Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Triceratops Exists, Learn to Read

Above: "Evil scientists want to kill me!"

By now many of you may have seen the headline on science news sites proclaiming that Triceratops has gone the way of Brontosaurus thanks to Scanella and Horner's new paper which suggests it may have been a sub-adult form of Torosaurus. If you understand the very rudimentary basics of science, you may be thinking, "WTF?"

Unfortunately, it should be clear by now that the vast majority of "science reporters" out there are among the most incompetent people being paid to ostensibly "do" the "job" of "reporting news" "accurately." I've already covered the backstory here. Needless to say, just because Triceratops is a juvenile Torosaurs doesn't mean it no longer exists, and furthermore Torosaurus is the newer name, so the name Triceratops is safe and sound (well, except from the shadowy threat of Agathaumas, but that's a different story). Also, David Orr at the awesome blog Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs has already addressed this failure of journalism and journalistic integrity. So I'll just add a few thoughts because really, this is just getting ridiculous.

You've heard it said before that most mainstream science reporters do not understand any single part of the subjects they're covering, and they can therefore be classed not only as useless, but as actively detrimental to human progress. Let's just accept that and call out a few of these hacks by name, shall we? Here are two articles that came up among the top hits when I typed "''Triceratops''" into Google, and are therefore doing the most damage to intelligence in the English speaking world.

Casey Chan, an apparently illiterate Gizmodo blogger, writes: "Scientists sure enjoy crushing my childhood memory of The Land Before Time (they nixed Brontosaurus a while back). Hopefully they won't delete Triceratops too." Immediately after this is a link to a site explaining why they won't, which Casey either read but did not understand or didn't bother to read at all.

Dan Satherley, 3 News NZ reporter of alarmist half-truths, writes: "It seems however that despite its juvenile status, its popularity with the public means that it'll be Torosaurus that ceases to exist. Horner says Torosaurus specimens will now be considered Triceratops." Yeah. You read right. This directly contradicts the headline. Unlike Casey, above, who is merely a simpleton, Dan read the original report, understood most of it (it's not the fact that Triceratops is popular that it remains valid, it's that it's the older name), and wrote the opposite as a headline in an effort to attract more hits. Classy. This is like beginning a review of the movie Backdraft with the headline "Fire in local theater kills dozens."

I should also mention that DinoGoss is not responsible for any head-desk collision injuries caused by reading the comments in these articles. You've been warned.


  1. It's entirely possible that the headline conflicts are not the choice of the author but in fact editorial failure. :)

  2. Thank you for joining the fight Matt. This has gotten completely ridiculous. All anyone would have to do is read the actual title of the Horner & Scanella paper to see that Torosaurus IS Triceratops. Not the other way around. Needless to say, you've been linked to.

  3. Anon - but the headlines fit the content of the articles... which are bunk.

    I wish I could just shrug my shoulders when the media gets something so easy to report so wrong, but it makes me angrier every time. And there's no good way to fight it. It would take a thousand good articles to every bad one. That's a conservative estimate.

  4. This is all rather reminiscent of the flap over designating Pluto a Kuiper object instead of a planet. Both news reporters and the public show an irrational atttachment to the terms for things in preference to the things themselves. For both Pluto and Triceratops, the thing itself has not changed, only our understanding of how to categorize it has been clarified. The attitude is one of Nominalism, a rather popular branch of Medieval Scholasticism, but quite thoroughly discredited several centuries ago. Those who do not know philosophy are condemned to repeat it.

  5. Thanks to Pluto, Apatosaurus and the Triceratops vs Torosaurus issue, people are starting to hate science. If you agree with this blog than google "triceratops never existed" it's infuriating!

  6. "Reporter of alarmist half-truths" is something I'll add to my CV. Especially since whoever wrote this blog said that what I wrote was true, but understands about as much about how journalism works as most journos do about paleontology.

  7. @Dan:
    If you read the rest of the paragraph, you'll note that while what you wrote is true, it directly contradicts the headline, which states "Triceratops status as distinct species threatened", which is a 100% false statement. In my experience the headline is the most visible part of the story and the summary people will use as the take-home message of the piece (often barely skimming the rest, unfortunately).

    You're right, I don't know much about journalism, so if it's too much to expect for news stories to be consistent and get their facts straight, I apologize.