Tuesday, December 15, 2009

CotD: More Ugly

Above: The modern conception of sauropods, as envisioned by Dangerous productions.

In last week's post on Clash of the Dinosaurs, I discussed the pros and cons from a viewers perspective. To sum up, I thought it was decent but flawed, with too much repetitive CGI and science made palatable by the presence of real experts like Matt Wedel.

Matt has chimed in with his own post about the special, which points out some really, really troubling behind-the-scenes behavior on the part of the producers, and proves once and for all that Dangerous Ltd., a production company for venues like the Discovery Channel, are not interested in science. Well maybe initially, but when it comes time to air, snazzy gee-whiz-wow anti-facts are all that matters to them. From Matt's blog post:

"I said something like, 'There was this old idea that the sacral expansion functioned as a second brain to control the hindlimbs and tail. But in fact, it almost certainly contained a glycogen body, like the sacral expansions of birds. Trouble is, nobody knows exactly what the glycogen bodies of birds do.'"
"Somebody in the editing room neatly sidestepped the mystery of the glycogen body by cutting that bit down, so what I am shown saying in the program is this, 'The sacral expansion functioned as a second brain to control the hindlimbs and tail.'"

Matt is rightly extremely pissed about this and I'm right there with him. A show supposedly about science edited the words of a sauropod expert to espouse the idea, in a national TV program airing in the year 2009 (note: not year 1939!) that sauropods had a second brain in the tail.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Ok? Good. This is like the paleo equivalent of a documentary about Darwin, featuring Darwin on film, then editing Darwin's words to make it sound like he was a creationist. Did I just call Matt Wedel the Darwin of sauropodology? You decide.

To sum up, the only thing worse than science reporting in the news, are science "documentaries" on TV. I'd have no problem if Discovery Channel had called this a science fiction special, but they did not, and that's flat-out lying.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Ahem.....Please excuse my last rant, but I was already stressed out and eratic and, I had NO intention of letting myself go like that.

    Now that I´ve calmed down, however, I will say that my opinion hasn't changed about Dangerous, Inc. or CotD. I am absolutely appalled at this behavior and equally, if not more so, that Discovery channel let it slide! I'm also surprised that any of the other interviewed Paleontologists were not aware of this, let alone doing anything about it post-production.

    Trust me, Discovery has NEVER been this honest before. Normally, I would stand up for Discovery since they really weren't "Directly" involved in the Production of the show, other than airing it, but they have an obligation to KNOW what their broadcasting! This negligence is shocking to me and I am pretty disappointed in Discovery.

    One more thing.....Dangerous, Inc.?! Yeah, Dangerous to Science!!

  3. Excuse me.....I meant "Discovery Channel has NEVER been THIS Dishonest before." Sorry for the typo. ;P

  4. Discovery Channel may hype things up at times to make them more "exciting", but to edit a talking head segment and make it look like the paleontologist is uttering falsehoods; that is flat out ridiculous, not to mention low down and dirty!

  5. Albertonykus- It wasn't Discovery Channel that did that. They may have let it pass, but it was Dangerous, Ltd. that did that! Discovery's only fault is to let them do it independently and then broadcast it without checking it out first!

  6. Excuse me, but "is" should be "was" after "Discovery's only fault...." Sorry. ;P

  7. Albertonykus-
    BTW, you should check out their "When Dinosaurs Roamed America," "Dinosaur Planet," among others to ACTUALLY SEE Discovery channel's Dinosaur Documentaries! So, don't go stereotyping Discovery Channel if you haven't seen these at all.

    Another thing, to be perfectly fair, it's really the audience's responsibility to interpret the information presented once broadcast because, at this point, the Network is no longer held responsible. The do NOT present things as FACT, but, rather, it is the audience that interprets the information this way. The Network presents it as speculation a good majority of the time.

  8. I haven't been stereotyping Discovery, and I'm perfectly aware of Dinosaur Planet and When Dinosaurs Roamed America. All I said was that they sometimes hype things up; Clash of the Dinosaurs is probably just a special (but highly disturbing) case.

    However, I'm not so sure that most dinosaur docs admit when they're speculating. Walking with Dinosaurs, for example, certainly presented everything as fact. (No, I do not mind speculation, as long as it's within plausible limits and keeps in pace with scientific evidence, but it wouldn't hurt to clarify when they speculate.)

  9. Albertonykus- You're right that most documentaries tend to hype things up. Sorry for my accusational tone. :P I just wanted to make sure you don't jump the gun when reading or watching something on TV, in a book, or in a post, though I guess I just became a hypocrite. ;P Again, Sorry.

    BTW- Have you ever read the Walking With Dinosaurs book by producer Tim Haines? This is better than the Documentary when it comes to citing evidence. ;) Check it out, if you haven't already!

  10. I've read the book. It certainly does the job of citing evidence better. It's somewhat dated now, and not perfect, but in that respect it did fairly well.

  11. Albertonykus- I agree. When a book like that is dated, the presently considered inaccuracies are forgivable and forgiven. And, the "inaccuracies" are only in the eye of the beholder, if you will. For example, you consider it "inaccurate" because you disagree with it while I may or may not share that view. Also, remember that in the future, present day theories may be proven FALSE like in the past! So, don't consider ANYTHING right or wrong yet in this science! ;) Just a little tip. ;)

  12. I know. Expecting someone to predict the future is silly. And I don't really count controversial areas as "inaccuracies". For example, some people believe dromaeosaurids hunted in flocks, others say they probably didn't. Because the actual evidence we now have can't really pin either idea down, it's perfectly well to speculate. But if a dinosaur book was published now and was filled with illustrations of dromaeosaurids that are either scaly skinned or resemble lizards with feathers pasted on, it would be inaccurate, because fossil and phylogenic evidence points heavily towards dromaeosaurids with pennaceous feathers on the wings, legs, and tail and plumaceous feathers elsewhere.

  13. Wow. Just... wow.

    You know, I can honestly say (and I'm speaking as a major Taylor Swift fan here) that I gave more attention to this than the VMA Kanye incident. "Yo, Kanye, I'm really angry at you, I'ma never let you finish cuz' Matt Wedel was the victim of the worst quote-mining scandal of all time!"

    Ah, well. At least it turned out okay in both cases.