Posted by Nima On Sunday, June 9, 2013 6 comments

The Paleo King's Frequently Asked Questions

I figured that after having been around on the blogosphere this long, it is worth posting a brief FAQ section so that some of the emails I get can be easily answered in advance. This is far from a comprehensive list. If you have a question you think should appear here, drop me a line at Paleo_King@hotmail.com.

Who are you?

I'm an artist and researcher with over a decade of study of dinosaurs and other extinct life. I draw dinosaurs and aim for both accuracy and a visually attractive product (in the live scenes anyway).

What's your favorite dinosaur?

That's a tough question at the best of times! For a long time it was Brachiosaurus – though later on it turned out the particular species I liked was actually Giraffatitan. Then I got into mamenchisaurs and titanosaurs, and right now my favorite dinosaur would probably be either Euhelopus or Daxiatitan, both of them Early Cretaceous forerunners of the shape of things to come. Among non-sauropods my favorites are Tarbosaurus, Lambeosaurus, and Pentaceratops.

What's with all the ads? Some of them aren't even dino-related!

They're there to generate some extra income to make things a little easier to run around here. See, in the Paleo Kingdom, our currency has been depreciating and inflating for millions of years, so every little bit of $$$ helps keep the economy afloat and finance research and upgrades, as most commission-based projects generally do not cover travel costs and the like, and also time is valuable. Google puts up the ads, so their relevancy is up to them.

What are your interests besides paleo-related stuff/extinct animals?

Too many to name. I like history, biology, social psychology, medicine, astronomy, history of technology and economics, movies that make you think, most kinds of music as long as it actually requires real talent and originality, building models, a select few computer games/video games, and maybe about 1% of the anime that's out there. That's just scratching the surface.

What is your experience with paleontology?

I've done my own research and read many scientific papers for over 10 years, and studied dinosaurs usually on my own time and dime, independently of any particular institution. I've amassed a good working knowledge of many dinosaur species, including many very rare ones that are seldom mentioned in books and never covered by the press. I have also attended the annual conference of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, though I have drawn some extinct invertebrates as well. I'm currently researching giant titanosaurs and may produce a paper or two soon.

Why do you do it?

Because I love dinosaurs and the history of life on earth – and I want to make that knowledge accessible to people in a visual sense and let you SEE the creatures as they probably looked. Other artists and “experts” will talk about that dream of “bringing them to life”. I look at it from the opposite end – forget about bringing them to life, I want to take you back to their times and places and put you in their world. So you see not just the dinosaurs but the whole diverse habitats they interacted with – at which point you don't even need to mix animals from different periods to make the thing interesting.

Why do your dinosaurs look so different from Jurassic Park? 
They just don't seem believable to me.

My dinosaurs are not based on Jurassic Park or any Hollywood movies – they are based on independent research and often repeatedly revised as I get better information. Jurassic Park's dinosaurs had many anatomical errors (aside from the obvious mistakes like oversized “Velociraptors” and poison-spitting Dilophosaurus with fake neck flaps) that were already known to be wrong many years before the film was made. It was good entertainment, but not hard science, which is something a lot of JP fans seem to miss. It was a great movie for its time, but should not be taken literally as accurate. The sequels are inferior for a number of story-driven reasons, aside from the fact that they didn't update any of their dinosaurs to take new scientific knowledge into account. There are some people who will only draw dinosaurs in their “JP versions” not realizing that there are far better interpretations of dinosaurs' appearance these days. Of course science doesn't have to be boring – in many cases it's stranger and more amazing than the fiction, the problem is most researchers are ivory-tower fixtures that don't do a good job of making it available or understandable to the general public in simple terms. So yes, my sauropods are slimmer than in Jurassic Park, my ceratopsians are more richly patterned, and my backgrounds don't all look like Costa Rica's tropical jungles. It's supposed to look like the Mesozoic era, not a movie set from the 1990s. And it's based on current scientific thinking and evidence, and even the speculative parts have some scientific reason behind them.

Aren't you just another Greg Paul clone?

Oooh, good one! I get this rather laughable accusation thrown at me from time to time. Really, just a clone? No original ideas? Well consider this. While I did learn a lot from Greg Paul's drawing style and anatomy diagrams, that was over 10 years ago, and I've studied the methods of many other paleo-artists since then. Nothing I produce is copied from Greg Paul or any other artist (which is just as well, since he's fired up the copyright lawsuit train to full steam ahead). That said, every scientific dinosaur artist since Greg Paul has to some extent been influenced by his style. He was a major figure in pioneering the "new look" of warm-blooded dinosaurs in the 1970s and 1980s, paying much closer attention to the hard science than early "reptilian" artists like Knight and Burian had ever done. And much of the theory behind his work has become widely accepted by the field as new evidence of fast, active, warm-blooded dinosaurs continues to turn up. It's a simple matter of timing, pioneering artists influence later ones. Michelangelo influenced Bernini, Giotto influenced Botticelli. Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn all drew inspiration from Bach. It didn't make them "clones" of Bach. All of today's top paleo-artists have been "students" of Paul's method in some way at some time.

The standard “alternating steps” pose for skeletal drawings or dinosaur schematics is not limited to Greg Paul – it has been used in some shape or form for over 30 years by at least two dozen other artists and probably many more I haven't heard of. My live scenes are not based on any Greg Paul scenes, and the skin patterns I use are completely original. Furthermore many of my dinosaurs look very different from the way Greg Paul draws them, though to the untrained eye it may be hard to spot. More importantly, in light of decade-long independent study of the published scientific literature, I don't agree with how he currently restores sauropod and hadrosaur necks, sauropod noses, or maniraptor feathers, and I consider most of his titanosaur restorations and revised stegosaurs to be totally off. Many of his skeletals omit important bone and soft-tissue data, and while good for 1980s standards, lack the hi-fi detail needed in more recent skeletal reconstructions. And I'm seriously thinking there must be a better alternative way of drawing T. rex's orbital horns. 

Now people have compared the aesthetic look of my work to Greg Paul's, and that's something I've moved away away from – I try not to even look at his work these days when doing my own. Instead I look up the source material – the original papers and photos of the actual bones. But overall simply having a similar style in some images does not make one a clone or a copycat, particularly when the research methods and materials used are different. If it did, then just about every living paleo-artist would be either a Mark Hallett, Luis Rey, Doug Henderson, or Raul Martin clone...

Why so many sauropods?

Because I'm researching sauropods at this time. And because they're BIG. I know there are a lot of raptor and T. rex fans out there. And I'm open to drawing those fan favorites. But right now I'm working on several sauropod-related projects and so that's the main focus of my art. I do blog about many other paleo-related topics though. Sauropods are an area that just doesn't get as much attention or good research, mainly because the vast majority of funding from National Geographic and other prestigious organizations goes to research on birdlike dinosaurs and other “metataxa” or “missing links” that are important to the public perception of evolution and refuting the claims of denialists. However, there are plenty of sauropod metataxa and “missing links” which also show how evolution works. In fact, a better way of putting it is that there are no missing links, and everything is a missing link (except for species that ended up in a dead-end extinction). In other words, every species that survived to evolve into something else is a “missing link” from a human scientist's viewpoint, as long as it wasn't discovered before its ancestors and descendants, even if it doesn't look all that different from them. 

Sauropod metataxa just aren't perceived as being “all that hot” in the media because they're not a link between two entire classes of animals (or at least classes the way we humans define them). But they're a lot more interesting and mysterious than the repetitive hordes of fuzzy raptors which have re-proven the dinosaur-bird connection hundreds of times over, to the point that the only people that still reject it out of hand are those who will always choose to reject it as a matter of belief. Think of it this way – a single vertebra from a large sauropod has more complex skeletal anatomy in it than the entire bodies of most other dinosaurs. They're like gothic cathedrals, you can totally get lost in them - and we probably know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the big picture of sauropod evolution.

Draw or paint a T. rex, please draw one right NOW, I love T. rex and I want to see you do one....

Just because you said so? LOL yeah right. I don't choose what to draw on a whim, I actually have a schedule of projects planned out. Not all of them will be “Forgotten Giants” pieces or even sauropods for that matter. I've drawn other types of dinosaurs before and will do so again. But as for specific requests (and believe me, I've gotten a LOT of them from fans) I will have to put those at or near the bottom of the list because there are more urgent projects that need my attention. Now if you want me to do a drawing or painting of a particular dinosaur or scene for you and you're prepared to pay MONEY for the pleasure of owning a Paleo King original, then you'll get bumped up higher on the list, just how high depends on how much you're willing to pay for the sterling Paleo-King treatment of your favorite species and the privilege of owning the original. Pricing and shipping agreements will generally be on a case-by-case basis until standard market pricing can be worked out by agreement with fellow artists.

Otherwise, much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, your T. rex will have to wait. BTW I do have T. rex already on my list of scheduled projects, so if you request one or not, it makes no difference in how fast it gets done (again, unless you're interested in commissioning a custom T. rex piece from me.)

Will you post more stuff about controversies in paleontology, like BANDits, MANIACs, SNAFU-ites, neck postures, soft tissue structures, Jack Horner's theories, lumpers vs. splitters, etc?

The answer is probably yes. Thing is, I don't like posting on topics like those unless I have at least some of the claims of others documented so that trolls don't start jumping up and screaming bloody murder about how I “misrepresented” such and such scientist's views. So it may take a while, but yes I do hope to get some basic information as well as my take on these issues up on the blog.

What the heck are BANDits and SNAFU-ites? Will you post definitions of these crazy terms?

Yes, there will be a glossary page up soon. And I'll be updating it too.

Are you going to do posts on Creationism or the Evolution-Creation controversy?

I may do a few posts on Creationism but it's not a main priority for me because I primarily focus on the art of paleontology rather than political/religious issues or debates. Not that I don't think defending science in the classroom and the courtroom is important – rather, I want to let the people who specialize in that area do their job, and not get bogged down in futile debates. However, a practical list of ways to handle creationists and identify their errors is, I think, very useful and not a bad idea at all. But there are two reasons why I won't do extensive posts on an “evolution-creation controversy”.

First off, it's NOT a controversy as far as science is concerned. The scientific field has a consensus that evolution is REAL, and for 200+ years the fossil and genetic evidence has supported evolution, not disproved it. Real biologists don't currently dispute that evolution happens. Crackpot pseudoscientific “scholars for dollars” with fake degrees do. The only real “controversy” is a political one, artificially stoked by some very rich and powerful (but not particularly intelligent) fundamentalist families to get their handpicked candidates elected on a puritanical “moral” platform that has very little to do with the issues at hand, much less the essentially exploitative 'Social Darwinist'/Malthusian domestic, economic, and foreign policy that these same hypocritical "moralists" pursue in practice.

Second, there are already many blogs and websites that specialize in debating Creationism in all its forms. A good one to check out is stupiddinosaurlies.com. So I won't be turning this into a “lets debate Creationists” blog, as there are already hundreds of online resources that expose Creationist fallacies far better than I could in a million years. Another thing I want to avoid doing is turning this blog into a watered-down, superficial “up with evolution” blog that only deals with overhyped media darlings like Tiktaalik, Ida the Adapid, and Ardipithecus. This is primarily (but not exclusively) a dinosaur-related blog. I will go over evolution here – thing is, it will mostly be dinosaur evolution, NOT amphibian or primate evolution, or whatever the newest poster-child of the anti-creationist debate is. There are plenty of general evolution blogs out there full of “missing links”, but very few good blogs that specifically focus on detailed, reliable information about dinosaurs and their anatomy/appearance. So I have decided not to dilute the focus of this blog. If you want to debate ape-men, this is not the blog for you.

Are you going to debate science vs. religion on this blog?

No. As far as I'm concerned there's no substantial conflict between science and religion. Science deals with empirical and falsifiable testing and physical evidence, whereas religion, at its core, deals mostly with non-falsifiable metaphysical ideas about our place in the universe, miraculous revelations and transmutations, ethical/spiritual issues, and other things that plain old rocks and fossils just can't prove or disprove. Not every scientist is an atheist, in fact I know several PhD paleontologists who are theists of some sort and it doesn't make them dogmatic or anti-science in the least. I think that people who try to force a conflict between science and religion are doing a disservice to either one or both, whether it's people like Kent Hovind or people like Richard Dawkins. Don't be deceived by politicians and the media trying to claim that religion and science are enemies. A lot of anti-evolution public figures claiming to be religious are total hypocrites, and their morality is very, very selective in the real world. They don't really get religion, they only have an empty, embellished husk of religion. Similarly, fanatic atheists who claim that doing science requires one to deny belief in a Creator or an afterlife simply don't get science, and they fail to understand its parameters and limits.

Will you be talking about cryptozoology or mysterious sightings of strange creatures that may be prehistoric?

Quite possibly – but hold on a second before you bash my credibility. While this isn't going to be a paranormal/alien/bigfoot blog, there will be some critical mentions of stuff that is borderline crypto - just to give a full perspective on the state of paleo-knowledge. This doesn't make someone a crackpot BTW. Even very respected scientists such as Darren Naish blog about (and then often debunk) plenty of crypzoological theories. Much of the time, the facts are actually stranger than the fiction. Now blatant hoaxes and myths like Mokele-Mbembe or the various purported lake monsters out there are things I won't spend much time on, but there are a lot of more obscure (and possibly far more credible) reports of a second kind – discoveries of fossils of extremely strange or huge dinosaurs that have yet to be described or published, some of which sound hard to believe. There's all sorts of stuff from an alleged Argentinosaurus skull that was never published, to lost footprints of creatures supposedly bigger than Amphicoelias fragillimus, to rumors of colossal un-catalogued titanosaur femurs and brachiosaur hips that have seldom or never appeared in print, to the mysterious case of Bruhathkayosaurus in all its various incarnations as theropod, bonehead, and super-sauropod. I'm only going to present the facts for these, and let you make your own conclusions. We also have the reports of things like “Tyrannosaurus X” and “Titanoceratops” along with a slew of giant bones that have never been assigned to any species. These sorts of things will definitely have their 15 minutes of fame here.

Can you do a post endorsing my political party or candidate for X government office?

No, never! This is strictly a science blog, not a politics blog. There shall be no endorsing or mudslinging of any political candidate or platform here. (It's ridiculous that anyone would ask me to do this on a science blog, but some have). My viewers are of very diverse beliefs and backgrounds and from all over the world. And I'd like to keep it that way. The only time I would even consider posting about a politician is if he or she is cutting funding to museums or suppressing/privatizing the free flow of publicly funded scientific data and research, particularly paleontological research which is already on a volunteer/shoestring budget in most countries. In that case I'll totally consider tearing them a new one. But as a disgruntled scientist, not as a partisan pundit.

Can I help or participate in your blog? I have a lot of cool ideas/suggestions.

Sometimes viewers have great ideas. If you have information that I haven't mentioned on a topic I've covered, by all means mention it in the comments. As for participating in blog posts themselves... I'm the sole administrator of my blog, and for the foreseeable future I don't see that changing (Ultimately I'd like to have someone manage the blog on my behalf, but so far nobody with the skills and vision for the future has turned up). But by all means suggestions are welcome. Think the blog could use a new look? Seen a cool template that might work? A paleo-topic that's blazing hot and hasn't been covered yet here? Let me know, email your suggestions to Paleo_King@hotmail.com