End of Year

Did Flatulence Kill Off the Dinosaurs?

Several news agencies have been reporting on “research” into dinosaur behavior by a team of British scientists at John Moores University in Liverpool. JMU is not one of the elite Russell Group of universities, but even so these “findings” are being taken seriously.

The report on which I will comment was published in the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, and can be found in their online edition. The report is entitled “Dinosaurs passing wind may have caused climate change.”1 I thought of using an American agency’s report, but Fox News online used a word in their headline that is very rude to a Brit (though not to an American!) and I cannot yet bring myself to use it.

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The Point

The thesis of the article is that large, sauropod dinosaurs must have produced a great deal of methane gas as part of their digestive processes, which would have been excreted. Methane has the well-known (and overhyped) “Greenhouse Gas” properties; indeed, it traps more heat than the much-maligned carbon dioxide. According to the Telegraph article, the scientists state: “Our calculations suggest that these dinosaurs could have produced more methane than all modern sources — both natural and man-made — put together.” It is this conjecture that has led to the humorous headlines for the report around the world.

How was the research conducted?

In the article, we read that the scientists “began to wonder about Mesozoic methane while investigating sauropod ecology” (emphasis added). How does one investigate sauropod ecology? Do they have a time machine? Is Dr. Who on the staff at JMU? When I was a science teacher in state comprehensive schools in Britain (the sort of school known in the U.S. as “public school”), we taught pupils that investigation involved developing testable hypotheses, then developing repeatable experiments that would test the hypothesis. How does one test the hypothesis that sauropods were suffering from a lack of Rolaids? It would appear that this sauropod ecology research is only slightly more sophisticated than that of Hansel and Gretel on the properties of gingerbread as a construction material.

Fuzzy Words

Articles of this type always contain “fuzzy” words. I use this term2 to denote phrases used in scientific articles that indicate that the scientists are actually using conjecture rather than real scientific facts. The Telegraph article contains many fuzzy words, such as:

Like huge cows, the mighty sauropods would have generated enormous quantities of methane (emphasis added to indicate fuzzy words).

A simple mathematical model suggests that the microbes living in sauropod dinosaurs may have produced enough methane to have an important effect on the Mesozoic climate.

A Mesozoic methane mixing ratio of six to eight ppm seems very plausible.

Assumptions

The overwhelming majority of the article contains such examples of fuzzy words. Two additional sentences in the article give assumptions which are unprovable.

Medium-sized sauropods weighed about 20 tonnes and lived in herds of up to a few tens of individuals per square kilometre.

This quote suggests a degree of knowledge about the behavior of sauropods. How can it possibly be known whether or not the sauropods lived in herds, or how big or dense those herds were?

The Mesozoic trend to sauropod gigantism led to the evolution of immense microbial vats unequalled in modern land animals.

This sentence assumes evolution to be true, without offering any evidence. The sentence is not only illogical, but also contrary to Darwinist ideas, because it suggests that evolution is led rather than random.

Genuine Science

When all these pieces of conjecture are analyzed, we find that the article contains only four sentences of actual factual science.

[Sauropods] included some of the largest animals to walk the Earth, such as Diplodocus, which measured 150 feet and weighed up to 45 tonnes.

Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, with a stronger ability to trap heat.

The figure is comparable to total natural and man-made methane emissions today. Before the start of the industrial age, about 150 years ago, methane emissions were around 181 million tonnes per year.

Modern ruminant animals, including cows, goats, and giraffes, together produce 45 to 90 million tonnes of methane.

If the article had contained only these four sentences, however, it would have been a great deal duller, and would not have offered any support for evolutionary beliefs. As it is, it would appear that not only large dinosaurs produced volumes of hot air.

  1. Dinosaurs passing wind may have caused climate change. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/dinosaurs/9250032/Dinosaurs-passing-wind-may-have-caused-climate-change.html
  2. The term “fuzzy words” was suggested to me by creation speaker Mike Riddle, president of the Creation Training Initiative, < http://www.creationtraining.org/ >

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