Monday, 11 June 2012


There's a story on The Guardian's site at the moment that's not of great interest for its content, but is well worth a look for the strange title and sub-heading that have been chosen to introduce the piece.

The article itself is about the recent research which suggests dinosaurs may have been lighter than we'd previously thought. Not really a huge surprise, and obviously our understanding of dinosaur anatomy has always been an on-going process. The title, weirdly, is:

If dinosaurs weren't actually that big, what else don't scientists know?

Firstly, the article doesn't refer to any new perception of their size - just their weight. Dinosaurs were actually 'that big'. If anything, estimations of size have tended to be on the increase recently as soft tissue in the spinal column is factored into the figures a little more heavily. Secondly, there's an awful lot scientists don't know. Is that any surprise? Not to scientists. Moving on to the sub-heading:

News that dinosaurs were not the lumbering beasts that Jurassic Park led us to believe shows that science is not infallible

Again, slightly bizarre, certainly in relation to the actual content of the piece below it. Jurassic Park didn't really hold itself up as a documentary based on cutting edge palaeobiology. It was a blockbuster movie. Besides - a few of the dinosaurs featured weren't really lumbering much of the time. Often it was the jumping, running and biting that made them exciting and the film such a success. And then to the end of the sentence - 'shows that science is not infallible'. There really seems to be an agenda here; science doesn't claim to be infallible. Far from it. Palaeontology is a science, and like other sciences, it's largely dependent on new information, new finds informing a constantly changing (evolving?) best-fit scenario. Mistaken ideas and views from the past are tweaked or discarded as and when we find out more, and the process moves on. The author spends pretty much all of his article discussing the history of dinosaur anatomical theory, so the clash in tone of the body of the piece with its headers is so jarring you have to assume they were written by somebody else. I think I'd be more than a little irritated were I the journalist. Headlines are written in bigger type for a reason; they catch the eye and give the reader some indication of whether or not the text below will be of interest to them. Those that don't bother reading the piece will be left with an unrepresentative and unfair perception of the author.