Geotweeps Discuss...

Informative and/or fun conversations between the geological community on Twitter, archived for posterity.

Oct 10

GSA Jumps the Kraken?

The kooky conference abstract that no-one takes seriously inevitably becomes the star of the show.

Our story begins a couple of weeks ago, when a geotweep looking through the abstracts for the upcoming Geological Society of America conference comes across a rather…. fanciful…submission.

TRIASSIC KRAKEN: THE BERLIN ICHTHYOSAUR DEATH ASSEMBLAGE INTERPRETED AS A GIANT CEPHALOPOD MIDDEN
The Luning Formation at Berlin‑Ichthyosaur State Park, Nevada, hosts a puzzling assemblage of at least 9 huge (≤14 m) juxtaposed ichthyosaurs (Shonisaurus popularis). Shonisaurs were cephalopod‑eating predators comparable to sperm whales (Physeter). Hypotheses presented to explain the apparent mass mortality at the site have included: tidal flat stranding, sudden burial by slope failure, and phytotoxin poisoning.

We all had a good chuckle about this on Twitter, but the odd eccentric conference submission is not unusual (getting an abstract accepted for a conference is light years away from getting a paper accepted for publication in terms of the scientific scrutiny involved), so we quickly moved on to other ways of distracting us from the talks we should be writing.


But it seems that within the press office of the GSA, someone looked past the lack of compelling evidence to find the compelling headline. And thus, we get this:

GSA press release - Giant Kraken Lair Discovered
Boulder, CO, USA - Long before whales, the oceans of Earth were roamed by a very different kind of air-breathing leviathan. Snaggle-toothed ichthyosaurs larger than school buses swam at the top of the Triassic Period ocean food chain, or so it seemed before Mount Holyoke College paleontologist Mark McMenamin took a look at some of their remains in Nevada.
Which leads to this:
Giant ‘kraken’ lair discovered: Cunning sea monster that preyed on ichthyosaurs
Long before whales, the oceans of Earth were roamed by a very different kind of air-breathing leviathan. Snaggle-toothed ichthyosaurs larger than school buses swam at the top of the Triassic Period ocean food chain, or so it seemed before paleontologist Mark McMenamin took a look at some of their remains in Nevada.
Giant prehistoric krakens may have sculpted self-portraits using ichthyosaur bones
For decades, paleontologists have puzzled over a fossil collection of nine Triassic icthyosaurs (Shonisaurus popularis) discovered in Nevada’s Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. Researchers initially thought that this strange grouping of 45-foot-long marine reptiles had either died en masse from a poisonous plankton bloom or had become stranded in shallow water.

And so on. And so on. Which leads to much headdesking and rending of hair:

Sigh. Of all the cool geoscience stories being presented as #GSAMinn, media is all over the most evidence-light one. http://bit.ly/pP0jem
Allochthonous
October 10, 2011
'super-intelligent Triassic KRAKEN!!' sounds exciting, the more accurate 'we've found some ichthyosaurs & they're arranged funny' less so.
Allochthonous
October 10, 2011
@Allochthonous They can get away with spouting nonsense statements @ conferences because..no peer review! once a MS is submitted, forget it
shaenasaurus
October 10, 2011
@Allochthonous “media is all over the most evidence-light one. null” <— To call that “evidence-light” is EXTREMELY generous.
SauropodMike
October 10, 2011
@SauropodMike well, ‘evidence free’ is the most evidence-light you can get ;-)
Allochthonous
October 10, 2011
.@Allochthonous That makes my brain hurt.
Laelaps
October 10, 2011
.@Allochthonous And I see ‘Release the Kraken’ headlines have already started to pop up. Some days, I hate the news.
Laelaps
October 10, 2011
@Laelaps What’s funny is that @drjerque found the abstract a few weeks ago and all we geotweeps had a good chuckle about it’s absurdity.
Allochthonous
October 10, 2011
.@Allochthonous @drjerque Yeah, I heard some of the scuttlebutt during my museum rounds in CA. General response: ‘WTF?’
Laelaps
October 10, 2011
Which was also Brian’s reaction to the brain-dead churnalism that masqueraded as reporting of this story…
The Giant, Prehistoric Squid That Ate Common Sense
We have a serious problem with science journalism. A big one, in fact, and today that problem takes the form of a giant, prehistoric squid with tentacles so formidable that it has sucked the brains right out of staff writer’s heads.
@Laelaps Lead author Mark McMenamin has a track record of having some rather… idiosyncratic ideas.
Allochthonous
October 10, 2011
@Allochthonous I recommend checking out the kraken abstract author’s faculty profile for insight: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/facultyprofiles/ma_mcmenamin.html
stressrelated
October 10, 2011
And it is indeed an interesting read.
Mark McMenamin :: Academics :: Mount Holyoke College
SpecializationEvolution and history of life; evolution of the atmosphere; Ediacaran fossils; Hypersea theory; Proterozoic supercontinent Rodinia; Vladimir Vernadsky’s The Biosphere; Corneille Jean Koene; Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; convergent evolution; development and spread of biological and human innovations Whether he’s teaching an introductory course on the History of Life or embarking on an archeological expedition, geologist and paleontologist Mark McMenamin maintains a spirit of disc…
Meanwhile, some scratched their heads over how someone could see ichthyosaur bones and conclude ‘cephalopod art studio’.
"The vertebral disc "pavement" [may be] the earliest known self portrait." Right. Makes sense. http://bit.ly/rfUsv4 via @Allochthonous
kwinkunks
October 10, 2011
.@kwinkunks It’s a definite #Occamfail. And I thought palaeontologists were into parsimony…
Allochthonous
October 10, 2011
@Allochthonous I’d give anything to have heard some of those conversations… “Come on, it *can’t* be a coincidence… LOOK AT THEM!”
kwinkunks
October 10, 2011
Odd arrangement of fallen leaves today, in shape of skull and crossbones. Conclude enormous, hyper-intelligent, invisible spaghetti monster.
lockwooddewitt
October 10, 2011
And, back at the conference itself, the talk went about as expected.
McMenimen’s ‘Triassic Kraken’ talk went as expected: lots and lots of conjecture #gsaminn
JurassicMatt
October 10, 2011
@JurassicMatt Any questions, or did people just want to get back to more robust palaeo stuff?
Allochthonous
October 10, 2011
@Allochthonous unfortunately he went a bit long, so no time for questions. Audience gave out a collective “awww” and chuckled
JurassicMatt
October 10, 2011

Also, people started wondering exactly why the press office of a professional geological society was promoting what is essentially speculative link-bait. 

Has GSA jumped the kraken? http://bit.ly/owYO5P
rschott
October 10, 2011
As the silly Kraken story continues to spread, could @geosociety give some insight into why they pushed out a press release about it?
Allochthonous
October 10, 2011
@Allochthonous Do you really have to ask?
chronsciguy
October 10, 2011
@chronsciguy Probably not. I can be disappointed though.
Allochthonous
October 10, 2011
@Allochthonous Yes you can. As a reporter the evidence was definitely flimsy, but hey, it’s a great story!
chronsciguy
October 10, 2011
@Allochthonous I think every author has the opportunity to create a press release? @geosociety allows authors to self-promote.
stressrelated
October 10, 2011
@stressrelated @Allochthonous If GSA is going do a kraken press release one might at least expect them to seek comment from other geologists
rschott
October 10, 2011

But no-one has to ponder is why this story got so much traction in the first place.

@Allochthonous I don’t care that it’s not true, I want it to be true.
JoshRosenau
October 10, 2011


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