... elephants can't run because that don't really have one, BUT, did Hutchinson care to understand its importance????

Finally, he uses a CHICKEN as a T.rex model? COME ON MAN! Of course if you use a squat short-legged bird like a chicken you will get crazy numbers when you scale it up to T.rex size. BIG DEAL. That doesn't prove SQUAT about T.rex. T.rex had proportionally much longer legs than any chicken, and a far more developed cnemial crest - let's face it, chickens aren't exactly marathon runners with their clumsy little mincing strides. Perhaps a bird that actually has more tyrannosaur-like leg proportions would be a better model... can anyone say "OSTRICH"???

A chicken is one of the WORST avian models you can use for a giant theropod, though I'm at least glad he didn't see fit to use a duck! This is what we call HACKERY - doing a study with totally inadequate models and totally inadequate anatomical knowledge of the original animal you are modeling, then claiming you've debunked all contrary research! Not just ignorant, but plainly unscientific and IMO it's a slap in the face to those paleontologists who take dinosaur skeletons seriously.

What's funny is that Greg Paul personally mailed me a (glossy) copy of his paper on tyrannosaur limb biomechanics several years ago, it shows plainly how T.rex's knees were ALWAYS bent for running and could NOT be straightened out like an elephant.

Even Hutchinson's visual depiction of a "bent" T.rex leg is NOT in its natural articulating pose, so he started out on the wrong foot and his entire study was thus corrupted. Reminds me of all the dislocated sprawling, tail-dragging dinosaur mounts of the 1920s... sure, you CAN mount them any way you want and even convince the average Joe that they really stood like that, but at some point people like Hutchinson have to ask themselves: do you want to simply sell the jaded image of lazy sluggard hollywood monsters, or actually represent the unbiased evidence about the REAL CREATURES, even when it's hot-blooded and doesn't support your view?

Perhaps Hutchinson could use a PDF of the Greg Paul paper to lift up his spirits - yes, if T. rex were still alive it could run you down as you frantically hit the gas in your 4x4 and it would KILL you.

Zach Armstrong said...

It just depends on how fast is "fast" in your opinion. The very same John Hutchinson has also shown that elephants can "run" in the true biomechanical sense of running. It has been shown that some elphants can run up to 25 mph(11.8 m/s). Surely if elephants can run that fast, surely a theropod of the same size could run at least that fast, especially when its legs are more powerfully muscled. Now whether a tyrannosaur could run 40-50 mph (17.88 m/s-22.35 m/s) is a matter of speculation and conjecture, but it is probably likely that tyrannosarus could run at 25 mph for sustained periods; even up to 30-35 mph would seem reasonable

Nima said...

You make a very good point Zach! Though I'm not sure how big those fast elephants were, they CAN speed up if they get angry enough to charge down a predator.

The interesting thing is, if elephants can run 25 mph for short bursts, maybe sauropods could too! After all they had far more developed cnemial crests and other limb-bone muscular crests than elephants. And more robust limb bones, proportionally.

But back to T. rex - it certainly was built for speed - much more so than any elephant. The whole leg design is totally cursorial, the proportions become less ostrich-like as the animal grows up, BUT the structure is still that of a runner, not a pillar-legged elephant type creature.

I'd agree with you on the speed too... while I think that T. rex COULD run 40 mph if it needed too, I think it very RARELY if ever ran that fast for any sizeable distance. Even assuming that you CAN sustain such speeds at that size, it still takes a lot more energy to sustain them for any great distance than a smaller creature would need. But 25-35 mph is definitely a manageable running speed for T.rex... easily.

Even the biggest theropods could easily outrun a human and most living mammals, and speeds of 30+ mph are not unlikely... but I doubt they were constantly tiring themselves out running 40-50 all the time. You don't need to run that fast to catch MOST prey animals MOST of the time, especially if you use intelligent pack-hunting strategies.

BTW, the reason cheetahs invest so heavily in speed is that they don't hunt in packs, so there's no "trap" to chase the prey into. You have to catch it at all costs as soon as you can or your hunt will be a failure. From what we know based on Phil Currie's research, theropods were pack hunters so they could afford to balance power and speed like lions or wolves, instead of sacrificing everything for speed like a cheetah.

Dale Huckeby said...

That idiot announcer's constant mispronunciation of parasaurolophus drove me to distraction, so out of curiosity I googled that and mispronunciation and found your site. I had wondered about some things, for instance the lumbering T. rex, but I had no idea how badly they distorted the science. But if they aren't competent enough to notice and correct their doofus announcer, I guess it's too much to expect them to get their facts right. What they did to Dr. Wedel, though, was beyond the pale. I hesitate to call them dishonest, but at the very least they don't show much integrity. I already bitched to one of the contact persons at the Discovery channel before I came here. Guess I'll drop in on the folks at Dangerous LTD also, and opine that I hope the Discovery channel doesn't hire them to produce any more travesties. The info here was disillusioning, but I'd rather be disillusioned that mislead. Thanks for the good work.

Nima said...

You're welcome, Dale!

Discovery and Dangerous Ltd. need to get it through their skulls that bad science shows do NOT help science. In the sort run they may generate a meager profit for a corporation that has much bigger projects, but once you start TAMPERING with the science in a program, then you've trashed its educational value and all that's left is entertainment, so then your only other option is to make wild sensational claims like the supermarket tabloids to cater to the most "low-brow" demographic that has no attention span and no real "loyalty" to any TV series. They'll see it once and then think they know everything and usually never see it again. A quick ratings buck from a fickle and unreliable viewer base!

What do you end up with? a bunch of IDIOTS running around claiming they're know-it-alls about dinosaurs. Like with Jurassic Park, where suddenly every bozo that saw the movie claimed to be a dinosaur expert and went around debating with the REAL experts, arguing that T. rex couldn't see things that stood still, or that Dilophosaurus spit poison because it was "PROVEN" in the movie...

Whereas if they'd just stuck to the FACTS and remembered how amazing those are, they'd get a much better demographic, hook the real enthusiasts, and TRUST me, when we see a GOOD series, we tell everyone it's good and they should watch it. And then it would have a solid viewership, and it would run for several seasons, much as PaleoWorld did. Heck, teachers will rave about it too, if it's a good enough science series it can be shown in the classroom.

I don't have a problem with a show dedicated to dinosaur fighting - yeah it wasn't a super-common occurence for every dinosaur, but it happened a lot. But don't make it look any more ridiculous than it has to, don't show the raptors winning every frickin' time! Don't make up a bunch of whacked-out claims about dino "super powers" that didn't exist. And don't force predators to be scavengers.

And yeah, they should get an announcer who can actually spell. Let that Whale Wars guy stick to talking about whales. He doesn't know dippy-squat about dinosaurs.

Steveoc said...

Just quickly, Hutchinson is sceptical of 25mph elephants (and so is Greg Paul, on the DML). Both think that 15mph is more likely.

Hutchinson and Pauls research and results differ because of different assumptions on Scaling and Speed.

Also don't right of Hutchinson too quickly. He wants rigour in science. He doesn't want to just rely on scaling relationships. He wants to have a deep understanding of muscles, locomotion and why a scaling relationship is a relationship. And he as access to many living and dead animals.

Personally I would be surprised if a equally massed elephant and tyrannosaur were the same speed. I’d expect the tyrannosaur to be faster. How much so I don’t know.

Zach Armstrong said...

Hi Steve,

The 25 mph figure for elephants I quoted is, as far as I know, measured only for a charging elephant for a short period of time and distance. You are right that the fastest an elephant has been clocked at running for a distance is 6.8 meters/second or about 15 mph. So I suppose I shouldn't have said "running" at 25 mph for elephants, more like "charging".

My point was that if elephants can get up to 25 mph for short bits, it is likely that tyrannosaurs could do the same, only for longer periods and distances. So a running tyrannosaur would likely be faster than an elephant for sustained periods.

I personally do not think tyrannosaurs could run much faster than 30-35 mph (and even then, only for short bursts). I depart from Nima in that I think speeds of 40 mph-50 mph are highly unlikely for tyrannosaurs.

The only real problem with Hutchinson's work is that he uses a chicken for comparison, which is not a particularly good model for a tyrannosaur in my opinion--neither in lifestyle nor in anatomy. Another problem is that tyrannosaurs had a large tail in which to anchor additional muscles, something no bird has (or mammal, even).

A better model may have been a roadrunner, but even then I am not sure how well one can compare small animals to large animals in terms of speed.

Nima said...

Actually Zach, you're not really departing from me at all. I also said that speeds of 40-50 mph are not very likely for tyrannosaurs. I said they probably COULD do it for short bursts, but were NOT normally running that fast.

30-35 mph seems much more likely. The only forseeable reason why a T.rex would run 40 mph is if it were chasing away a T. rex from a rival pack, or if it were chasing some really fast dinosaur like an ornithomimid (which doesn't make much of a meal anyway...) Ceratopsians probably maxed out at 30 mph, so running 40mph would only serve to catch them over a short distance, and running 35mph would get the job done easier. And they didn't always simply flee. Plus when you have a pack, you don't have to chase them very fast if your teammates are already in position.

As for Hutchinson, chickens are sadly not his only bad model for T.rex. He also makes extensive use of Alligators. Which is flat-out unscientific these days.

The best avian model one could hope for would be either the roadrunner, or a secretary bird, or a ratite of some sort (I prefer cassowaries, but ostriches would also work...)

Zach Armstrong said...

Glad to see we agree :)

Michael O. Erickson said...

"As for Hutchinson, chickens are sadly not his only bad model for T.rex. He also makes extensive use of Alligators. Which is flat-out unscientific these days."

What is so "flat-out unscientific" about the use of alligators? Alligators are fellow archosaurs and are very close evolutionary "uncles" of the dinosaurs, and they can teach us a lot of things about dinosaurs. After birds, gators and crocs are the second place we should look for information about dinosaur soft-tissues and other such unfossilizable things.
Dinosaurs may have been endotherms (I agree with that 100% btw - Viva Bakker!), but they were not mammals. They were still "reptiles". (I use "reptile" in quotes because nothing is TRULY a reptile, as Reptilia is not a natural Class. "Reptilia" should be broken up into several Classes, of whuch the Class Archosauria is one.)

Nima said...

They're unscientific because he uses them to reach conclusions about T. rex running posture! Forget genetics and soft tissues - using gators as running models for dinosaurs is bad science, period.

He uses a reptilian model and a bad avian model. Why does he persist in doing this, is my question. OBVIOUSLY if T. rex was built like a gator it would need 90% of its mass in its legs. Because gators are not even bipedal, and big ones can't run bipedally worth squat. My point is, they don't tell us anything practical about T. rex posture and speed.

They may tell us other things. But no more than say, an OSTRICH.... Taking gators and crocs too literally as "living dinosaur uncles" has long resulted in some very problematic conclusions typical of the pre-Bakker era. Were tyrannosaurs just overgrown gators, or could they chase fast prey at high speeds over LAND like a bird?

Michael O. Erickson said...

I didn't know you were referring strictly to running posture - I was under the impression that you meant corcs and gators are bad models for all dinosaurian issues generally.

"They may tell us other things. But no more than say, an OSTRICH...."

But there are things an ostrich can't teach. Ostriches don't have big muscular tails, forelimbs (I mean forelimbs that are NOT modified into wings), or teeth, for instance. Their jaw muscles are useless as patterns for restoring big theropod jaw musculature, as are jaw muscles of most birds, wheras crocs and gators are excellent for that sort of thing. So although dinosaurs were not just overgrown alligators, gators do have their place in dinosaur studies (but not in determining running posture, as they are quadrupeds of all things!).

Nima said...

Oh of course, gators do teach us a lot of things. Jaw muscles certainly. But I was referring specifically to their being bad models for dinosaur running biomechanics because Hutchinson made the mistake of assuming that whatever crocodylians can teach us about dinosaurs somehow crosses over into that area as well.

Gators do have a place in dinosaur studies for sure, but I've had it with catastrophist "experts" who claim that "whatever a dinosaur can do, a gator should be able to do, and if it can't, then the dinosaur can't either...."

There are certain things that make dinosaurs far superior runners to crocodylians, indeed superior to ALL crurotarsans - such as the straight-hinged ankle joint.

My point was Hutchinson did some bad science in the realm of dinosaur locomotion, not that gators are useless for ALL areas of dinosaur research. So if you want to restore jaw muscles, yes gators do have some important info to offer, but if you want to figure out a giant theropod's running capabilities, they're totally inadequate models (as are elephants and to some extent chickens).

Michael O. Erickson said...

Oh, well then, I agree 100%.

On a slightly different note, searching online I found this paper:

(Copy paste into your browser to see). Fig. 10 would seem to show how a T. rex can straighten its knee without significant dislocation. If true this would kill the concept I expressed in the first comment on this post, that a tyrannosaur knee can not straighten at all without comepletely dislocating. Of course, just because you CAN straighten the dead-bones knee without dislocating it does not mean that that's how the animal actually walked, but I found this rather interesting and figured I'd get your Kingly thoughts :) It certainly would seem as if the staightened knee is fully articulated in the image.

Nima said...

Here follow the afore-requested Kingly thoughts :)

I looked at figure 10 in that paper, and to me it does NOT show a perfectly erect T. rex leg. There is a 40-degree angle difference between the femur and the tibia, so they are far from parallel.

That being said, this is probably the CLOSEST a T. rex leg could ever come to being fully erect. An extended leg like this, however, would ONLY make sense if the entire leg were rotated back relative to the hips, i.e. if the leg was at the end of a stride and was pushing off while the other leg was in front and in the air. In THAT case the leg would straighten out a bit to provide a longer stride.

But in its current forward position, this extended leg makes little sense. The other BIG flaw with this diagram is in the rear part of the tibia's proximal end, where it touches the femur. Note that it seems to have this big plateau at its rear that rises HIGHER and steeper than the fibula head, to cradle the rear crests at distal end of the femur. This "proximal tibia plateau" is a FALSE invention to my knowledge. If it were not in the diagram, the knee would have to be bent a good deal more for the femur to fit snugly with the tibia and not dislocate.

This is evidently because the "figure 10" is not the actual bones, it is a computer model, and computer models sadly can be MANIPULATED to say anything you want them to say.

The bones don't lie (well, so long as they're not too badly crushed anyway). Here's a pic of a T. rex leg with the maximum amount of "vertical" extension possible, and there's NO HINT of that notorious rear plateau on the proximal tibia.

The tops of the tibia and fibula are more or less at the same height, which makes sense for supporting the animal's weight while running.

It appears that whoever made the computer model MAY have fudged the tibia. However, I'm not bashing the paper itself, since even the diagram does NOT show a totally erect or elephantine T. rex leg. But there still appears to be an error in it nonetheless.

The authors claim that T. rex legs appear to be more columnar and less cursorial than suggested by Greg Paul, but in this case it's pretty evident that the actual fossils support Paul's conclusion, while Farlow et. al. need a complicated and quite possibly inaccurate computer model to support theirs.

In the end though, they STILL reach the conclusion that tyrannosaurs were considerably less straight-legged than elephants, without saying much of anything about their likely speed. They also admit that as per Paul, the absence of tracks from giant theropods indicating high speeds is nothing more than "negative evidence" and thus pretty weak - and there aren't that many giant theropod tracks known anyway.

So that paper is mostly about speculating and stretching the realms of what MAY be possible with T. rex legs, discussing a few of Alexander's overly simplistic engineering formulas along the way, but it lacks any concrete evidence to prove one definite point or disprove another, and it really does next to no damage to the strongly supported theory of flex-kneed, fast T. rexes.

Michael O. Erickson said...

...And I thank you for your swift delivery of requested Kingly thoughts. :)

Meanwhile, I beleive I may have figured out the mystery of the proximial tibia flange. In the Farlow et al. diagram, the fibula is articulated lower down on the leg and is pushed closer toward the right than in the pic of the T. rex leg bones you linked to (which, just for any future reference, are from the AMNH 5027 mount). Thus, these alterations in fibula articulations are to blme for these discepancies - when the fibula is articulated so that the proximial end is in line with the top of the tibia (as in the leg you linked to), you end up with a flexed Paul-style leg. When you articulate the fibula so that its proximial end is lower down and the pushed cluser to the right, as in our "Figure. 10 Diagram", you gend up with the "proximial tibia plateau", which forms the cute little "cup" that continues to brace the femoral condyle even when the leg is extended to a NEARLY (but not quite) elephantine configuration.

It all depends on how you articulate the fibua with the tibia.

So which articulation is the correct one? That would appear the big question. One I have no answer to as I have not been able to personally examine a T. rex leg.

Nima said...

Neither have I, but I have personally been to AMNH and their mount shows a perfectly snug articulation of femur and tibia with bent running knees, and the fibula and tibia are perfectly aligned with their proximal ends at the same level. (though you don't consider it a T. rex but still the leg bones are pretty much the same).

The T. rex skeletals of Greg Paul and Scott Hartman BOTH show an arrangement like the AMNH mount - that is, the tibia and fibula heads line up PERFECTLY. And this is apparently the only way the leg would be properly braced for any sort of locomotion in these critters, be it fast or slow. The whole point of a fibula is to buttress the leg and give addition support to the femur. So it makes no sense to lower it and lave a gap there to be filled by cartilage. Such cushioning cartilage is far more plentiful in the ankles of animals than their knees in any case. The ankles bear the brunt of the stress in both graviportal and cursorial walking.

Michael O. Erickson said...

"Neither have I, but I have personally been to AMNH and their mount shows a perfectly snug articulation of femur and tibia with bent running knees, and the fibula and tibia are perfectly aligned with their proximal ends at the same level. (though you don't consider it a T. rex but still the leg bones are pretty much the same)."

Actually, those legs ARE from T. rex. 'Ya see, AMNH 5027 was found legless, and casts made from the legs of the holotype specimen of T. rex were used in the mount. The dorsal ribs, shoulder girdle, and humerus were also missing from 5027 and these elements were likewise cast from the type of T. rex.

Nima said...

Haha, thanks, I forgot about that one. Yeah, AMNH 5027 was missing the legs. And oddly, the edge of the pubic boot. Though I don't doubt it's a T. rex, and in any case, the same pattern of perfectly aligned tibia and fibula heads is universal to theropods. Tyrannosaurs, Allosaurs, Ceratosaurs, even small coelurosaurs have it.

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Anonymous said...

I hated that show. Watched about 20 minutes worth and I was practically screaming at my TV, the inaccuracies drove me that crazy. Here's a few that you forgot to mention.

- "Tyrannosaurus could detach it's jaw like a snake to swallow things whole."
First of all, T. rex (or snakes, or any animal as far as I know) could NOT "detach" its jaw from its skull. What T. rex did was have reasonably flexible skull articulatons. Secondly, snakes can swallow things whole because the lower jaw splays out at the front, not because it detaches from the skull.

- "Pterosaurs were scaly."
That fact they could put feathers on the Deinonychus but not pycnofibres on the Quetzalcoatlus just seemed lazy to me.

- "Hatchling Sauroposeidon looked like miniature adults."
Seriously, they made baby T. rexes, so baby sauros shouldn't have been too hard.

- "Parasauroflus could move it's upper beak."
That pissed me right off.

Nima said...

Thanks, Anonymous.

* The T-rex jaw thingy was indeed a big error. NO theropod had jaws like a snake. Their jaws did open wider at the dentary hinges in some cases to swallow bigger pieces of meat. But they could NOT dislocate like a snake's jaws. Snake jaws have a very loose chin joint with a band of cartilage thant stretches, dinosaurs have no such device.

* Pterosaurs were scaly? THAT is what the show said? I must have missed that part. Indeed pterosaurs were fuzzy, not scaly (just HOW fuzzy depended on the species, but they were not "reptilian" like in old Knight/Zallinger paintings).

* Sauroposeidon babies, like ALL sauropod babies, would have had shorter necks and more rounded "baby-ish" features than an adult. They did have to fit into a spherical egg after all! Nobody's found ANY evidence to prove Sauroposeidon babies were proportioned like the adults. Indeed most of the adult skeleton has yet to be found as well, we only have four neck vertebrae and their accompanying cervical ribs!

* ParasauROFLus is a stupid way to pronounce a dinosaur name. And moving the upper beak/upper jaw is something pretty much no land vertebrate can do, the upper jaw is a part of the main head unit!

I think the main thing to tke away from this is that Discovery Channel and Dangerous Ltd. were suffering from bad corporate bureaucrats who acted as if they somehow "knew" what the public "wanted" to see, and somehow they assumed that made them better or smarter than the actual scientists. This is basically the same bullshit that's swamped most of American society since the 60s, in everything from news reporting to music.

In fact Frank Zappa gave a chilling testimony of how this EXACT "dumbing down" by self-proclaimed "experts" is what wrecked the creativity of the recording industry.

Paste this link into your URL to see the clip:

Juan Yu said...

You made a good point. When I watched this program, the narrator misspelling Parasaurolophus into "ParasauROFLus" irked me the most. Nigel Marven pronounced Parasaurolophus correctly in "Prehistoric Park", and Peter Cullen (voice actor of Optimus Prime), while narrating National Geographic's "Bizzare Dinosaurs" also managed to pronounce Parasaurolophus correctly in the show! The other thing that made me frown is how they depict baby Tyrannosaurus as featherless, pretty odd since they managed to put feathers on Deinonychus! What made matters worse is not only there are TOO MANY unscientific crap in "Clash of the Dinosaurs"(a hell lot more than ANY Jurassic Park film if I remember), the program used stock footage TOO MUCH!! "Clash of the Dinosaurs" fails A LOT at science.

Dinorider d'Andoandor said...

ewww! terrible!

Anonymous said...

"They show T. rex attacking a Triceratops HEAD ON and trying to bite off one of its horns, losing an eye in the process!"
According to Holtz's encyclopedia, there's actually fossil evidence for this.

Anonymous said...

The Other Anonymous: There is indeed fossil evidence of Tyrannosaurus biting off a Triceratops horn, but that does not mean by any stretch of the truth that T. rex would have gone after a Triceratops head on. More likely, the T. rex tried to ambush the Triceratops, but was caught in the act, and was forced to bite the horn off as an act of self defence in close quarters. That's my not-so-professional opinion anyway.

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