More bloodshed: eviscerating “Die Zeit”

Die Zeit” is a German weekly “highly respected for its quality journalism.” [wikipedia] That doesn’t stop it from publishing un-fact-checked utter nonsense. Time to hone the edge of my verbal katana! The Dec. 8, 2011 issue had an article on the new German theropod the disgusting innards of which I would like to dissect with you below the fold.

[Link to pic source]

When the little toothy theropod was first announced “Die Zeit” ran an anrticle on it that was well-written and correct. The online version is, if I recall the dead-tree version correctly, somewhat shorter, and can be found here. Then, for the end of the year, the paper published a series of articles titled “Was wurde aus – XXX?” (“What became of – XXX?“), with news from a wide variety of subjects taking the place of “XXX”. One was titled: “Was wurde aus – dem deutschen Raubsaurier?” (“What became of – the German prdatory dinosaur?“). You can find a translation by me here, from which I will quote below.

This piece by Urs Willmann starts off quite well, but quickly deteriorates into an abysmal hodge-podge of nonsense. The total lack of research and fact checking made obvious by this misguided encephalitic diarrhea is Major League sloppiness, somewhat below the average level of Germany’s worst tabloids. Not something you’d expect to find in a serious daily, and most certainly not in a highbrow weekly, where authors have (comparatively) long deadlines.

Urs Willmann, the author of this journalistic mishap, is an editor of the “Wissen” (Knowledge) resort of “Die Zeit”. You can find his short profile online (German only, sorry).

So what angers me so much about this article? Let’s check for accuracy first.

If a discourse hit on native critters of times long past like Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous, usually, only one name came up: Archäopteryx.

This is Willmann’s first sentence, and already it is pretty much bollocks. If you run a Google picture search for “Dinosaurier Deutschland” you have to scroll way down for the first Archie to show up. Even “Deutschland Jura fossil” makes you fatigue your middle finger on the scroll wheel for a long time before you hit an Archaeopteryx. Starting a piece with one’s own misconception is nothing short of stupid.

The next sentence uses the word “Mischwesen” – that can be translated as “chimera” or “composite creature”,  and refers typically to either mythological animals (sphinx, centaur), to genetic chimeras created for research purposes, and to fakes such as Archaeraptor. Is someone here intentionally using a term that is a typical part of the creationist vocabulary? Or is someone just being ignorant?

Willmann now manages a sentence that does not up my blood pressure. What an achievement! But then, with

Its skeleton reminds us that, by all means, there was diversity of species in times past.

he again presents the strawman argument that people think only of Archie. Bis repetitia….

The next paragraph – well. The fossils certainly has not “roughed up the scene of bone hunters and researchers”. It made a media splash, and its excellent preservation certainly made many researchers happy – but no private collector, no regular fossil hunter or anyone else got their hopes up at buying it, the fossil so far hasn’t been studied in detail (thus, no surprising results published; nor does it look as if it holds any big surprises), and thus “aufmischen” is certainly the wrong word. It simply implies way too much. In fact, the rest of the paragraph makes that pretty clear. Willmann tries to be funny by using the German term “mit ein wenig Haut und Haar“, which is literally wrong: skin, yes, hair, no! However, “mit Haut und Haar“also is a figure of speech, best translated as “neck and crop“. Ah, no, that’s a way of saying “completely“, “entirely“. As “ein wenig” means “a little” or “some“, Willmann really wrote: “a little completely“. DUH! Playing with language can be fun, but this is plain stupid.

And then, Willmann really goes off the deep end: first, he explains that in the Mesozoic the climate in what is today Germany was tropical warm-humid for a long time. Ok so far. Especially OK for the sediments the theropod was found in. 135 million years ago, during the Lower Creatceous (and the finds seems to be from a Lower Creataceous sediment), if this isn’t a typo [135 instead of 153 myo], the climate was warmer and more humid here. Also OK to say that most of Germany was a shallow sea. But then – the horror! Plateosaurus supposedly stomped through the lagoons? AAARRRGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

No, Plateosaurus did not live during the Cretaceous. Not even close!
No, Plateosaurus did not live in an environment dominated by shallow seas!
No, the Late Triassic was NOT a time of marine transgression!
and No, NO, NO!!!!! Plateosaurus was certainly not a shallow-marine or littoral animal! The artistic road accident below notwithstanding.

I searched hard for an image showing an aquatic Plateosaurus, this is the “best” I found, from Marshall’s Art. Cool colors!

Then, Willmann goes for the factoid trip with appeal to the Fox generation: Compsognathus ran at 64 kph, sickle-clawed dinosaurs massacred their prey. Allosaurus lived in Germany (no, there is only a ‘potential allosaurid’), Apatosaurus, Europasaurus and iguanodontids were the cows of the Mesozoic.

 

EDIT: why thank you, wordpress: you failed to save the last update, and now it is all gone.

So Willmann can’t use google, can’t use wikipedia, but instead gives us a badly written nonsense. Furthermore, the article doesn’t live up to the promise in the title: it is a badly written summary, not an update. There is not the tiniest shred of new info in all of it.

Additionally, the forced attempt to sound youthful makes for uncouth, flippant language. OK on a blog, I hope, but only if you’re cautious about not creating mistakes that place you near creationism. “Mischwesen” is such a mistake. Merging the entire Mesozoic into one instant is another. Yuck!

 

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About Heinrich Mallison

I'm a dinosaur biomech guy working at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.
This entry was posted in "Prosauropoda", Dinopics, Dinosauria, Plateosaurus, rants, Sauropodomorpha, Theropoda. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to More bloodshed: eviscerating “Die Zeit”

  1. Schenck says:

    Interesting take down.

    FWIW, I presume ‘Haut und Haar’ might translate (based on you saying it means skin and hair) into English as ‘Hide and Hair”, Hide being the skin of an animal. That translation nicely preserves the alliteration.

  2. I thought this specimen (which I still say is probably a Juravenator) did preserve feathers. This would actually be a surprising result given Rauhut and Foth (2011) finding both to be megalosauroids. Indeed, finding something as compsognathidy as Juravenator in Megalosauroidea would be another suprising result, and would show we need to be better at coding juveniles.

  3. Marcel says:

    As a native speaker i am always amused reading about local (German) dinosaur fossils because most of these articles about german dinosaur fossils are really bad. But sometimes the press releases of some scientiest are bad too. Some months ago i posted something about such a bad article on my blog, check this: http://saurierzeit.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/ein-theropodenzahn-aus-balve/ (yeah its on geman, sorry).

  4. The last part about Plateosaurus is surely indicative that whoever wrote the article didn’t do his/her research beforehand. I’m wondering why I’m still attempting to publish articles at science magazines by this point when articles like this get published.

  5. Marc Vincent says:

    The British Telegraph – a ‘quality’ paper – used to publish palaeo-related articles that were as bad as what the tabloids had to offer (describing anything large, reptilian and dead as a ‘dinosaur’ was just the start). Thankfully, they appear to have cleaned up their act a bit.

    Describing Plateosaurus as a Cretaceous dinosaur reminds me of the endless books that plonked Megalosaurus and Iguanodon in the same scene. They both lived in Britain, so they MUST have lived at the same time! (Yeah, I know Iguanodon might not have lived in Britain, but Mantellisaurus hadn’t been named back then…)

    By the way, there’s no need to apologise for linking to German-only sites. I love German. I need to learn how to read it properly again…

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