JFC lockjaw

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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

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5 Responses to JFC lockjaw

  1. Avatar Lisa Miller
    Lisa Miller says:

    Geez…you poor old buzzard. Sounds like the rantings of a very jealous somebody. I guess you don’t know the difference between academia and entertainment. Too bad for you.
    However, YOU have mistated several “facts” in your little rant. For instance, if you had done your homework, you would know that JFC was NOT Mr. Blasing’s “pet project”. It WAS the pet project of the powers-to-be at the History Channel. And, he didn’t use any of his funds to make any show. I’m not sure where you got your information on the subject. But, see, how easy it is to put something in print that you believe and then have someone else come along and correct you??

  2. Actually Mr. Blasing himself has talked about how he created the show, both on his blog, and on the Dinosaur Mailing List. He even lists all that he did on the show, on his website. http://www.dinosaurgeorge.com/Jurassic_Fight_Club.php

  3. So if I understand this correctly, Dino George makes it a point to say that the different “experts” had a theory or two that were brought up in the early part of the show during the educational piece and then he used modern animal habits to entertain us with a “what if” scenario of how these animals might have had the wounds, etc found on them.
    Your issue with Dino George is that he has theories that disagree with YOUR theory on the subject and therefore HE is “fanboy”?
    This is interesting for me because I don’t think any of you have a clue what you are talking about HALF of the time and it is hard to figure out which HALF is the correct stuff. So unless you have figured out ALL of it I take your comments to be those of an academic upset that you didn’t make the show as an expert. Spew your sour grapes oh Great Jura, it is your rightful place. On the sidelines. Hating.
    One other quick question; is it a bad thing that Dino George is inspiring all of these young minds to come to Universities to be “straightened out” by the all seeing academics? Just curious.

  4. Avatar Eric Warren
    Eric Warren says:

    I think that the over bashing of George Blasing is unwarranted…Some of the greatest contributors to paleontology over the past 200 years have had far less training than he…Jurassic Fight Club had it’s flaws yes, but no more so than the highly acclaimed “Walking with Dinosaurs” did or any of it’s spinoffs. All shows about paleontolgy are going to be suspect to inaccuracies. That is the nature of the science, and to suggest that the scenarios in the show were wrong, noone can say. Even Dr Holtz, Dr Bakker or Larson can say for sure what exactly dinosaurs did or didn’t do when interacting. It is impossible to do so because fossils cannot tell us facts about behavior. Let alone the fact that dinosaur paleontolgy changes so fast that what is relevant today is debunked tomorrow and back and forth. Take Glut’s encyclopedis set that requires revisions ever 2 years with some information and identifications changed and reversed each supplement. For example the ongoing diagnosis of Tarbosaurus in and out of the genus Tyrannosaurus. It never stops and never will. Paleontolgy is a soft science because there is no absolute hard facts other than this is what we found, how big it is and the apparent relationship to this other one because the way this bone fossilized seems to show that (until another skeleton of the same animal contradicts that). Do not be so quick to slam someone on facts that just aren’t there. It isn’t like discussing the species of crocodilians that you can observe live. You ignorace to the relationship between education and entertainment makes you sound a bit like a typical Hollywood critic intent on blasting an effort to increase interest and awareness by expecting perfection. As far as George Blasing’s credentials or lack of, it is not for you to judge…and calling him names like “fanboy” only makes you sound jealous and ignorant. All paleontologists are fanboys, professional or amateur. Mr. Blasing has done what many fail to do and that is attempt to keep science relevant. No average adult or 8 year old child is interested in hearing a scientist in a lab coat spout off about Tyrannosaurus’ paletal kinesis or variation of sexual dimorphism. (And, yes, blood aside, kids were watching this show.) They want to see T. rex and Allosaurus fighting their prey…they want to see Megalodon attacking toothed whales…The science was presented in lay terms, and alot of it was spot on accurate as far as we can see from fossils, the rest, guess work…just like EVERYTHING in paleontology starts out as. The point of this show was education, entertainment and an attempt at keeping dinosaurs interesting and relevant. Some kid watching may use this show as a springboard to his/her own career in sciences just as many others were inspired by Bakker’s ravings in the ’70s and ’80s (most of which was also pure conjecture and hence debunked). As far as the errors, I think you read too much into the statements and take things literally. Liberal desription is part of entertainment in documentaries…saying Megalodon was as big as a jumbo jet is no worse than calling Liopleurodon an 80foot monster (in actuality it was closer to 35). You have personal problems with Blasing that probably stems from jealousy in the fact that some other amateur is making it big and you aren’t he…Let him do his work and get over it, if you know he makes a mistake, then fine, thats great, I am happy you are so smart or had an encyclopedia handy to look it up in…

    • I’m amazed at how popular these three posts have been. It has been over a year since I wrote them, and yet they still generate a lot of buzz.

      I don’t quite understand your position. On the one hand you seem to be arguing that JFC was meant to be educational, yet when I lashed into the program for some glaring inaccuracies, you seem to defend it as just being entertainment. Which one is it?

      As I mentioned in the posts, my issue was not that JFC was making little – nit picky – errors. JFC was making huge egregious errors. Saying that sharks can taste the water with their skin, or that dromaeosaurs could breathe through their bones, is flat out wrong. This is not an area with much room for argument. We know how air sacs work in birds (and by extension, in dinosaurs). So too do we know how denticles work in sharks. These are simple fact checking errors that deserved to get fixed, and severely hurt the credibility of the show. It is embarrassing to be a paleontologist on shows like these because then you get associated with these cheesy mistakes. Hence all the vitriolic responses to it on the Dinosaur Mailing List, or the anti-fan group on Facebook. For a more recent take on this, see how paleontologist Matt Wedel was misrepresented in Clash of the Dinosaurs, and the fallout from that.

      Also, as someone who was a kid that was interested in dinosaurs, and used documentaries to help fuel that interest, I can say that I was much more entertained listening to scientists talk about what we actually knew, vs watching two dinosaurs go at it in a one on one match. Case in point, the far superior (if dated, and not perfect): 80’s Dinosaur special.

      In the end JFC was just a symptom of the long running problem with the concept of “entertainment documentaries.” An idea that was (unfortunately) started with BBC’s Walking with… series.