On Planet Dinosaur

Last night in the UK saw three, yes three, dinosaur shows running consecutively on the BBC, starting with the second episode of the new Walking With Dinosaurs ‘update': Planet Dinosaur. Readers of Tet Zoo will already have an idea of how I feel about it, but a few words of my own might be more revealing.

First off, let me step away from my normal caricature and say that, on average, I liked the first episode. The animation was OK, if not great, certainly better than many I’ve seen of late, and the overall design and colour etc. was well done. It looked reasonable and thought through and while there’s always nits to pick, it was basically ‘good’.

It was certainly a near revelation to see the actual science and fossils shown behind these things. It’s one thing to have a talking head but another to actually show chunks of jaw and slabs of specimens to demonstrate just how how much material there was and how it looks and what we are basing the science on. That was a major improvement and great to see. Also good was the judicious use of caveats to reveal bits of uncertainly like “X is thought to do Y” and “A may have acted like B”. Much more of this in the future please.

So the bad? Well, as ever there was some injudicious hyperbole, exaggeration and downright unsupported speculation on screen. As noted on TZ, I can buy Spinosaurus as being 17 m long, and yes, that was said once in the literature. But there’s good reason to think that this is not only an upper estimate, but a very high one, so why is this not the subject of a bit more “may have been / could have been / the biggest of which might have got to”?

The mix was frustrating and pointless when they have done so much good work to show the fossils and explain the data, why then just throw in the Rugops was a dedicated scavenger based on errr, ummm. What compounds this is they can’t complain about bad advice or declare incompetence. They had a good list of advisors and got lots very right, so why the need for the mad speculation or suddenly drop a lot of caveats. I also suspect it’ll give a very false level of confidence in the data since the casual viewer would, I suspect, even hope, be impressed by the level of data given for various ideas but then might not notice the glossing over of some of these other points and simply assume they’re as well documented when they are not.

Moving on to the second episode, I was rather less impressed sadly. If nothing else there was simply some bad writing – in near consecutive sentences were were told “it’s impossible to be certain that Gigantoraptor had feathers” and “it seems almost certain that they had feathers”. Errr, yeah, not quite opposites, but surely better could have been done with the text. We were also told that oviraptorids [sic] had no teeth, but the example they gave was Caudipteryx – one of the few toothed species. And then yes, they went there and had Sinornithosaurs not only gliding around but being venomous. Ah yes, you see what documentary makers still have yet to learn it seems is that just because something has been said, doesn’t make it right. Please don’t use things this speculative, unsupported and unpopular, it’s not helping communicate or entertain which I rather assumed was the point of this.

So on balance I was really pretty impressed with the first episode and rather less with the second. I guess we’ll see how the series pans out over the coming weeks. For all my whinging, it’s already better than many I have seen, though it would have been nice if the second episode improved on the first rather than fell away.

 

 

Late little edit: I forgot to mention there are some odd little inconsistencies in there too which I assume are the result of different teams doing different things. Sharp eyed people might have noticed the pterosaurs with ankle attached wings (yay) but their little black and white skeletal outline during the flash-up science section showed the wings attaching to the end of the tail with the legs completely free. Eeek twice. Not only is that horribly wrong, but isn’t what they’d even illustrated seconds before.

31 Responses to “On Planet Dinosaur”


  1. 1 knirirr 22/09/2011 at 10:02 am

    As I’m merely an interested layman when it comes to your field I tend to glance at Wikipedia whilst watching such programmes as it can be a quick guide to whether what is being said is complete speculation or not. So, this wasn’t too hard to find:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinornithosaurus#Possible_venomous_bite

    I have heard (from a lecture at a conference) that Wikipedia’s taxonomic information is apparently quite good as well.

    • 2 David Hone 22/09/2011 at 10:59 am

      Well I would say that in this case that’s not really the whole story. Yes, there was the original paper and then the usual round and rebuttal and reply. That implies a measure of debate which is, technically true I suppose. However, speaking with numerous colleagues and following various discussions, I honestly don’t know a single researcher who things this is even plausible based on the presented evidence, let alone right. Quite simply I don’t think it had much of a kicking in the literature because everyone more or less rejected the idea out of hand.

      And yes, on average Wiki’s taxonomy is pretty good actually.

  2. 3 knirirr 22/09/2011 at 11:12 am

    Thanks for the clarification!
    At least in this case there was some indication that what was presented as fact was not in fact so, even if the further information was still slightly misleading.

    • 4 David Hone 22/09/2011 at 11:34 am

      No problem at all. But then to a degree, this is the crux of the matter. I can totally understand how non-experts would miss this, but the show had a raft of experts on board (at least one of whom I know argued vehemently against this and another I know is very much against the idea) which does *rather* lead to the conclusion that somone went “ah sod it, it’s cool” and put it in. Which is not good.

  3. 5 knirirr 22/09/2011 at 11:42 am

    My (admittedly limited) exposure to television and film production does suggest that “sod it, it’s cool” is a common phenomenon, and this is indeed very bad when the subject to be misrepresented is a scientific one. This is one reason that I’ve long read your posts on scientific reporting with interest.

    • 6 David Hone 22/09/2011 at 2:36 pm

      Without name dropping (or dropping people in it) I’ve heard tale like this from the people in front of the camera too, being asked to present on stuff they disagree with and then having their caveats etc. dropped from the edit to make it look more positive. I really don’t know why, the people are already tuning in to see the dinosaurs and the show is not going to live or die one exactly which hypothesis they use.

  4. 7 Zhen 22/09/2011 at 2:11 pm

    I was not aware of venomous Sinornithosaurs theory was unpopular. I knew about the debates, just wasn’t sure how strongly they felt about it.

    I noticed they purposely shrunk the T.rex down to 12.5 meters in this show when the largest complete T.rex was 12.8 meters. Not to mention we have even bigger incomplete specimens that got near 14 meters.

    • 8 David Hone 22/09/2011 at 2:34 pm

      Well maybe I’m only seeing one side of things, but I very much doubt it.

      As for the sizes, I’m keeping my powder dry on that for the future if I can finally get a paper through on the issue….

      • 9 Zhen 22/09/2011 at 5:34 pm

        It’s always good to know how the paleontological community really feels about these things. I think part of the reason they played the venomous angle is also the same reason I did it in my show. It turns heads and captures people’s imagination. It may or may not be widely accepted, but a venomous flying dromaesaur is too cool of an idea to pass up and it not pure fiction… so to speak.

      • 10 David Hone 22/09/2011 at 5:38 pm

        Well ‘capturing the imagination’ I can kinda buy. But as they never used it to lure people in, the why use it (not that I’d use it anyway)? Like I said, the audience is already with you. They’ve tuned in.

  5. 11 Herman Diaz 23/09/2011 at 10:34 pm

    W/all due respect, I think you’re being too harsh on PD, especially episode 2.

    “If nothing else there was simply some bad writing – in near consecutive sentences were were told “it’s impossible to be certain that Gigantoraptor had feathers” and “it seems almost certain that they had feathers”. Errr, yeah, not quite opposites, but surely better could have been done with the text.”

    1stly, you misquoted PD, which said “We don’t know for sure if such a huge dinosaur like Gigantoraptor would have or need feathers” (See the last minute: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QqzffLpKoc&feature=related ) & “It seems certain that Gigantoraptor too was feathered” (See the 1st minute: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8JEvC9ZG-U&feature=related ).

    2ndly, you listed the PD quotes out of context: Right after the 1st PD quote, said quote’s reasoning was explained (Other feathered dinos usually have protofeathers on their bodies for insulation); Right b-4 the 2nd PD quote, said quote’s reasoning was explained (Other oviraptorosaurs have true feathers on their arms & tails for display).

    “We were also told that oviraptorids [sic] had no teeth, but the example they gave was Caudipteryx – one of the few toothed species.”

    Based on what I’ve read (E.g. See page 14: http://www.geol.umd.edu/~tholtz/dinoappendix/HoltzappendixWinter2010.pdf ), Caudipteryx wasn’t an oviraptorid, but a primitive oviraptorosaur.

    “And then yes, they went there and had Sinornithosaurs not only gliding around but being venomous.”

    Based on what I’ve read (E.g. See “Evolution of feather function”: http://people.eku.edu/ritchisong/feather_evolution.htm ), gliding was possible. At the very least, it could’ve used CFD (See “WING ASSISTED INCLINE RUNNING (WAIR) and CONTROLLED FLAPPING DESCENT (CFD)” & “A NEW SCENARIO FOR BIRD FLIGHT ORIGINS”: http://www.geol.umd.edu/~tholtz/G104/lectures/104aves.html ). Also, while the venomous hypothesis is controversial, the important thing is that PD showed what fossil evidence there is for it. Besides, that scene wouldn’t have been much different w/out said hypothesis (I.e. Replace the slashing bites w/slashing kicks).

    • 12 David Hone 23/09/2011 at 10:55 pm

      If I misquoted them as of the use of the word ‘certain’, then, well I did. It was done from memory. But it did strike me as inelegant.

      “2ndly, you listed the PD quotes out of context: Right after the 1st PD quote, said quote’s reasoning was explained (Other feathered dinos usually have protofeathers on their bodies for insulation); Right b-4 the 2nd PD quote, said quote’s reasoning was explained (Other oviraptorosaurs have true feathers on their arms & tails for display).”

      Errrm, I don’t say anything about this at all in this post so no idea where you have got this from. I don’t quote anything else and my criticsm had nothing to do with context, only writing style so there is noting for me to say on this.

      Caudipteryx is indeed a basal oviraptorosaur, but the last time I checked the term ‘oviraptorid’ is not actually used by anyone. It’s a misused form of oviraptorosaur (hence my use of [sic] to denote I’m repeating it and think it’s in error). So what did they mean by ‘oviraptorid’? If they meant oviraptorosaur which i think they did then obviously Caudipteryx has teeth, if they didn’t then they’re using a dodgy term and thus not making things clear.

      As for gliding in Sinornithosaurus well for a start I’m not aware of anyone having suggested this in the literature and with good reason. It has feathers sure, what it doesn’t have (or at least any specimen I’ve ever seen) is long flight feathers. It’s not a Microraptor with no leg feathers, it’s simply not feathered in that way. What it does have (as ironically shown in their own graphics) is that the arm feathers are actually pretty short and fluffy and don’t extend beyond the length of the finger. I never mentioned WAIR, only gliding, and the two are not synonymous or even related really so please don’t accuse me of contradicting something I never mentioned and is not what I spoke about.

      As for venomosity, yes it’s in the literature. But so are many other things that are utterly unsupported by any real evidence. They didn’t make it into the show so why does this get a free pass?

      So in short I may have misquoted them but I still think the language is clumsy. I didn’t quote them out of context since, errr, I didn’t quote them at all after that. Their use of oviraptorid is odd / wrong, so I may be wrong in having a go at their use of Caudipteryx, but if they use non-scientific terms then that’s hardly my fault. Their gliding model is spurious and their use of venomosity obvious hyberbole. I might have been a bit hard on them yes, but there are all legitimate complaints.

  6. 13 Herman Diaz 24/09/2011 at 3:46 am

    “Errrm, I don’t say anything about this at all in this post so no idea where you have got this from. I don’t quote anything else and my criticsm had nothing to do with context, only writing style so there is noting for me to say on this.”

    When I said you listed the PD quotes out of context, I meant b/c you listed them back-to-back w/out the in between narration, which made it look like PD contradicted itself when it didn’t (the in between narration showing how PD got from the 1st quote to the 2nd 1).

    “Caudipteryx is indeed a basal oviraptorosaur, but the last time I checked the term ‘oviraptorid’ is not actually used by anyone. It’s a misused form of oviraptorosaur (hence my use of [sic] to denote I’m repeating it and think it’s in error). So what did they mean by ‘oviraptorid’?”

    Based on what I’ve read (E.g. See page 14 in my previous comment’s 3rd link), oviraptorids are members of “the advanced group (Oviraptoridae)”.

    “As for gliding in Sinornithosaurus well for a start I’m not aware of anyone having suggested this in the literature and with good reason.”

    “Chatterjee and Templin 2004″ was cited in reference to gliding Sinornithosaurs (See “Evolution of feather function” in my previous comment’s 4th link).

    “What it does have (as ironically shown in their own graphics) is that the arm feathers are actually pretty short and fluffy and don’t extend beyond the length of the finger.”

    That Sinornithosaurus specimen is Dave, a juvenile.

    “I never mentioned WAIR,”

    Neither did I. All I said was that, based on what I’ve read (E.g. See “WING ASSISTED INCLINE RUNNING (WAIR) and CONTROLLED FLAPPING DESCENT (CFD)” in my previous comment’s 5th link), Sinornithosaurus could’ve used CFD (If not gliding; How exactly they compare/contrast I’m not sure) to get from branch-to-ground & from branch-to-branch.

  7. 14 David Hone 24/09/2011 at 6:57 am

    “When I said you listed the PD quotes out of context, I meant b/c you listed them back-to-back w/out the in between narration, which made it look like PD contradicted itself when it didn’t (the in between narration showing how PD got from the 1st quote to the 2nd 1).”

    Oh I see what you mean, but I still think your criticisng soemthing I didn’t complain about. I know how the explained their logic but that wasn’t the issue I was dealing with.

    “That Sinornithosaurus specimen is Dave, a juvenile.”

    Yes I know. But the adults don’t have the long feathers I’d describing either. I’ve seen plenty of them. Inf act it’s notable jsut how short they are realtive to the body size, there’s simply no, long, pennaceous feathers there – http://archosaurmusings.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/sinornithosaurus/

    As for WAIR you did say “at the very least…it was possible” when I never suggested otherwise so that point was rather irrelevant.

    • 15 Tomozaurus 28/09/2011 at 10:49 am

      Aren’t the specimens of Sinornithosaurus preserving feathers too poorly preserved (the impressions I mean, the skeletons are beautifully preserved) and/or badly articulated to have any real idea as to how long the wing feathers were in life?

      • 16 David Hone 28/09/2011 at 10:59 am

        Well no becuase the feather preservation is actually pretty good. And as noted in my Microraptor paper (and various posts on here), nice big flight feathers are strongly rooted on the bones and will not be last a fraction as easily as down / countour feathers (which is why Archaropteryx has wing feathers and tail feathers and not much else). So it is pretty much impossible that several specimens of Sinornithosaurus preserve lots of down etc. in situ, but the bigger, more robust, more easily preserved and less easily moved flight feathers have all been lost. They’re not there because they weren’t present.

      • 17 Tomozaurus 28/09/2011 at 12:27 pm

        Duly noted. Looking again at images of some of the specimens they do seem to be better preserved than I thought, and are indeed about equal to the length of the finger and not anywhere near microraptor length.

      • 18 David Hone 28/09/2011 at 1:43 pm

        As i said it’s not even exactly a preservation issue of what’s there now, more the logical progression of if I have *this*, should i have *that*? If there were no feathers, then fine, you have to guess, if you have the big stuff and not the small, then the preservation was good enough for macro details but not micro ones, or the small stuff was lost, but small without big? Then the big feathers jsut aren’t there.

      • 19 Tomozaurus 29/09/2011 at 6:27 am

        You are right. It would appear that they don’t have the long feathers of Microraptor. They may very well be more complex than they appear however, as per Foth’s preservation paper.

      • 20 Matt Martyniuk 29/09/2011 at 4:24 pm

        Not having seen these specimens in person, what’s the manner of preservation like? Are there any actual impressions? Vinther etc. showed that these feathers are showing up in fossils mainly by preservation of melanin. It stands to reason that if a feather is white and lacks melanin, it will be more unlikely to show up in the fossil. If macro feathers contain no melanin and are not leaving impressions for whatever reason, would they be preserved?

        The Dave specimen looks like the primaries are mainly visible due to impression–they’re very faint compared to the dark (heavily pigmented?) body feathers. Is that the case or an artifact of the published photographs?

      • 21 David Hone 29/09/2011 at 4:43 pm

        Everything I’ve seen in Liaoning has been actual preservation of material, not impressions (like Archaeopteryx). I’m familair with the Vinther papers and the Zhang stuff but i thought these showed the presence of melanin, not that the preserved parts of feathers were composed of it. Indeed that seems almost impossible since I’d be very surprised if the rachi had much or any in them and they often show up fine, and indeed Zhang et all said Sinornitnosaurus’ tail was of orange and white stripes and white doesn’t really have any by definition.

  8. 22 Herman Diaz 24/09/2011 at 2:54 pm

    “As for WAIR you did say “at the very least…it was possible” when I never suggested otherwise so that point was rather irrelevant.”

    If you re-read my 1st comment, you’ll see I specifically said “At the very least, it could’ve used CFD”.

  9. 23 Dave Godfrey 25/09/2011 at 7:03 pm

    I think I was probably a bit harsh on it when I first saw it, I was distinctly unimpressed with some of the animation (Ouranosaurus appeared to be made of rubber, and the use of cgi backgrounds did not compare favourably with WWD, although I expect the budget was significantly smaller). I also wasn’t convinced by them saying that Carcharodontosaurus had a weak skull, and then promptly showing two of them headbutting.

    However I did then watch an episode of Dinosaur Revolution, and decided I was being far too harsh on the beeb.

    • 24 David Hone 25/09/2011 at 9:43 pm

      Ah yes, not seen very much of that at all, but it seems a very odd show to me.

      And don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed and pleased with Planet Dinosaur, it just seems to me they did so much right then the frustration sets in that they didn’t do better when there are obviously issues.

    • 25 Zhen 25/09/2011 at 10:54 pm

      You’re thinking of Rugops having weak skull. They never said Carcharodontosaurus had a weak skull.

      • 26 Dave Godfrey 25/09/2011 at 11:20 pm

        Nope. Definitely Carcharodontosaurus- they show a graphic of a Finite Element Analysis to show where the highest stress would be. when talking about how it would have attacked prey.

  10. 27 Zhen 25/09/2011 at 10:56 pm

    Oh yeah, Terra Nova is premiering tomorrow. Anyone excited? Seems like a rot your brains sci-fi with Jack Horner providing made up dinosaurs… I’m still excited. Here’s a little video I made.

  11. 28 Herman Diaz 26/09/2011 at 5:03 am

    @Dave Godfrey

    “and the use of cgi backgrounds did not compare favourably with WWD,”

    On the bright side, PD’s CGI animals interact better w/the CGI environment than WWD’s CGI animals did w/the real environment.

    “I also wasn’t convinced by them saying that Carcharodontosaurus had a weak skull, and then promptly showing two of them headbutting.”

    That’s b/c its skull WAS weak side-to-side, but much stronger up-&-down.

    • 29 Dave Godfrey 27/09/2011 at 10:38 am

      Ah, I see. That makes more sense. (I’d like to have seen something to explain this though- the way its phrased it seems to contradict itself). I think the use of animatronics worked in WWD’s favour, as did the various visual effects they tried to produce footprints, etc. Of course this is (probably) much more expensive than computer and rendering time is these days.

  12. 30 Matt Martyniuk 29/09/2011 at 4:51 pm

    It depends on the fossil but see, for example, Vinther’s specimen of a black/white feather from the Santana formation. The black part is a typical ‘stain’ like you’d see in Liaoning and the white portion is nothing but impression. Compare also the slab-colored impressions on many Archaeopteryx with the stain-like holotype feather.

    The Jehol is of course a different preservation environment but you still seem to have the same effects. The Anchiornis specimen Vinther used to discern color had feathers which appeared all dark in the fossil. but other specimens look like this: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-UZf-m_UgB0U/TnNOfj2bSqI/AAAAAAAABX8/xqnq4D5joWM/s1600/anchiornis_robert_clark.png

    If there were no dark stripes on the wings of Anchiornis, the primary feathers would be less visible in that specimen.

    • 31 David Hone 29/09/2011 at 5:07 pm

      Right I see, but that’s only one possibility. To go back to your comment “If macro feathers contain no melanin and are not leaving impressions for whatever reason, would they be preserved?”

      The answer is still, for me, a qualified yes. As they themselves note, white feathers can still be preserved and certianly I think the point about the rachis may be key – an uncoloured feather is still perfectly capable of being preserved (given how tough keratin is etc.), though it might be less likely than the robust melanosomes. Claws are often colourless too (though coloured in some) and again preserve often, so I don’t see that being white is any huge barrier to preservation. And in any case as I said before I’ve yet to see any Liaoning feather that looks like an impression rather than a carbonisation. In the case of Dave they are there, jsut rather indistinct, though as shown in my Microraptor paper that doesn’t mean they are impressions or even necessarily poorly preserved, they could jsut be overlain by other effects.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




@Dave_Hone on Twitter

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 346 other followers


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 346 other followers

%d bloggers like this: