Monday, October 10, 2011

Release the -- Nah. Forget It.

Above: Shonisaurus, favorite paintbrush of giant mythological cephalopods.

In a move that should surprise no one, media outlets have picked up and are running with possibly the stupidest, most blatantly ridiculous scientific "discovery" since the Cambrian mini-men.

Let's break this down. There is a bonebed consisting mainly of Shonisaurus vertebrae which are interpreted as having been deposited in deep water. In some odd twist of fate, the disarticulated vertebral columns of these elongate giant ichthyosaurs were (somehow!) fossilized in long rows. A reasonable person would look at this and think, "it's almost as if vertebrae are stacked in rows inside the body or something."

An unreasonable person, like paleontologist(?) Mark McMenamin, would look at this and think "A sentient giant squid arranged these vertebrae like that in order to create a self portrait of its tentacles!"

I'm sorry you had to subject your brain to that hypothesis.

How such a travesty of logic made it into the abstracts of the 2011 GSA Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, I don't know, but if the scientific publication process works at all, it will not make it through peer review in a real journal. But, of course, that won't stop the media from credulously reporting every word as "new science" because, hey, everybody likes a good "Release the Kraken!" headline.

Most disappointing is that even Science Daily, usually pretty good with the science reporting, ran this story without even a hint of skepticism. Not even a single quote from another scientist to say "um yeah, in case you didn't read what you just wrote, this is obvious BS." For shame.


  1. The only thing me must do, I think, is to avoid any reference, mention and post on these BS.
    Don't feed them.

  2. I disagree. Once it's out there, in respected and not-so-well respected outlets, people will believe it. Somebody has to point out that no, this is wrong, and it is not what other scientists accept.

  3. Whilst reading your post and the abstract, I was thinking that maybe this is one of those joke papers/abstracts that people write to test the quality of publishers etc?? I remember reading about a paper that was written by a computer, it made no sense, and it actually got published.

    Then I was thinking that maybe it's somthing like this paper:
    Just trying to lighten up a otherwise very technical geology meeting. Then the media got a hold of it.

    Reading the news stories though .....

  4. Ha, I hadn't thought of that. Entirely possible, though I don't get that impression from the quotes in the article, unless the sarcasm didn't come across. And either way people should know better, given the atrocious state of science journalism...

  5. I've always made a point of not publicly criticising any paper just because I may not believe or accept the author's conclusions - just as long as the science is good. In this case - well I can hardly believe what I've read.


  6. McMenamin: Ooohhh, very interesting. The bones are arranged in patterns and octopus are smart. So, somehow, I have come to the conclusion that a kraken weighing seven trillion billion thousand tons (exaggeration) killed ichthyosaurs. Oooohhh, this is a good idea lets publish it in a peer-reviewed journal.

  7. I think this is the supidest thing I've ever read. I'm still laughin'. Then what? Maybe the giant octopus poisoned the ichtyosaurs with cyanide and then had sex with the corpses? We don't have any direct evidence for that, but since it's not preserved it's absolutely possible then!

  8. Matt, this kind of "study" is one of those things that when popularised reiforces the idea in non-scientists that there's not difference between science and pseudo-science. If "true" paleontologists would discuss the Kraken hypothesis as the end of your first comment suggests, then those paleontologists are placing that BS to the same level of rationale and plausible interpretations, and not in the right area: BS-zone.
    Although a scientist should be open minded and not a priory against new points of view, I hope we also know the difference between a plausible explanation and a fantasy tale.
    There should be a limit between things scientists discuss and things stupid ideas.
    I suspect those guys are anti-science supporters... (Creationists and so on...)

  9. On the plus side, if every paleo blogger wrote a short post not discussing, but ridiculing such papers, it could skew Google results in our favor :)

  10. Never mind that octopuses originated in the Jurassic. (There would have been octopodiforms in the Triassic, but I'm not sure if the EPB suggests midden-collecting behavior for the concestor of octopuses and vampirw squids.)

  11. A transcript of my thoughts while reading that third paragraph:

    "What the...?





    "But if...?



    "No, just no.


    "Then again, at least this generation might finally get it's equivalent of the Dinosauroid statue."

  12. This brings another meaning to the "everybody can do science" concept. :P

  13. Wow. Just... wow.

    I'd question Science Daily being "pretty good with the science reporting", though. They've supported the BAND at least once (

  14. Just because of this, somebody's going to find an enormous cephalopod beak from the berlin ichthyosaur state park. Just watch.