Quite some time ago, I wrote this little guide for journalists spotting non-stories in science. When they were told of a breaking story or heard of some breakthrough, these should be a fairly simple set of tell-tale markers that something wasn’t right an should be left alone, or least dug into far more fully to make sure it was legitimate. I doubt there’s too much there that would shock any researcher, and one would hope not any credible reporter, let alone a specialist science journalist.
How then did this abomination of a speculation (theory is not the right word, and I’d hesitate even to use hypothesis) about dinosaurs make it’s way into the media spotlight? Well clearly it sounded great (dinosaurs in water! all palaeontologists wrong!) and there was an article to support it, and the man in question clearly has ties to the media and knows which buttons to push.
However, after this, literally every part of it is tissue-thin in the extreme. The article is in a non-peer reviewed outlet (and not even a very well known one as far as I’m aware). The article contains absolutely no references or mentions of the scientific literature, contains no analyses or data, or even a strict laid out hypothesis and clear identification of what evidence would support it. The man behind this is a self-confessed non-expert, with no apparent qualifications or experience in the area at all (and there have been reports that he’s not even an expert or qualified in the areas he does claim) and obviously does have a track record of commenting or publishing on very disparate subjects well outside of microbiology.
So this is a non-reviewed piece of work, not even written as a paper, proffering no specific evidence or hypothesis, written by someone with no qualifications in the area, with a track record of discussing things outside their expertise. Presumably this is considered just as good as say, oh I don’t know, a peer-reviewed paper in Nature by numerous and experienced researchers, who carefully document all their data, analyses and results. Oh, it was. And by more than one media outlet. Hooray for journalism!