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.
|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:
|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.
|“||@Allochthonous I recommend checking out the kraken abstract author’s faculty profile for insight: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/facultyprofiles/ma_mcmenamin.html|
|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…
Also, people started wondering exactly why the press office of a professional geological society was promoting what is essentially speculative link-bait.
But no-one has to ponder is why this story got so much traction in the first place.