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.


  1. I made the mistake once of reading too quickly and accidentally ordered Popular Science instead of Popular Mechanics. So we received an entire year of this drek. I decided to let it ride (it was only $10 or something nominal) since it was worth the entertainment value for the idiocy alone. heh.

  2. Perhaps the quantity is incorrect but what if they were male Sauropods? ;-)

    Google is your friend: current biology + could methane produced by sauropod dinosaurs have helped drive Mesozoic climate warmth?

    David M. Wilkinson1

    Euan G. Nisbet

    Graeme D. Ruxton

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