Thursday, December 17, 2009

Clash of the Dinosaurs: Another dino disaster strikes a tv near you

The disaster that is the Dinosaur "Documentary" has struck again, this time in the form of Clash of the Dinosaurs. Last year it was Jurassic Fight Club, which there are very very very few good things that can be said for it. This years CotD, which premiered a few weeks ago (of which I have only see two episodes of), is not so impressive. Quite of bit of arm waving is once again presented as fact, and while a few good pieces of information made it though (Tom Holtz is wonderful as always, and his high energy and enthusiasm drips from the screen. Kudos Tom!), over all it has been graphics that are obnoxiously repeated over and over, with talking heads who have poorly labeled affiliations and even misspelled names (so I am nit-picky, shoot me). Maybe I am a traditionalist, but I miss the former documentaries that showed more of the process, and paleontologist actually working, not just appearing as talking heads. I am all for science based learning and documentaries to help convey the ideas to a wider audience, but not at the cost of science for entertainment.

But the most horrendous fault (currently) is the way fellow paleoblogger Matt Wedel's interview regarding the thought that sacral enlargements are "second brains." He has well documented this in post Here and Here which I strongly encourage you to read. Matt's original answer to this question was cut down to:

"One of the curious things about Sauropods is that they did have a swelling in the spinal cord, in the neighborhood of their pelvis. This was sort of like a second brain to help control the back half of the body."

Yaaaaaaaaaaaa..... that is not what he originally said. It was cut down the the above statement, which is a far cry from his original statement of [from here]:

"Ok one of the curious things about saurapods is that they did have a swelling in the spinal chord in the neighbourhood of their pelvis. And for a while it was thought that may be this was sort of like a second brain to help control the back half of the body. Erm there are a couple of misconceptions there. One is that most animals control large part of their body with their spinal chord. If you’re going through day to day operations like just walking down the street and your minds on something else your brain isn’t even involved in very much controlling your body. A lot of that is a reflex arc that’s controlled by your spinal chord.

[From Matt] Quick aside: the technical term I was groping for here is not “reflex arc” but “central pattern generator”.

So its not just dinosaurs that are controlling their body with their spinal chord its all animals. Now the other thing about this swelling at the base of the tail is we find the same thing in birds and its called the glycogen body. It’s a big swelling in the spinal chord that has glycogen which is this very energy rich compound that animals use to store energy. Problem is we don’t even know what birds are doing with their glycogen bodies. Er the function is mysterious – we don’t know if the glycogen is supporting their nervous system – if its there to be mobilised help dry [should be 'drive' -ed.] their hind limbs or the back half of their body and until we find out what birds are doing with theirs we have very little hope of knowing what dinosaurs were doing with their glycogen bodies."

So basically they took his words, and completely misquote him and then do not apologize in follow up communication.

This is bullshit. These producers who are making these so-called documentaries need to do their job and convey truth and facts, not arm waving and pretty looking assumptions. These documentaries should be based on science, not pretty graphics and brief moments of facts presented. So, how can you help Matt in his quest to clear his name? He ask the following:

"You, reading this post: you are the audience. If you disagree with the idea that Dangerous Ltd has to subvert the truth to hold your attention, or if you’d like to support my request that they fix the show by removing the dishonestly edited portion, please contact them here. I shouldn’t have to say it, but this is the net, so: if you do contact them about this, please be brief, stick to the facts, and don’t be abusive, threatening or profane.

I’ve already e-mailed all of the top officers of Dangerous Ltd and this non-apology ... is the closest to an official response that I’ve gotten or expect to get. It might also be worthwhile to contact Zodiak Entertainment, the parent company of Dangerous Ltd, and make sure that they are aware of how their subsidiary is representing them. You may do so here; the previous plea for brevity and moderation applies.

Finally, outfits like Dangerous Ltd will only be able to pull this kind of crap for as long as Discovery Communications lets them get away with it. The most relevant thing I’ve been able to find for them is the Viewer Relations contact page for, which is here. Please let them know how you feel–briefly and politely, as always."

[update: while writing this post Matt posted the following - "Great news! I just got off the phone with someone at the Discovery Channel. He asked not to be named, but he has responsibility for Clash of the Dinosaurs and the authority to do what he promised, which is to fix the “second brain” segment exactly as I asked in the previous post! He said that the program would not be broadcast again until that segment was fixed, and that the fixed version would be in the DVD/Blu-ray release." Read his entire post here.]

Feel free to read other views on the subject:

The Medium & The Message (Prerogative of Harlots)
CotD: The Saga Continues (DinoGoss)
Dangerous Ltd. is Either Very Stupid or Dishonest, or Both (When Pigs Fly Returns)
I Swear I Didn't Say That! Having someone else put your foot in your mouth for you (Chinleana)
The media, again. This time distorting dinosaurs up front. (David Hone's Archosaur Musings)
A scientist is QUOTE MINED on a Discovery dinosaur documentary (Tetrapod Zoology)

© ReBecca K. Hunt-Foster


Lockwood said...

Thanks for all the shared items on this topic, too! I have a somewhat different audience, so I'm hoping to get something up on this as well.

When I was teaching, I used to use clips from these sorts of things with the kids... but I became very cynical about them. As I said in a conversation earlier, TV science programming has become focused on pretty pictures and trivia. Nothing wrong with either, but pretty pictures and trivia do not constitute science, and being entertained by pretty pictures and trivia is not grounds to claim to enjoy or know anything about science. There is no effort to develop continuity or important themes, and I can't take it anymore.

Anonymous said...

Can you add my post to the blogroll you have above about the CotD incident for me please? Thanks.

Dangerous Dishonesty Exposed

Patty R. said...

I have to say that calling these types of shows 'documentaries' distresses me. They are nothing but money-making ventures where the truth is irrelevant and the shock-value has more validity than the science. For me, a documentary is educational and informative and attempts to show both sides of an issue. Sir David Attenborough makes documentaries, not that "Dinogeorge" guy from Jurassic Fight Club (or even Michael Moore who does everything he can to stop the viewer from knowing both sides of an issue).

I think what they did to Matt Wedel is reprehensible, but I'm not surprised. Film companies have been pulling stunts like this for years (let's just say that someone close to me has tons of anti-filmcrew stories), although this seems to be the worst or most publicized.

It's gotten so bad that I don't even watch those shows any longer. I think I saw about one-third of the Pachyrhinosaur episode of JFC and was so disgusted by all the errors that I didn't watch the rest of it nor any of the other episodes. Because of that, I probably wouldn't have wasted my time watching this new show (not sure if it's been shown up here in Canada yet).

It's such a shame too, because dinosaurs and the Mesozoic ecosystem are interesting enough that they don't need to be dramatized. Sigh.