The Daily Dino Fail

Whilst catching up on some of the great dino-gossip on the Dinosaur Mailing List, I came across this little gem of a Daily Mail article that I’d missed through my usual online channels:

‘T-Rex of the Deep: Fossil of 135million-year-old predator dinosaur related to vicious meat-eater discovered completely INTACT’

The first ‘WTF?’ moment came with the title. This was not a T. Rex specimen, nor any type of tyrannosaurid. It’s part of a rather large suborder of dinosaur (see here for a simple cladogram) – the therapoda. There are countless dinosaur species that it’s far closer to, though I suppose by media standards it’s not an UNtrue statement to make.

But then there’s the ‘of the deep’ bit, which makes no sense whatever. This is very similar to the title of an episode of ‘Monsters Resurrected’ about mosasaurs (probably by coincidence, as it turns out). Yet the description, photos, and all other reports on the find in question, make clear that it was a land-based (theropod) dinosaur. What gives? All will become clear – well, nearly all. Time for some BS Palaeontology!

As contributors to the Dinosaur Mailing List pointed out, aside from the wonderful photo of the real fossil in question, the other two images are clearly nothing to do with the find. Thanks to the attribution that the Mail are obliged to provide, it didn’t take too long to find the very library pictures that they’d arbitrarily chosen to pad out this story:

They are taken from a February 2011 find in Antarctica of an archaeocetes – a primitive whale. Which explains why one caption in the dodgy article states:

‘Unearthed: Scientists uncovering the remains of the dinosaur thought to be a relative of the modern-day whale.’

Now, if we look at the Mail comments section, we find that a fourth image was taken down after a comment from a UK reader;

Its extremely unlikely that the ‘computer generated image’ is what the paleontologists who found Otto think he looked like. Did you invent this? Among several differences is the fact that the image is of a sea dwelling creature with a flipper-like tail, and crucially very small rear flippers laterally. The skeleton however clearly has very large rear legs with claws – hence the description ‘Beast-footed’ and suggestion that it is in the same family as the T-Rex. Since I doubt you would show a picture of the wrong skeleton (although this is plausible), I suggest the second image is falsely captioned.
– Alex, Yorkshire, UK, 12/10/2011 19:04

Which rather well describes this artist’s impression from the same story, to be found in the same archive:

Not only falsely captioned Alex, but nothing at all to do with the story at hand.
Quite how the author managed this triumph of fail is beyond me. It’s almost as though they received the press release, went looking for more in the way of ‘Time Team’ style images, found these from another story entirely, and then somehow convinced themselves that they were indeed one and the same. Maybe an overworked writer. Maybe a case of too many cooks. Or maybe a work experience lad given a little too much responsibility. Who knows. But it’s pretty poor and confusing journalism. In the interests of fairness, the blooper about ‘hair and traces of skin’ (dinosaurs not being hairy and skin only surviving as impressions in rock) seems to have been in the main press release and may the result of bad translation from the original German.

Makes you wonder how many other of their articles are this badly cobbled together. This excellent site suggests that the answer is ‘lots’.