Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dinosaur flatulence

Popular science reporting is so egregiously bad these days that, for the most part, I just roll my eyes and let things slide, but every once in a while, I come across a story that is so heinous I have to say something.  This bit of douchery for instance: Dinosaurs a gas, gas, gas, scientists say.

Doctors Ruxton and Wilkinson would have us believe that dinosaurs farted out so much methane that it effected a climate change that ended up killing them off.  Two things are immediately obvious in this article.  First, we are not told what Doctors Ruxton and Wilkinson are actually doctors of.  Second, there is no reference to the journal article where, one assumes, this work is to be published.  Perhaps, this is just sloppy reporting and, for the sake of argument, I'll assume this is the case.  But a story that does not establish credentials and reference the original literature is automatically suspect.

But, let's assume this is just sloppy reporting and accept what we are being told.  Fine...even then, this story has so many things wrong with it, it's hard to know where to start criticizing.  The doctors reference an argentinosaurus and point out that it would have produced "thousands of liters of methane per day".  Let's assume that the good doctors recognized that a reptile metabolism is much, much slower than a mammal's and scaled their methane production rates appropriately.  We don't know as we have no original literature to reference back to.

But, now we come to the really mind-blowing part of this story:
Ruxton and his co-researcher David Wilkinson, of Liverpool John Moores University, designed a mathematical model to work out how much methane the animals, thought to have numbered in their billions, would have generated during the Mesozoic era, from 250 million to 65 million years ago.
"Thought to have numbered in their billions..."  Where in the name of all holy fuck did the number "billions" come from?  The planet is very marginally able to support a few billions of 150 pound (plus or minus) human beings and Doctors Ruxton and Wilkinson tell us that there were billions of 90-ton reptiles roaming the planet during the Cretaceous.  Seriously?  No, really...are these guys saying this with a straight face?

The "billions" of giant sauropods number is so patently absurd that any person with brain function has to call, "bullshit" on this nonsense.  However, let me make on additional comment.  Methane is reduced carbon, which is why we combine it with oxygen and burn it.  When it is released in the atmosphere, its greenhouse effect is transient, because it tends to break down relatively quickly when exposed to oxygen and the sun's ultraviolet radiation.  Methane emissions from dinosaurs over the course of tens of millions of years are just not a vehicle for climate change.

If shame exists in the scientific community anymore, the unnamed "Canadian science website" that published this silliness should be ashamed of itself.

Bad vacation choices, Part something-something...

In this year's Bad Vacation Choice awards, Large Animal category, we may have a winner: Man photographs cheetahs attacking wife.

Before we get to the "large animal" part of the story, let me get one thing out of the way:  Squirrely's Rule of Marriage #23 - When cheetahs are attacking your wife, you may want to put down the goddamned camera and, I don't know, like maybe, TRY TO FUCKING SAVE HER!!

Just sayin'...

Having addressed that, back to the large animals.  Apparently, it is possible to go to this game preserve in South Africa and get your picture taken while standing next to "pet" cheetahs.  Yeah...and Sea World should let tourists swim with their "pet" sharks.  Here's the thing:  I've had pet cats for most of my life.  I like cats.  I like their independence.  I even like their aggravating "What? Were you talkin' to me?" attitude.  However, I completely understand the one-sided nature of my relationship to my cats.  Cats don't give a fuck and haven't given a fuck since ever.  When the Duke hops up in my lap while I'm reading the paper in the morning, he's not being friendly, he's cold.  When Duke's sister, the very aptly named Morgana le Fey, pokes me with her paw at 4am every morning, it means she's hungry and is checking to see if I'm dead.  When Admiral Halsey starts rubbing against my leg, he's not being friendly either.  He's hungry and figures I'll either feed him or he can get me to trip and kill myself.  Halsey's good either way.

To cats, humans are animals that are too big to eat (while we're alive anyway), but are convenient to have around to provide food, open doors, clean up the disgusting messes they make, and other, similar services.  Let's face it, the Tribe of Tiger has been around for most of the Cenozoic and, after 60 million years, the cat brain is pretty much hard-wired to kill things and, even today, there are parts of the world where humans are still very much on the cat menu of dietary choices.  As Siegfried and Roy discovered several years back, there is no such thing as a "pet" cat.  Inside even the fattest, laziest domestic kitty cat, the kill switch is always a hair breadth from being engaged.  Timbuk 3 has very succinctly summed up the situation with cats:
"Cats will be cats, and cats will be cruel
Cats can be callous, and cats can be cool
Cats will be cats, remember these words
Cats will be cats, and cats eat birds
Cats will be cats, and cats eat birds"
...or humans as the case may be.