You may have seen several news stories yesterday claiming evidence of the Kraken’s existence was sought out even one comment from an outside source in the same field of science, something which is supposed to separate the serious news outlets from us mere bloggers.
Here’s a very quick layman’s summary: the fossilized remains of some large ichthyosaurs of the Late Triassic period were found in a pile at Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada (picture at right). The cause of their death and close grouping are unknown, but it could be something as simple as red tide that killed these marine reptiles. At the Geological Society meeting, Mark McMenamin and his wife Dianna Schulte-McMenamin presented the speculation that a kraken not only killed these huge beasts, but also intelligently arranged them to make a midden (which would conceal its den’s entrance). They also estimate the kraken’s length to be 30 meters. But here’s the thing: there isn’t a single piece of direct evidence for this beast which they somehow know the length of despite having no direct evidence of it. Their evidence for a 30-meter-long kraken consists of some dead ichthyosaurs in a pile, which could have been killed and drifted to the same spot on the sea bed in any number of less kraken-related ways. And as for the way the fossils are “arranged”? Pareidolia.
Unfortunately, some news outlets were far too ready to believe in a sea-obscured beast ready to wreck A Ship Called Hope, while others were thankfully skeptical:
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Esteemed scientist and science communicator Carl Sagan reminded us of that throughout his career, but the message didn’t sink in at some newdesks. All you have to do is track the news of the “kraken” to see that recycling press releases often counts for “science news” right now. Jeanna Bryner of LiveScience swallowed the big squid story whole and had her version regurgitated at FOX and CBS News. Dean Praetorius of the Huffington Post, Houston Chronicle’s “Sci Guy” Eric Berger, and TG Daily’s Kate Taylor also took the bait. Who could resist a sensational, super-sized squid? Only Cyriaque Lamar of io9 sounded a minor note of skepticism — “But the possibility of finding that which is essentially a gargantuan mollusk’s macaroni illustration?”, Lamar wrote, “That’s the kind of glorious crazy you hope is reality.” [WIRED]
The thing is, it doesn’t take much journalistic effort to simply be a bit skeptical or, for that matter, to look up the name “McMenamin” and see what other bold claims have been made:
After I read the abstract and realization settled in that this was nonsense, something else was nagging me. That name, McMenamin — I’d heard it somewhere before. A little search, and there it was: I’ve encountered him tangentially before. He’s the geologist who so effulgently endorsed the imaginative pattern-spotting of Stuart Pivar. He also claims “that mariners of ancient Carthage made it to America long before Eriksson and Columbus, some time around 350 BC.” [PZ Myers]
And it didn’t take long before we saw a backlash from some internet pranksters:
In the wee hours today, someone updated the last line of McMenamin’s Wikipedia entry to include his latest news: “He has earned the nickname McMinimal from his colleagues due to the perceived poor quality of his research, such as suggesting that Agnostids are cannibals and claiming that the Kraken was a real beast.” [Discovery]
As for the possibility of a heartless Jörmungandr pulling dinosaurs into the briny depths of the sea, I asked the guard velociraptor at UPROXX headquarters, Dr. Chauncey Brookes-Ashdown, for an objective expert’s comment:
Chauncey gets very uppity when he thinks his opponent doesn’t exist.