Quick media stab

It’s rather inevitable that at least one media outlet would have screwed up a bit of the tyrannosaurs scavenging story. Inevitably some thought that ‘one tyrannosaur scavenged once’ meant ‘all tyrannosaurs were exclusively scavengers’. Despite this not appearing in the paper, or the coverage that it was lifted from. Indeed, both being quite explicit that this was not the case.

However, while I can hardly expect them to have read it, I did write this post pretty recently: a guide for journalists reporting on dinosaur stories. Which not incidentally includes the section:

Don’t assume that evidence for X is also evidence against Y

The new paper might show that say, Tyrannosaurus was a good predator, but this does not mean that it was not a scavenger. Biological systems are complex and few things operate in one way alone. Unless the researchers have done the work to test that the other possibilities are false, don’t assume that evidence for X rules out the other possibilities. We can hold things with our hands, but we also signal with them, and use them to make tools, and to help us feed, and climb etc.


5 Responses to “Quick media stab”

  1. 1 Jaime A. Headden 16/07/2010 at 9:29 pm

    I’m not sure it was that particular group, but I seem to recall one of John Hutchinson’s press releases on elephant walking/running dynamics had a specific section in it with a very clear statement:

    What this paper doesn’t say:

    This paper does not say X.

    So to be clearer, a casual reader may read the disclaiming paragraph and gloss a bit. It may not be the catchy opening line that disclaims exclusive scavenging, but they’ll fade at that.

    “It’s too technical!” they’ll cry. They won’t try to read it. Science-savvy folk will, and fortunately you’ve got just one of them out of many, so you did great with the disclaim-section.

    • 2 David Hone 16/07/2010 at 9:45 pm

      I had actually considered that. However, I set it to people who I knew and trusted and then did a good job. This one came completely independently and was taken from the NS story. In this case at least then, if I had done it, it would have made no difference at all. However, the next time I do a more general and open release i may well go down this route.

  2. 3 Jules Ange Infante 17/07/2010 at 12:02 am

    Sadly journalists do like to generalize. Talking about “evidence for X is not evidence against Y” I can’t help but remember some videos shown on Youtube where you see a cow suddenly gobbling up a chick walking by. And I certainly remember my dog doing the occasional grazing. Even the very basic classifications of herbivores and carnivores are not that clearcut (and they shouldn’t otherwise how could herbivores ever descend from carnivorous ancestors and vice-versa).

  3. 4 mattvr 17/07/2010 at 5:58 am

    I guess it was inevitable the Tyrannosaur Scavenger/Predator debate would come up, but I was surprised how I haven’t found a story that hasn’t mentioned it, often before detailing why your paper tells us something new and interesting.

  1. 1 Multifunctionality « Dave Hone's Archosaur Musings Trackback on 16/01/2011 at 12:06 pm
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