Al-Aqsa Lovers Brigade

6 January 2008

Wax Brigade
Seen at the Maker’s Mark distillery, included for no particular reason…

Way back in the mid 1990s, I cut my teeth as a “science writer” in the pages of the Atascadero Junior High School newspaper with the editorial “What’s wrong with Jurassic Park?” It hit all the usual talking points: over-sized Velociraptors, the under-sized Dilophosaur with its unlikely frill and venomous saliva, the unrealistic presentation of field paleontology.

In short, the editorial had the same tone of self-righteous futility that regular readers of microecos will be all too familiar with; though, to be fair I prefaced the piece with a note that I wasn’t challenging the artistic license of the film-makers, but merely trying to correct any scientific misconceptions fostered by the film.

I’d like to think, all evidence to the contrary, that I’ve loosened-up considerably since my adolescent years–I mean, hey, at least I’m not publishing rants in nationally syndicated teen advice columns railing against “elitist” high school girls1.

All this navel gazing is sparked by two interestingly divergent recent posts by Messers. Wedel and Naish. First, Matt single-handedly attempts to dislodge a deeply implanted stick in “Get your giant robotic dinosaur on“:

The granddaddy of all ex-paleo objections to pop culture dinosaurs, though, is that…

“That’s so unrealistic! Why, just look at the external nostril! It must be at least two-thirds of the way back in the bony naris–it’s nowhere near Witmer-compliant!”

Yes, it’s true, pop culture dinosaurs always fall short of full scientific respectability. Always. If you can show me a counter-example, I can give you at least half a dozen reasons why it actually sucks.

it’s an excellent read full of the usual seething hilarity we’ve all come to expect from Wedel’s rants. It also earned him free tickets to the Sacramento showing of Walking With Dinosaurs: The Live Experience (which I’m missing as we speak for want of $70 US …bastard!) At any rate it’s an excellent essay, well worth the read, even if you’ve never mocked a three-fingered T. rex or howled at a pterosaur carrying off a buxom cave-girl.

Then–as if to reclaim the honor of sullen paleo-nerds everywhere–Darren Naish published a stinging critique of Robert Mash’s How to Keep Dinosaurs:

This could have been a really interesting experiment in the reconstruction of behaviour, and on whatever imaginary perils and pitfalls might befall any attempt to bring dinosaurs into the human world. But no, it’s just silly. The animals are not portrayed realistically, but as daft caricatures that perform to classical music, do silly dances, play cards and so on.

In this season of political double-speak and bet hedging, I’ll make my position on the importance of scientific accuracy in paleo-pop crystal clear. Art is art and we shouldn’t expect scientific perfection from every plastic cereal toy or stadium robotic dinosaur show, BUT inaccurate portrayal of paleontology in pop-culture offers a wonderful opportunity to correct popular misconceptions through critique and review. Scientists just shouldn’t take themselves too seriously – because then their experiments are probably going to run amok and eat people.

1 – Oh god, don’t ask. Needless to say, I did not get a lot of play in high school.

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