Did sauropods support their weight by living in vast shallow lakes?

April 3, 2012

No.  No, they did not.

Despite what this clown had to say on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today Programme.

(That’s occasional SV-POW! reader/commenter Paul Barrett in the back half of that audio clip, being amazingly restrained.)

Turns out that the published work this interview is based on is this one in Laboratory News.  No references, no hint that it’s been peer-reviewed, no illustrations that are more convincing than this one:

Ford's explanation of how dinosaurs "just didn't make sense", illustrated.

And, unsurprisingly enough, the article is complete nonsense.  “We accept the remains of their footprints without demur, although for such gigantic creatures the imprints that we observe in rocky strata make no sense. The prints are roughly as deep in the layers of Liassic mud as ours might have been, although the high mass of an adult dinosaur would cause it to sink up to its knees. The footprints seem to be those of an altogether lighter organism.”  Yes, they would — to someone ignorant of all the work that’s been done on dinosaur biomechanics and tracks.  A cell biologist operating way outside his area, for example.

What a complete waste of time and energy.

Matt and I have often talked about how valuable the contributions of amateurs can be in science in general, and palaeo in particular.  And then some asshat comes along and takes a dump in the living room.  And now the world is full of interested laymen all telling each other “actually, the latest theory is that they did live in swamps after all!”

The Today Programme should be ashamed of itself for running such nonsense.  In scientific terms, it’s on a par with Young-Earth Creationism or Geocentricism.  And that wouldn’t have been hard for them to have found out.

I wonder if we could get them to run a retraction?

23 Responses to “Did sauropods support their weight by living in vast shallow lakes?”

  1. Cary Woodruff Says:

    That’s like Henry’s “float n’ feed” Diplodocus.

  2. You mean, we don’t just play with toys and come up with a string of jargon to make us sound good? My bathtub brontosaurus stays upright best in the water, so that must be true. Functional morphology and biomechanics are for hacks and those who don’t already get it. =)

  3. […] On looking at this article, there are many problems, however I feel it best to say that you should read the comments at the end for more discussion from more knowledgable people than me. See also here. […]

  4. It was “published” in the April edition of Laboratory News…are we sure this isn’t just a runaway April Fools prank?

  5. AbrashTX Says:

    I do wonder whether we are being punked! The article didn’t identify Brian J. Ford’s institutional affiliation or qualifications, and he cites a Creationist website! Beginning to think there is no Brian J. Ford, and this is a spoof playing off Bryan J. Fischer, the American creationist and professional hatemonger.

  6. Jura Says:

    I hadn’t seen the video until just now. I really do think this was intended to be a joke that we all probably should have laughed at and moved on from.

  7. […] an image created for a creationist website as the best science can offer. Oops.) As paleontologists Mike Taylor and Dave Hone have already pointed out on their blogs, there’s not even really a discussion […]

  8. LeeB Says:

    Even the information on present day animals is totally wrong, living Hippos don’t weigh seven tonnes.
    Even H. antiquus probably only reached this weight rarely.


  9. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    Wasn’t there an actual ?German paleontologist who proposed saurischians were entirely aquatic? Might be the same one who proposed bird flight evolved in water. Complete nonsense in that case too, of course.

  10. Tim W. Says:

    Klaus Ebel, was it?

  11. Mark Robinson Says:

    @AbrashTX – unfortunately he’s real, and a modern day hero if you believe his Wikipedia entry.

    Does this imply an aquatic origin for birds too, or has Ford adopted Feduccia’s position on this, in addition to following his ability to ignore the wealth of opposing literature and unscientific practices?

    Things to do today:
    1. Make up something about dinosaurs.
    2. Find some evidence to support this theory, nay hypothesis, nay conjecture, nay fantasy, whilst not actually reading any of the relevant literature or talking with anyone that works in that area.
    3. Don’t waste your time studying actual remains – what can old bones tell you about a living animal that you don’t already know?
    4. Write “paper” trying not to be too humble. Throw in a couple of digs at those silly palaeontologists. Include broad statements and assertions without bothering to do any testing/field observations.
    5. Don’t show you’re working out so it’s harder for people to refute the results of your calculations (eg a 120T Bruhathkayosaurus would not have supported 60T per limb unless it was a biped).
    6. Self-publish without wasting time with peer-review (they’re not my peers anyway).
    7. Look a complete chump to anyone who can tell when their arse is on fire or is prepared to do the tiniest amount of research.

  12. M Cobley Says:

    The picture of him casually inspecting his toys for research purposes reminds me of this… http://images.smartdoggs.com/files/2011/08/GksBP.jpg

    I have no idea what I'm doing

  13. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yes, and also this:

    I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing!!!

  14. […] of it. They range from the short and snappy (by Dave Hone), the longer but no less pithy (by Mike Taylor — no stranger to these parts) to the lengthly and clearly argued disquisition (by Brian Switek). […]

  15. Matt Says:

    I totally agree this guy is going to make a bad name for amateurs who are seriously interested in paleontology. After reading about him and seeing his website I really think he was no idea what he is talking about, his personal beliefs have nothing to do with his “arguments”.

    He states he knows about biomechanics, obviously he does not. When you analyze sauropod biomechanics and dinosaurs in general. From their overall morphology you can only come to the conlusion they have to be land living animals. Bakker and Coombs laid this one to rest many years ago. I bet this guy did not even read on dinosaur osteology and morphology.

    Second, this guy does not even know about paleoecology. He thinks the Morrison Formation was a “wet” habitat!? Come on! The red soils and different colored beds indicate a seasonal environment, that was probably dry in many places. To top it off he did not mention the other vertebrates found in the Morrison. Lungfishes, other species of small fish, turtles, lizards, and crocodilians. The turtles and crocs are small, you need large turtles and large crocs to support a very wet habitat. He did not read Dodson, Bakker, McIntosh, ect. study of the Morrison Formation. Nor did he look at Foster’s recent wonderful on the Morrison Vertebrates in general. What about faunal comparrisons? Did he compare the Morrison to say The Bayharia Oasis vertebrates? The final big one he really overlooked, if dinosaurs are totally aquatic why don’t we find more remains of them in places like the Niobara Chalk? Sorry to rant, but I hate to others who are seriously interested who are not professionals get soiled by people like this. Or else the only other conclusion can be, maybe this guy is playing an April Fools joke..lol

  16. Mike Taylor Says:

    I am now collecting palaeontologists’ signatures for a letter to BBC Radio 4 requesting a formal retraction. For details, see http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/tmp/radio4.txt

  17. Henrique Niza Says:

    Those last comments made me laugh hard. Basically this proves that I too can made up an idea without knowing the least about the subject, get it through as a scientific hypothesis and be compared with the greatest minds in science. Super!

  18. Stuart Pond Says:

    I sent an email to the today programme pointing out the numerous flaws in Ford’s arguments and suggesting it might have been a prank, praising Paul Barrett’s contribution and admonishing the journalist and editorial team for such poor reporting.

    I’ll sign Mike’s petition.

  19. Mark Robinson Says:

    Great idea to send the letter, Mike. The trouble with the BBC giving this rubbish some credibility is that I believe it is now much more likely to be picked up by other mainstream media news and science services. The horror would be seeing it on television news programs around the world in a few week’s time. Sorry I’m not qualified to sign.

    I think these are a couple of typos so I’ll put them here so that others can see.
    2nd para: unsupported by any evidence
    3rd para: maybe most importantly, compromised
    its own credibility

  20. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks, Mark. I made those tiny changes as suggested — I don’t think they alter the letter enough that people’s signatures are invalidated.

    A reminder to anyone else who might want to sign: I will be sending this in five hours.

  21. Matt Wedel Says:

    Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal nailed it. Hat tip to someone on Metafilter.

  22. […] why I was delighted that BBC Radio 4, in a move that goes some way to atoning for their dreadful recent piece on lakebound dinosaurs, tonight broadcast a piece on Open Access in their PM show.  You can listen to it on the BBC […]

  23. […] everyone now knows, last week the respected and trusted Today programme on BBC Radio 4 ran an absurd nonscience piece […]

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