Painful prose; “The Fate of the Dinosaurs”

20 04 2007

I’ve read plenty of bad books in my time (I do have Dinosaurs by Design and The Big Bang Never Happened in my library, after all), but I really have to hand it to Antony Milne; The Fate of the Dinosaurs: New Perspectives in Evolution & Extinction has to be one of the absolute worst books I’ve ever read. At least with creationist literature I know it’s going to be bad and I expect magical thinking, but Mine’s book is attempting to actually be a nonfiction book and is absolutely appalling.

Before I go into the big mistake that prompted this blog post, it’s worth noting that the book has enough errors in scientific grammer, syntax, and capitalization to frustrate even the most patient reader. Did you think the plural of genus was genera? Well according to Milne you’re wrong; it’s “geni”. That is, of course, if you can remember to capitalize genus names (Milne doesn’t). He also makes some cryptic remarks about Darwinism and certain organisms/systems being exempt from natural selection, although his ideas are never fully expounded upon. I’m sure there are plenty of other errors as well, as Milne devotes the first part of the book to earth’s origins and the origin of life, but it was so dreadfully boring that I skipped most of it. Simply stating fact after fact is not the way to write a good science book.

So here’s the part that really piqued my curiosity. On page 71 Milne writes;

T. Rex was a terrible-looking carnivore, some 15 metres long and 5 metres high, as tall as a giraffe and weighing over 8 tons fully grown. It inhabited plateaux and lowlands of the Cretaceous and preyed on duckbilled dinosaurs such as the giant sauropodmorphs. In 1989, paleontologists from the University of Colorado discovered, in Colorado, the remains of an even more ferocious predator than T. Rex, it was 16 metres long, weighed about 4 tons and walked crouched forward on three-toed back legs. It had a long, powerful tail like a giant version of Allosaurus, the common carnivorous dinosaur whose fossils have been regularly discovered from the Jurassic strata. Supersaurus was probably the biggest creature ever to walk on Earth. It was an extraordinary 32 meteres long, weighing possibly up to 100 tons. Supersaurus is not to be confused with Megalosaurus (‘giant reptile’), a lizard-hipped carnosaur living in the Jurassic and the very first dinosaur to be named and described, looking like a smaller Tyrannosaurus.

The author seems so proud that he has an amalgamation of facts that he trips right over them, spilling them left and right. The first time I read this it seemed like he was saying that Supersaurus was the giant predator in question, and after a web search I could not find any mention of any theropod dinosaur larger than Tyrannosaurus coming out of Colorado in 1989. In fact, the only thing I could find from around the 1989 period in Colorado was this paper about Aublysodon, the genus now widely considered to be juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex (although the fact that all the remains deemed Aublysodon are fragmentary make diagnosis difficult).

You may not have caught it either (I missed it the first time) but Milne refers to “duckbilled dinosaurs” as sauropodmorphs, which makes me wonder if he had any familiarity with dinosaurs at all prior to writing this book. At this point I would love to just do away with the book, but I have a bit of a morbid curiosity about what is to come; how bad can it possibly get? While Milne’s intent to write a book encompassing the best knowledge of evolution and extinction of dinosaurs circa 1991 is appreciated, it seems like the text was churned out over the course of a weekend with no peer-review or input from outside sources, and I hope that there are no confused children trying to make the case that ornithiscian dinosaurs are really sauropods as a result of this book hanging around on a dusty library shelf (my copy is actually from the San Diego Library, so at least I know the children there are safe).


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4 responses

23 04 2007
TheBrummell

By his description (if I’m reading his mangled prose correctly), T. rex was 15m long and 8 tonnes, unclearly-named-“more ferocious predator” was 16m long and 4 tonnes. Huh? So something slightly longer than ol’ rexy but half the mass was much more fearsome?

I don’t know how you kept going. That’s absolutely terrible writing.

23 04 2007
laelaps

I noticed that after I initially wrote this post as well; every time I re-read the paragraph it got worse and worse.

I actually didn’t finish the book; I skipped to the end to see if there was anything that would salvage the rest of it, but there was nothing coherent there. My other favorite flub from this book was the author’s assertion that the “dinosaur” Dimetrodon regulated heat with it’s “bony frill” on the back of its head.

23 04 2007
TheBrummell

…the “dinosaur” Dimetrodon regulated heat with it’s “bony frill” on the back of its head.

My brain hurts already, I feel tired and blah-y, I need to go outside for a bit of a walk then come back and get some useful things done. So I dropped by here first, just to see if you’d seen my previous WTF? moment; you have. And now my brain hurts much more.

I can feel the bony frill on the back of my head overheating and sending stabby pains behind my eyeballs. GAH!

24 04 2007
laelaps

I’m sorry my post addled your brain; if you turn your frill so it’s not catching most of the sunlight then you should cool down (but not too much! We don’t need you going into a torpor either).

Perhaps my favorite WTF?! moment stems from the bad italian monster flick Devil Fish. Pointing to a slide that’s a blurry painting on the theme of Dunkleosteus, the “scientist” says “And this was the Pseudogaleus waltan, which lived during the Cetaceous period.”

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