• Tag Archives jurassic fight club
  • JFC lockjaw

    I can’t help but laugh at the process by which things become popular in society. One can write various well thought out posts, or web pages that are heavily referenced, and rarely receive a response.

    Shoot from the hip and/or spout out a controversial opinion, though, and all of a sudden the traffic starts to spike.

    Hence why sites like badastronomy.com took years to get a devoted following, while LOL cats skyrocket to the top of the charts within days.

    Case in point with History Channel’s recent crockumentary: Jurassic Fight Club.

    I wrote a piece describing my thoughts on this terrible show. In it I explained exactly what was wrong with the series, and precisely what my gripe was with its main contributor: “Dinosaur George” Blasing.

    That’s all fine and good. Time passes and we all move on. Then, I discover that History Channel actually has allowed folks to watch this show online, and one day out of boredom, I decide to see if the show might have gotten any better. Seeing that the quality has continued to slide downhill, I officially give the show up for dead, but not before ripping into it one more time. This time, I get to the heart of the matter, and don’t bother being even handed.

    The result? A spike in traffic and the appearance of some George Blasing apologists.

    Ah, how funny the internet can be.

    Adding to said hilarity, I was recently informed of the fact that old “Dinosaur George” himself had been to my site, and had commented on it in his blog. Apparently I had touched a nerve, so now his fans feel the need to protect their favourite figurehead.

    That’s all fine and good. I don’t much care. As I had stated before, as far as I’m concerned JFC is just more “documentary” sewage being pushed out by Discovery Channel A&E and its subsidiaries.

    Still, I can’t help but notice a theme with some of these apologists. A theme that I can blame on old “Dinosaur George” himself. Apparently everyone thinks that I have issues with Mr. Blasing, because he is not an accredited academic.

    Or as George Blasing put it: “There is a very, VERY small group of people within the paleontology community who feel that their science should be treated like a private club, where no one outside of their tiny group of likeminded buddies can participate.”

    I’m afraid Mr. Blasing, and his fans have missed the point of my contention completely. My issue with “Dinosaur George” has little to do with his lack of formal training. True, I think that his lack of any real training in this field, poses a detriment to him, but as I wrote earlier, there is nothing wrong with being an amateur, or just a big dinosaur fan. Most new dinosaur finds come from amateurs, and not professionals. Furthermore, a doctorate, while important, does not necessarily make one qualified for a particular task. Look at “creation scientist” Dr. Duane Gish, or radio personality Dr. Laura Schlessinger. One can be an official academic and still be a Fruit Loop shy of a full bowl.

    No, qualifications are not what bug me about Mr. Blasing. It’s the fact that he presents himself as being equivalent to the scientists he interviews. “Dinosaur George” is masquerading around as an authority figure on these matters. He bills himself on the show as a “Paleontology Expert.” So for those people who don’t bother looking into exactly what that means, “Dinosaur George” comes off as an authority on par with Dr. Thomas Holtz, or Dr. Larry Witmer.

    So when Mr. Blasing spouts off something patently wrong like “dromaeosaurs could breathe through their bones,” or “megalodon was the size of a jumbo jet,” the audience at home will come away accepting that as a fact. Mind you, this is not me complaining about “Dinosaur George” taking a matter of fact stand on one particular theory. Mr. Blasing has repeatedly made glaring mistakes on specific facts about animals. Saying that “megalodon” was the size of a 747 is just plain wrong. Jumbo jets are substantially longer than 50ft (more like 240ft), and a heck of a lot heavier.

    Another one I heard about recently was from that same “megalodon” episode. Apparently it was stated that “megalodon” could “taste” the water around it, because of taste buds in its skin called denticles. Once again, this is flat out wrong. It doesn’t take much effort to learn that denticles are sharp outgrowths of the dermis in shark skin. The result feels like teeth, or sandpaper. It makes the shark’s skin rough. It does not allow them to taste the water with their bodies. However, because “Dinosaur George” said it, his followers will take it as fact (as evidenced by some of the commenters in the previous post).

    To reiterate; my problem with Mr. Blasing is that he is impersonating a professional in the field, and in the process, he is misleading the public when he talks so matter of factly about some of his subjects.

    It is unfortunate. I explained all of this previously in my first post on JFC. Judging from the date of “Dinosaur George’s” blog post, it was apparent that this was the one he had read. Rather than deal with the impersonation and rampant speculation part of the show, Mr. Blasing instead wound up focusing on my pointing out his lack of credentials.

    Still, things aren’t all bad with “Dinosaur George.” While reading his behind the scenes blog, I was happy to see one good thing about the show:

    I was very careful not to put any of our experts into situations where they were made to look like they supported a theory that I knew they were opposed to. I made sure that I took on the role of speculating how the fights could have occurred, because they were based solely on modern animal behaviors and not any real fossil evidence. Since most of our experts owe their careers to the scientific community, they have the deal with their peers and those that they answer to. So to insulate them from being attacked by those within their industry, I made sure to keep them out of the fight scenes and instead used them to support the factually based stuff earlier on in the show.

    At least “Dinosaur George” was willing to do this. So JFC is at least one step better than Animal Face-Off was.

    Still, when all is said and done, I stand by my initial claim. “Dinosaur George” still comes off as a fanboy. That JFC turned out to be his pet project, does little to alleviate this thought. Rather than use his funds to talk about how these animals may have lived, or how we know what we know about prehistoric life, he used his funds to make a series of films devoted to prehistoric cage matches. As if the only time animals are interesting is when they are fighting each other. Each show boiled down to which animals is better.

    To me that sounds an awful lot like being a fanboy.

    ~ Jura


  • Dinosaur George can bite me!

    Okay, I know all I am doing is fueling the perpetuation of this kind of crap on TV.

    That said, I was bored, and one of the few cool things about The History Channel is that it allows folks to watch their shows online.

    The latest one was called: Bloodiest Battle; the story of the Cleveland Lloyd Quarry.

    Well, the JFC version of what happens.

    Anyway, there were, as usual, a host of annoying offenses in the show. Besides the ever annoying “loud dinosaurs” (i.e. all the dinosaurs couldn’t stop roaring), there was also the requisite rampant speculation on the social life of Allosaurus, the ecological relationship between Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus, and various anatomical flubs that continue to send out the message that The History Channel only hires the “talking heads” so they can appear scientifically legitimate.

    Anyway, the only reason I am bringing this one up is because the most egregious error in the entire program (in my mind, at least) was the absolute statement from “Dinosaur George” Blasing that “all the evidence points to these animals being warm-blooded.”

    That is bull-shit with a capital B.

    Er…Bull-Shit.

    There is no, I reiterate NO consensus on the thermophysiology of dinosaurs. That is true for all dinosaurs. All the evidence used so far has been ambiguous at best.

    Furthermore, a “cold-blooded” Allosaurus is going to have the same overheating problem as a “warm-blooded” Allosaurus.

    The problem has nothing to do with thermophysiology. It has to do with big animals over-exerting themselves in a hot environment. Dinosaurs were reptiles, and like all reptiles, they had a very limited means of removing heat. No sweat glands, and no real bare skin.

    One thing that Allosaurus and other saurischian dinosaurs may have used to keep cool is their air sac system. Air sacs in birds do not lead to their high aerobic capacity. That is accomplished through the flow through system that the air sacs created, where oxygen is sent only one way (vs. the dead end bellows way that mammals and reptiles use). The perfusion of extra air sacs all over the body does nothing to add to endurance in birds. What it does do, though, is lighten the body and provide a spot for heat to dump from deep in the body. It is honestly quite likely that this is was the main impetus for air sac evolution in dinosaurs, and its consequent exploitation by their avian descendants.

    This explanation would certainly have been a more scientific answer to how Allosaurus kept cool instead of pulling that antorbital fenestra radiator idea out of wherever “Dinosaur George” found it.

    I don’t like absolutism in science programs anyway, but this type of absolutism is what lead to the general public thinking, erroneously, that scientists have discovered dinosaurs to have been warm-blooded. All this winds up doing is creating a false concept of dinosaurs that winds up getting shot down when new students enter the field and find that dinosaurs weren’t the super hot-blooded beasts they thought they were.

    Plus, it’s just annoying when some fanboy says that being “warm-blooded” is one of the fundamental differences between dinosaurs and other reptiles.

    Okay, I’m done venting.

    Next episode involves some mythical beast called a “megalodon” (they must mean Carcharocles/Carcharodon megalodon). I hear that, at 15 meters (50ft) in length, it was the size of a jumbo jet and had to eat a tonne of meat a day to keep going.

    Yeah, definitely sounds like something worth missing!

    Still outgassing

    ~Jura


  • Jurassic (Bites) Club




    Tyrannosaurus rex vs. Nanotyrannus lancensis

    A few weeks ago the History Channel aired their first in a twelve part series on prehistoric creatures.

    Now, being the History Channel – a subsidiary of Discovery Channel A&E Networks – one would expect this series to detail some aspect of prehistoric life. Well that it does…sort of.

    The series is called: Jurassic Fight Club. Many of you have probably already watched the first three, or four episodes, but for the uninitiated the premise is as follows:

    Imagine all 4.6 billion years of prehistory as being one planet wide cage match somewhat akin to Primal Rage. Each week two animals (usually dinosaurs, but there are the occasional mammals) are pitted against one another.

    Each hour long show is supposedly based off of a real fossil site. For instance the first episode was about a Majungasaurus skeleton that was found with bite marks of another Majungasaurus (erroneously referred to as “Majungatholus” despite paleo-consultant disapproval). One of the recent ones involved the infamous Tenontosaurus tilletti / Deinonychus antirrhopus fossils (a find with one large, dead T.tilletti and a few dead D.antirrhopus nearby. One of the first bits of evidence in favour of pack hunting behaviour in some theropods).

    The show sets the “battle premise” and then seeks to justify its reasoning by cutting to various paleontologists for their take. The paleo crew is fairly diverse and include: Dr. Thomas Holtz Jr. Dr. Larry Witmer and Dr. Phillip J. Currie.

    Okay, so maybe all that doesn’t sound so bad to some of you, but what may seem okay in theory has turned into an utter failure in execution.

    Let me state up front that I immediately left this series for suck back when I first heard the title. It sounded like just another useless “documentary” that is little more than an excuse to watch two CG animals fight each other in order to satisfy some sophomoric need to watch things fight.

    Still, there were proponents of the series (namely the paleo folks that worked on it) that urged the most skeptical of us to give the show a shot. As such, I refrained from commenting on it until now.

    Four episodes in and now even the scientists who helped on it are starting to back away.

    Honestly who could blame them. The show uses minimal information from the actual scientists. The shot of Dr. Witmer comparing theropod maxillae is continuously reused, and I could swear the show spends more time on the non-professional guys than they do the actual scientists.

    This is a problem because it is the non-professional crowd (one fellow in particular) who really bring the show down.

    The show features the likeness of one Dinosaur George Blasing. A quick perusal of his qualifications finds him to be little more than a particularly successful dinosaur fanboy. He apparently makes his living by talking about how cool dinosaurs are, to elementary school children. In effect, he is little different from Dinosaur Don Lessem, who writes books about dinosaurs for children.

    Now don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being an amateur, or a big, but non-professional, dinosaur fan. The problem I have is with History Channel essentially letting the fanboys run the show. This is supposed to be an educational program. History Channel is supposed to be the repository for all things historical. As such, it should be held to a higher standard than, say ABC, or Fox. Yet, here we get to witness the production of another terrible program that only seeks to snatch eyeballs. It offers practically no educational value.

    Frankly that just ticks me off. Jurassic Fight Club is about as terrible as Animal Face Off was (another Discovery Channel property that not only embarrassed the subject matter, but also the scientists involved with it, by forcing them to give trash talk to one another).

    The question that shows like JFC leave me asking is: what audience is it meant for? By seeking out professional paleontologists for their input, one would assume that the makers were looking for scientific accuracy. This, in turn, suggests that the goal is to pass knowledge on to their viewers. Yet, if one can slog through the first episode they will find themselves assaulted with absolutes left and right, tonnes of MTV style quick takes and replays, and a metric tonne of speculation. Each episode ends with Dinosaur George giving “his take” on how the whole story unfolded (complete with the CG animation). Now this sounds like nothing more than Godzilla style popcorn entertainment.

    So which is it? Is JFC trying to be a documentary, or a popcorn flick?

    By trying to do double duty, it comes off as more of mockumentary. A documentary that seeks to mock the subject material in which it presents. When done right, mockumentaries can be great (e.g. This is Spinal Tap), but in cases like this, where the parody does not appear intentional, the result is more of a slap in the face to those of us who do work in the field. To ask for professional advice and then completely ignore it, is a huge insult to both professions. The History Channel people should know better.

    One question that is left from all this is: must we sacrifice scientific accuracy for entertainment, in order to get the knowledge across to the viewers?

    As one person had mentioned on another forum: if scientists were to get the documentary that they wanted, no one would watch it.

    Pardon me if I decide to call bullshit on this one. If one wants to see a documentary that is designed in a way respectful of the subject matter, one need only look at PBS’s NOVA series. Rarely does NOVA falter in their presentation style. Because of this consistent high quality the series tends to be lauded by many in the fields of science.

    Okay, so maybe NOVA is a fluke. Besides, it’s on PBS and we all know how small and concentrated the PBS demographic tends to be. Are there any other examples?

    Plenty.




    David Attenborough – King of great documentaries

    If one really wants to see how to make a series of successful and scientifically sound documentaries, one need only to look over to the UK, and the BBC. In the realm of documentaries, the David Attenborough docs reside in the upper echelon of quality. Not only are Attenborough’s documentaries well done, and accurate, but they are also popular. Planet Earth, one of the latest Attenborough docs, was the most watched cable show of all time. Discovery Channel pulled in 100 million viewers when it first aired in the United States. That is huge for a majour network, much less a cable network (Discovery’s average prime time ratings are around 5 million viewers).

    So not only does a scientifically sound documentary bring in the audience, but it can bring them in droves. When BBC released “Life in Cold Blood,” it was an event in England, bringing in more viewers that the average drama.

    If we head back to the states, we can look at an old staple of children growing up in the 1990s; Bill Nye the Science Guy was a show that garnered a large and devoted fan following. Bill Nye was not only a great presenter and funny comedian, but he was/is also a real scientist. Though the show did its best to avoid using large words (for its young demographic), the show repeatedly and successfully showed off how awesome science was and how amazing the real world is.




    Bill Nye – Champion of science education

    You know why I think these shows did as well as they did? Because they didn’t dumb stuff down. There was no push to show the flashy stuff in order to maintain audience attention (equivalent to showing something shiny to distract a cat). The BBC documentaries, Bill Nye and NOVA all respected the intelligence of their audience, and the audience reciprocated by showing up in droves. People from all walks of life enjoy a good challenge. Today’s current documentarians would benefit from remembering this.

    So for all those scientists who are asked to participate in the next big Sci Fi/Discovery Channel/ABC show/ whatever documentary; I say don’t fear speaking your mind on the importance of keeping the science up to snuff. If the filmmakers start bitching about having to “keep things simple” or removing the science for the sake of “the story,” just tell them:

    That’s not how David Attenborough would do it.

    ~ Jura – who will probably never get a consulting job on one of these shows.