Scientists in virtually every field are repeatedly inundated by popular science. I do not mean “popular science” as in science popularized by scientists or other people who has taken the time and made an effort to understand science and present it in a way that accurately reflects what the data actually says. There are numerous people who are excellent at this kind of popular science. I refer, rather, to the gap-headed oncophores in mass media and private industry, whose business it is not to make the public understand science and its legion of offspring (data), but to make a flashy product out of it to sell to the kind of people who wear hats indoors. They typically do so by a cunning mixture of disinterest in quality, ignorance, blending of fact and fiction, and flat-out dishonesty, in a process that may be called “mis-science”.
One recent example of this is the Dinosaur exhibition at Universeum, allegedly the largest (mis-)science center in Scandinavia, located in Gothenburg. Take a look at the following:
This is supposed to be a Dilophosaurus wetherelli, a pretty early Theropoda. But, you say, is there not something indefinably wrong with this model?
However, there is something quite definably wrong with this model, and that is that it has a neck frill.
Dilophosaurus wetherelli lived 201-189 million years ago, according to Dinowiki’s page on the genus. It was apparently discovered in 1942, and described in 1954 as Megalosaurus wetherelli, however it was given its own genus in 1970. Only in 1993, when Jurassic Park was filmed, did it acquire a frill. Thus, despite having had NO frill for the 22 million years it is estimated it lived, NO frill during the subsequent 189 million years until it was discovered, NO frill when it was described in 1954, NO frill when it was moved to its own genus in 1970, it suddenly acquired a frill when it became a piece of entertainment.
Because sometimes nature just isn’t good enough.
But why the anger? Are artists such as Steven Speilberg not allowed to exercise what artists call “artistic license”, but which is secretly known among scientists as “mysteriously being ineligible for a library card and thus being unable to do research” any longer? Must poets and film makers yield to the iron heel of science?
Of course not. I, too, liked Jurassic Park, and despite being entirely baseless embellishments, within the context of Jurassic Park I have no problem accepting that Dilophosaurus is not only the wrong size and has a frill, but that it also spits cow dung which magically kills fat thieves. This is because Jurassic Park is fiction. Nowhere in Jurassic Park does it claim to be the largest Science Movie in Scandinavia.
Universeum does, and still decided to favour mis-science over science. And they don’t do it unaware! No, they even BRAG about it on their information material:
The last line reads:
Some people believe that Dilophosaurus [sic!] spat out poison to defend itself. What do you think?
It appears that Universeum is under the misapprehension that there is no “right” and “wrong”, only opinons, which may be well-informed — as is mine — or ill-informed — as is that of any child or adult who makes the mistake of assuming that Universeum doesn’t lie to them.
Because regardless of how you look at it, that is sort of what they are doing. There is no category “Some people” in the real world who do believe that. That is something that was made up in a book/film. If they had written “some people believe that, but there is no evidence” or “Some people, excluding anyone who has ever read anything about dinosaurs, believe that” or “Some people, that is people who know too little about dinosaurs and/or cannot separate fact from fiction, believe that”, they would perhaps have had a point. Because “some people” don’t believe that at all — at least if “some people” is meant to include people whose opinion is based on facts.