You occasionally come across someone’s effort to correct an error, but the correction itself is more wrongheaded than Ronald McDonald with the face of Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
Science Insider/Tech Insider decided to try and make some noise about the fifth installment in the Jurassic Park series, under the guise of promoting scientific literacy.
For the most part, they fail spectacularly. Here’s the video:
I don’t know, Blue doesn’t look amused. Copyright Universal.
How does this video’s content manage to bungle the already-questionable science of Jurassic World? Well, we’re about to find out.
After twice seeing “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” and loving it, I think it’s time for a thorough, old-fashioned fisking.
Fair warning, this goes on for a while. The video’s words will be in bold. For the sake of logic and scientific literacy, here goes:
The newest Jurassic World installment is upon us like a hungry T. rex, who doesn’t have any feathers for some reason.
[Cue obnoxious question marks]
Apart from the ongoing debate about feathers in the lineage of Tyrannosaurs that included T. rex, there’s a very simple reason for this: it’s the same car-stomping, Raptor-tossing, lawyer-eating Tyrannosaurus rex from the original Jurassic Park.
Were you expecting her to sprout plumage in her old age? A fashionable feather boa for a night on the town, perhaps? No. She’s bare and proud.
Some paleontologists have given lip service to the need of maintaining continuity, then complain anyway. But if you’re a storyteller, continuity is going to be one of the biggest concerns. If you’re depicting the same animal, you cannot ignore continuity without shattering that whole “suspension of disbelief” thing.
The case for feathers on T. rex isn’t a very solid one, by the way. At the moment, most of what we’re getting is excuses about why we haven’t found Rex feathers yet. “The soil wasn’t right to preserve them,” “the scale impressions we’ve found were not on parts of the body where you’d expect feathers,” etc. But if we find a Rex (or close cousin) with feathers, then I’ll eat crow with some humble pie a la mode.
1. Many dinosaurs had feathers.
Yes, this has been established, and pointed out ad nauseum. Thank you.
In fact, the point has been so belabored, that the previous movie had Dr. Wu point out what was obvious since Crichton published Jurassic Park in 1990:
Nothing in Jurassic World is natural! We have always filled gaps in the genome with the DNA of other animals, and if their genetic code was pure, many of them would look quite different. But you didn’t ask for reality. You asked for more teeth!”
That right there should have ended paleontologists taking offense at inaccurate dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park universe. Not only is their DNA fragmented and necessarily patched up with other species, but InGen built a theme park with designer animals, crafted to match market expectations of what a dinosaur “ought to” look like.
It doesn’t match reality, but more people still find a scaly raptor more appealing. You’ll draw a bigger crowd with a Mosasaurus the size of a blue whale, rather than the genuine article, which was “only” the length of a tractor trailer.
2. Genetics doesn’t work that way.
This is Jurassic Park 5, and you’re just now figuring that out?
Actually, the video entirely misses the real issue with genetics. They can’t even correct the right inaccuracy:
Sure, some species can breed. That’s how you get a Liger. But the Indoraptor isn’t like a liger. It’s a mix of a type of Tyrannosaur and Raptor, two very different kinds of animals!
Well, that’s kind of right. It’s a hybrid between a Raptor and the Indominus (HENCE THE NAME INDORAPTOR), but the Indominus’ base genome was a T. rex. Close enough.
It would be more like if you tried to breed a lion with a wolf instead. It’s just not going to happen. The DNA isn’t compatible.
Do I really have to say it?
I have to say it, don’t I? [Sigh] Fine!
Tech Insider is playing the part of the investor of questionable intelligence from the first Jurassic World, asking how they got two different kinds of dinosaurs to mate and produce the Indominus.
Just one problem: InGen was not engaging in selective breeding! I thought that had been thoroughly established once we saw DNA being extracted from amber-entombed mosquitos, but someone didn’t get the memo.
To quote Dr. Wu again:
Oh, the Indominus wasn’t bred. She was designed.
InGen adopted the other way to create a hybrid: combine DNA from different types of animals and integrate them into a new whole: the Indoraptor. That’s how they patched up dino-DNA enough to get any animals in the first place.
Ironically, that is much more difficult than selective breeding, since DNA is such a complicated and finicky molecule. And genetic barriers between different types of animals are going to place a huge limit on artificial hybridization for many years to come.
But part of the movies’ whole premise is that InGen somehow figured out how to get around those barriers. Dinosaurs get frog DNA, and now they can change sex and reproduce. The Indominus uses its cuttlefish DNA to camouflage and tree frog DNA to hide from thermal cameras.
Pretty laughable if you’re a geneticist, but when it comes to suspension of disbelief, you’re either on board with that or not. If you go to a Star Wars movie, you know there will be sound in space. You either accept that or you do not.
3. Dinosaurs didn’t roar….their voice box was probably similar to a bird’s.
Where to even start? This all stems from one voice box that resembled a duck’s, recovered from a small dinosaur that actually was kind of birdlike.
But fossils do not preserve everything that goes into animal vocalizations. All those soft, squishy parts are way more likely to rot than fossilize. Go figure.
We can find some clues, but little to nothing that is conclusive. Did T. rex roar? Maybe.
Plus, to state the obvious, dinosaurs were an incredibly diverse group of animals. This is just as irrational as saying all mammals sound alike.
4. Raptors had wings.
Yes, it seems that was the case. Dakotaraptor and Velociraptor do seem to have bumps on their arm bones that would serve as anchoring points for large quill-like feathers. But see Dr. Wu’s point above. These are InGen’s designer raptors, patched together and reassembled into a different organism.
5. Dinosaurs were colorful. Yeah, Jurassic World’s dinosaurs are way too dull.
Ah, I see someone got their hands on a DeLorean and went on a little Jurassic Safari. Now they can confidently state that the species in the film are not even colored right. Glad we got that cleared up.
Sure, earth tones like green and brown are common in today’s reptiles, but paleontologists have found that dinosaurs came in a kaleidoscope of bright colors, just like today’s birds.
Now they’re generalizing two groups of diverse animals, not just one. Plenty of birds have dull or earthen tones, like sparrows and partridges. Not everything is going to be a peacock or macaw. And plenty of reptiles have spectacular colors, like rainbow boas and agamas and chameleons. It’s not just alligators and Komodo dragons.
In living animals, even the same species can exhibit stark differences in coloration, depending on sex, stage of life, environment, etc.
We have to also keep in mind the fact that in larger animals, there is a higher prevalence of dull or uniform colors. Elephants, rhinos, tapirs, hippos, gorillas, etc. But there are exceptions as well, like giraffes. And in Jurassic World, most of the dinosaurs are huge. I tend toward thinking the same prevalence of dull colors occurred in the big ones, but I’ve never seen one alive.
Point being, the animal world is complicated.
If you have gotten all the way through this, thank you. It is much appreciated.
For a long rant, there’s a very simple lesson here: Don’t get your science education from Hollywood blockbusters! Enjoy the ride, but remember to pick up a book or go to a science website if you have a question.
Second lesson: if you’re going to nitpick a movie like it’s supposed to be a museum exhibit in some quest to make yourself hip and relevant, have at it. But be careful to not make mistakes of your own, and make your audience doubly misinformed!