Guest post: Prose Pasts

A guest post from Benjamin Chandler, with many thanks to Benjamin. 

We’re nearly at the end of August but there’s still time to squeeze in a good book before summer holiday is over. Usually summer reads feature people as protagonists—a quirky detective, an unfaithful Russian aristocrat, a wanderlusting whaler—but this is not always the case. Animals can take the protagonist’s role, too. Indeed, some of the first stories children hear have animal heroes instead of human ones, such as “The Three Little Pigs” or “The Little Red Hen”. Later, as children read on their own, they find beastly heroes in Black Beauty, Bambi, and Charlotte’s Web. Even as adults, readers engage with animal protagonists in books like Watership Down.

But what about prehistoric animals? Do they get to share the fictional limelight? Certainly! No doubt most folks in the paleo community are familiar with Robert Bakker’s Raptor Red, a novel following the life of a Utahraptor and the Cretaceous creatures that share her world. Bakker hoped the book would allow him to explore ideas about dinosaur behavior and help readers imagine these ancient creatures as living things. His characters hunt, sleep, fight rivals, build nests, and raise families, but also explore and play. One of the book’s most memorable scenes is of Utahraptors sliding down snowy hills in play much as corvids do today.

Bakker’s 1995 novel is just the most famous example of an author using prehistoric animals as their protagonists. Paleofiction has a legacy that reaches almost as far back as the popularization of paleontology.

Charles H. Sternberg, an early 20th century fossil hunter and poet, composed several books about his discoveries, describing dusty Kansas chalk beds, horrific thunderstorms, and curious locals. In Hunting Dinosaurs in the Bad Lands of the Red Deer River, Alberta, Canada (1917) Sternberg made his adventures less of the book’s focus and spends long passages describing antediluvian scenes. Chasmosaurs root in vegetation, ankylosaurs mow down meadows, and hadrosaurs of all manner wade through reeds and swamps. Sometimes Sternberg presents these scenes as imaginative reconstructions, other times these are described as dreams.

Sternberg’s prose is colorful. He paints vivid pictures that, although dated by today’s science, are evocative of a lost era. Here he describes the battle between a Trachodon and a Gorgosaurus:

The noble lizard seeing that he could not escape his foe, bravely faces him. As if to hurry the end, he exposes the most vulnerable part of his body, by rising on his hind limbs. The enemy hurls himself at full length upon his defenseless victim; with great claws of hardened horn, full ten inches long, he rips his body down and red blood floods the mossy way. As he falls to earth and death, this tyrant, of those early days, tears open his body, and feeds on the quivering flesh and running blood in the very shelter of the redwood forest. The awful terror of the scene kept me well out of reach in the water. I was overcome with the shock, coming so swiftly in the peaceful woods. The sun was not darkened, the perfume of flowers filled the air, the gentle breeze sighed in the branches overhead, showing that nature knows no pity, no mercy. That death is inevitable, and still nature’s beauty, her changing seasons go on for time.

As can be seen in the paragraph’s end, Sternberg inserted himself into this story as an observer. He often pops up in his paleofiction passages to give a pithy comments about nature and God, or insert facts about various beasts’ lengths and weights, or note at which collections their bones now reside. He is clearly writing to inform as well as entertain. A rather touching length of the book features the ghost of Sternberg’s real-life late daughter. She comes to him in a dream of Cretaceous Kansas, and together they explore the beaches of the Niobraran Sea.

One of the most popular dinosaur books for several generations was Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles (1960) written by Jane Werner Watson and illustrated by Rudolph F. Zallinger. Much can be said about Zallinger’s illustrations; they are gorgeous, lush, and evocative, and likely what most readers remember of the book, but here we will discuss Watson’s text. Watson wrote dozens of children’s books, ranging from science books to Bible story retellings, from The Happy Little Whale to A Parade of Soviet Holidays. Her skills as an author are evident in Dinosaurs. Instead of dryly listing details about each animal and its environment, she composes stories that follow the actions of these creatures. The text matches the illustrations, sometimes extrapolating whole scenes from one image. For example, one of Zallinger’s paintings for the book features a troop of grouchy-looking Protoceratopses and a duo of lanky Oviraptors meeting over white sand and exposed nests of eggs. To pair with it, Watson wrote:

Watch! One egg, then another begins to quiver and crack. They are ready to hatch. The first baby crawls out. It has no bony cap as yet. That will come as it grows up. Now it is just very small and weak. And from the looks of things, it may not live to grow up. For here comes a hungry hunter.

The hunter is very small for a dinosaur, only about three feet long. Although he is hungry, meat is not the kind of meal he wants, for he has no teeth. Sucking eggs is his idea of a feast. This is why scientists of today call him Oviraptor, which means Egg Stealer….

The sky darkens. A cold wind rises. The wind sends stones rattling across the ground. It sends clouds of sand rolling and tumbling. Oviraptor feels the sting of the needle-like sand grains. He crouches on the nest, hiding his head. The sand slithers along. It piles up, drifting over the nest and eggs. It drifts over Oviraptor too.

The wind dies down. The sand settles. And now the desert is bare of life.

Watson’s prose, like Sternberg’s, is written in present tense, as if the reader was watching the scenes unfold. It is an effective way of bringing the reader into the images and the world they try to recreate.

But these tales are meant to inform as much as entertain. What about pure fiction without an educational mission?

More than once the pulps published stories that featured dinosaur protagonists. Often these leaned heavily into violent melodrama. They were the pulps, after all.

“The Way of the Dinosaur” is one of these uber-violent tales. Written by Harley S. Aldinger and published in the April, 1928, issue of Amazing Stories, this story packs as much saurian slaughter into the text as possible. Cayna, a Tyrannosaurus, is the story’s focus and he is introduced thusly:

His little, red-rimmed, cold, reptilian eyes were blazing with hate and menace, for Cayna was in another of his blood-rampages that day, and woe betide the unlucky animals whom he encountered, no matter what their size and strength might be. It was a blood lust of a fierceness and wantonness, to which only Cayna could attain.

Cayna then storms across two and a half pages, killing a pterosaur, a Stegosaurus, a Triceratops, and a Brontosaurus before he himself is dragged under the sea by a gargantuan ichthyosaur. The story is mercifully short, for although the prose is amusingly purple and loaded with paleo-hyperbole—Cayna is “the most destructive living thing that ever existed”—the litany of dinosaur dismemberings and disembowelings gets tiresome. Violence for the sake of violence is not much fun to read.

More in the pulpy science fiction vein is “The Death of the Moon” by Alexander Phillips (Amazing Stories, February, 1929), in which another protagonist Tyrannosaurus thwarts an invasion of extraterrestrial insectoids. The bug folk are natives of the moon—a dying world during the Cretaceous Period. They set their sights on Earth and travel there, but their colonization attempt is crushed by the T. rex, thereby sparing the Earth for humans 65 million years later. Phillips gives the rex a dramatic death scene: “The sinking sun bathed the saurian’s grim visage in a soft, warm light and as he gazed into the last sunset he would ever see, across far spaces into the mellow glory of the Life-giver, Tyranosaurus’ eyes softened and he was vested with a dim, far-away dignity as one whose purpose is accomplished.” It’s a hero’s ending worthy of any summer blockbuster.

1934’s Before the Dawn by John Taine (pen name of Eric Temple Bell) is perhaps the first novel featuring dinosaur protagonists, predating Bakker’s novel by sixty-one years. The book’s prehistoric scenes are framed by scientists watching the beasts through some kind of time screen. One of the men has devised a means of replaying a residue of light within crystals just as someone might play grooves left by sound on an LP. The pseudoscience is beside the point, it’s just a vehicle to get to the dinosaurs.

The scientists investigate the light memories of several crystals, letting them see a number of prehistoric scenes. A dinosaur hatchling survives a nest raid by a marsupial; several beasts scramble to escape a flash flood; sauropods laze in a weed-choked swamp; early birds flee burning volcanic ash. For the most part, none of the animals are named or identified, only described. It is up to the reader to recognize the species. (It could be argued that, if given access to time-TV, paleontologists would be hesitant to definitively identify species seen on the screen—after all dinosaurs are identified by their bones and age, things that would not be seen under the flesh and keratin in a visual recording.)

A group of theropods are named by the scientists, but instead of giving them names like Tyrannosaurus or Allosaurus, they call them Belshazzar, Jezebel, Bartholomew, and Satan. These four spend much of their time navigating curious rock formations, fighting each other over food, and jumping—lots and lots of jumping. Though all are given personality traits like greed, cowardice, and stupidity, Belshazzar is especially anthropomorphized. He is described as being the smartest of the four, and becomes the star of the crystal’s show.

Before the Dawn has been republished in pulps and anthologies, but, unlike as with some of his other stories, Taine did not let the copyright lapse. He must have been proud of this one.

Pure paleofiction took a step out of lurid pulp and closer to poetry in 1981 when Byron Preiss published The Dinosaurs, William Stout’s famous “fantastic view of a lost era.” Preiss, impressed with Stout’s art, invited him to create a dinosaur book, which ultimately featured 130-some images. This was more art book than scientific screed. Although some folks might point out Stout’s penchant for “shrink-wrapping” his dinosaurs, this was the first major publication to show dinosaurs of the warm-blooded “Renaissance” galloping, tails lifted, partaking in activities beyond hunting and swamp-lounging. It was so outside the norm for a dinosaur book that it was featured in Life magazine.

Alongside Stout’s images are “narrations” by William Service. Preiss did Stout’s images right by linking them to Service’s prose.

Here Service describes a styracosaur’s morning:

When there was enough light to pick out the dark bare trunks of the magnolia grove, the ceratopsian came slowly awake. Massively fit, in the prime years of his life, nevertheless he struggled to his feet like one sick or wounded. Still percolating through his system were the juices from yesterday’s forage, when he had strayed from the herd to feed in a deadfall of cycad trees. In his mouth the texture of the moldering fronds lingered, on his tongue the strange taste of the foamy sap in the crowns.

Service was not pedantic with his facts, sometimes inventing behaviors—like Quetzalcoatlus mating styles—or name-dropping plants and critters that may have been anachronistic to the geologic moment, but he was just being as inventive with his stories as Stout was with his images. Service uses all manner of storytelling techniques to give each tale its own special flavor, adopting various tenses, points of view, emotional states, and humor. The dinosaurs not only feed and fight as they did in Sternberg’s and Watson’s stories, but also stumble, sleep, scratch itches, break wind, get sick, have sex, and poop. Service’s stories bring the Dinosaur from monstrous and mythic sagas to the everyday business of life.

Certainly the texts listed here are not the only examples of paleofiction. A popular series of children’s books published in the mid-80s by Rourke Enterprises recreated scenes from the lives of dozens of prehistoric animals. Each book told the story of one animal. Kids could read tales of  Iguanodon, Nothosaurus, Dimetrodon, or a cave bear, to name a just few titles from the series. More recently the Smithsonian Institute published the “Prehistoric Pals” book series, which also told stories of ancient animals. Some of the series’s more amusing titles are Triceratops Gets Lost and Is Apatosaurus Okay? These two series are just a fraction of the picture books that have used paleofiction to bring dinosaurs and their ilk to life for kids. To list every publication would make this blog entry twice as long.

Natural history fires the imagination. That is perhaps its most exciting aspect. Above the details of how living things work, their measurements and metabolisms, is the fact that living things have lives. Humans may not share some of the hows of these lives—people do not lay eggs in ponds, fly on glassy wings, flutter tails to attract mates, or caress babies with a trunk—but all animals, human or otherwise, share the needs to eat, sleep, grow, endure disease, and reproduce. These experiences connect people with the natural world. People will never know the mind of a trilobite or a Tyrannosaurus or a Megatherium, but science can make an educated guess as to what their lives may have been like. Then writers can compose those lives and take a reader with them.

Guest post: How To Evolve Your Dragon: Dragons Under Natural Selection

This is a guest post from The Bristol Dinosaur Project blog. With thanks to Rhys Charles for the share.

Guest Author: Emily Green
Emily Green graduated from the University of Bristol in 2019 with a Masters degree in Palaeontology & Evolution. She is now a PhD student at the University of Lincoln researching biological complexity, on a project funded by the John Templeton foundation.

Dragons seem a universal staple of global mythology. Large and fearsome beasts which are so often, in part, based on unexplainable fossil discoveries. Many mythical creatures began life this way, such as the cyclops of Ancient Greece from the skulls of extinct island elephants, or mythical giants found by Carthaginians during excavations which are more likely the limb bones of Mammoths. In creating these myths, these civilisations were trying to explain their amazing discoveries. Now, as palaeontologists, we have a plethora of tools to explain the history of these fantastical beasts, which are sadly far more mundane than the flying fire breathing fiends of popular fantasy.


The ancient civilisations of the Mediterranean were often digging up fossils and attributing them to fantastical or divine origins. Many think that the myths of island dwelling cyclops come from the common fossils of dwarf elephantids found on many Greek island, with their large central nasal passage being mistaken for a huge eye socket! A. Mammoth Femur. B. Elephantid skull. C. A representation of a cyclops.

Biology puts many constraints in the way of creating some of the dragons more fantastical adaptations. But, using all the tools in our biological toolbox, we can piece together a story using clues from the evolution of other animals. So, if dragons were to exist under the rules and regulations of evolution, what would they be like?

Dragons feature almost globally in religion, myth, and legend. This cosmopolitan distribution can be achieved in many ways; either as birds by flight between far flung continents, as fish by swimming between oceans (or dropped off in many different lakes by careless birds), or by rafting events such as those undertaken by monkeys in the Paleogene to reach South America (or see the more recently the voyages of black rats on human vessels around the world).

Equally they could have achieved this distribution by simply travelling across land when the continents were all stuck together. The last such time was at a time dinosaurs roamed the earth, in the Mesozoic era, when the supercontinent Pangea existed.

We still see remnants from this time in the distribution of organisms today, such as the Gondwanan Floral Belt, where many modern Southern continents which made up a supercontinent called Gondwana now share closely related species of plants, despite their far flung geographical separation.

Diversity remains an important tool for palaeontologists. Working out how the distribution of an organism was achieved gives us some insight into how it evolves. For example, the giant flightless bird group known as the ratites (see ostriches, kiwis, and emus), have a wide geographical range between Africa and Australia. Thanks to paleogeography and molecular trees using genes, we know that ratites travelled to Australia from Africa by flying, likely across the land bridge of Antarctica before it was todays frozen tundra, and lost the ability to fly and became giant independently  after they migrated (Mitchell et al., 2014).

For dragons at least, they almost universally seem to posses the ability to fly, or in many cases swim, and so a world-wide population seems easily achievable, in the way that birds or fish have spread globally.

Dragons also represent great disparity in their forms. Disparity is the variation between organisms, most notably in shape, size, and even behaviour. The most commonly depicted forms of dragons in mythology are reptilian in appearance. European myths show them having wings, though they more often go without in Asian mythology, and sometimes have no limbs at all, like in the legends of large sea serpents. These are all body forms present in modern day tetrapods (four limbed vertebrates). This group evolved at the onset of terrestrialisation in the late Devonian, where lobe finned fish, similar to today’s coelacanths, slowly moved from the sea onto land, developing 4 limbs from their fins, to help them get around.

One of the enduring myths of the dragon is their ability to fly. Most easily explained by evolution of wings. Powered flight has evolved many different times in tetrapods, notably in pterosaurs, birds, and bats, which all adapted their forelimb bones and muscles for powerful flapping and gliding. The modern fantasy depictions of dragons like in ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ (or even the Welsh flag), where the dragons have four limbs AND wings, are entirely improbable. Notably because in every other vertebrate species that has evolved wings, they have done so by modifying their fore limbs. To still have four limbs with fore limbs intact AND a set of wings, would require the dragon to start with 6 limbs, which is not something we see in vertebrates, as the four limb pattern is very heavily controlled by body planning genes (HOX genes).

To fly requires you to be very light, as so dragons would have to have very light skeletons, like modern birds which have hollow bones. Their massive size is a consideration too. Many of the largest birds are now flightless, having become large enough to deter predators due to their size, but still retained their wings for display purposes (though these are more vestigial in some species like the kiwi). So, whether dragons fly would likely be dependent on their size.

Like birds too, some dragons have gone back to the oceans. Returning to the water has happened many times in evolution; with the return of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) to the waters well as marine reptiles such as Mosasaurs and Ichthyosaurs; the Mesozoic’s more terrifying answer to a dolphin. This four-limb pattern is often modified for flippers to aid swimming in the water, though some have even gone so far as the lose limbs all together, such as whales losing their hind limbs relying on just their tail for propulsion. The sea dragons’ loss of limbs may have been to gain a more hydrodynamic body shape and to aid swimming, likely in an eel-like fashion.

One of the more fantastical components of dragon mythology is their ability to breath fire. Fire would likely be used as a predation tool, or predation deterrent, part of an ecological arms race to outdo competitors. As far as we know, no organism alive possess this remarkable ability.

Actual fire breathing poses many evolutionary difficulties; requiring the need for fire retardant insides, means of generating a spark, and the production of highly flammable gases or chemicals. The other issue that comes with fire breathing is the logistics of aim. You are far more likely to be subject to natural selection AGAINST fire breathing by accidentally set yourself on fire before managing to reproduce.

Though if we really wanted something more akin to fire, what would evolution come up with? Other species have developed long range deadly attacks by becoming venomous, like wood ants, flinging formic acid when threatened to defend the colony. Or if we wanted the flashy approach, we’d be looking at creating light through bioluminescence. This is used for a plethora of things in the animal world, squid sometimes employ this as counter-camouflage, fireflies use it to attract mates, and angler fish to lure in a tasty bite.

Bioluminescence is found in many deep-sea creatures like squid, box jellyfish, and anglerfish, who all use this symbiotic relationship with bioluminescent algae for different purposes.

One of the famous parts of European dragon mythology is their large hoard of gold and jewels. This made them a very attractive myth for the medieval knight looking to score some bounty in a get rich quick scheme, which either paid off very well, or led to a nice snack for the dragon.

Hoarding behaviours is quite common in the animal kingdom, but is very varied in terms of reason. Animals like hamster or squirrels tend to hoard food for hard times. This is unlikely the case for dragons here, as treasure possesses little nutritional value, the very large and pointy teeth and penchant for fighting wayward knights would suggests a highly carnivorous diet. Amusingly many of the perpetrated ‘dragon teeth’ discovered in Asia were actually ancient horse teeth, so often anatomy and myth do not overlap.

This behaviour of collecting and hoarding objects is also exhibited by many other creatures across the animal kingdom usually as ways to attract mates. This could be prime territory as in deer or grouse, or by the creation of a fantastically decorated mating arenas to demonstrate prowess and fitness, as in Bower birds, cichlids, or Gentoo penguins.

Extravagant mating behaviour exhibited by other species: a mating arena created underwater by fish, Gentoo penguins collecting nice pebbles as mating gifts (works on human geologists as well), a flamboyantly decorated bower by the bower birds, to entice ladies with a cool collection of blue objects.

So, what have we garnered from all this about dragons? Due to their depicted reptilian nature, they would likely be archosaurs, close relatives to crocodiles, dinosaurs, and birds, and probably had their origins way back in the Permian, when the major lineage between the mammals and the reptiles split. Dragons probably achieved their global distribution before the split of the supercontinent Pangea in the Cretaceous period. They don’t breathe fire, but they can fly, like birds and bats. Some are even secondarily aquatic, like whales, returning to the sea and gaining and smoother streamlined body forms. Their long and sharp teeth show that they are carnivorous, as in modern predators like lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). And some hoard gold, likely a behaviour to attract mates.

This comparative biology can help us understand a lot about creatures that no longer exist during this time, something common place in palaeontology. Sadly while dragons are non-existent, all the methods used here with a bit of imagination are the very same we apply to the very much real, dinosaurs, mammoths, and pterosaurs, to understand what they were like, and how they lived.


Mitchell, K. J. et al. (2014) ‘Ancient DNA reveals elephant birds and kiwi are sister taxa and clarifies ratite bird evolution’, Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science, 344, 898–900

Guest post: Does Jurassic World HAVE to be accurate? – Part Two

This is a guest post from The Bristol Dinosaur Project blog. With thanks to Rhys Charles for the share.

Guest Author: James Ormiston
James Ormiston graduated from the Palaeontology & Evolution MSci at the University of Bristol in 2016. He is now a palaeoartist (@notsimro) and lab technician.

Bridging the Gap

So far what I’ve done is over a thousand words of moaning, and excessive moaning adds fuel to the weird factionalism that’s appeared in the wake of this debate. So, what can actually be done about it? It was good to see Colin Trevorrow finally take on board peoples’ concerns over the lack of feathers, and getting the well-known dinosaur palaeontologist Prof Steve Brusatte (of the University of Edinburgh) on board for ‘JW: Dominion’ as an advisor is encouraging. For the most part however, the Jurassic franchise is something of a lost cause when it comes to accuracy as it’s already out there. It has its own extended universe, with spin-offs and video games, now cemented in modern culture – pronated hands and all.

Unless Dominion is radically different, or Universal suddenly decide to make their own documentary addressing the movies’ scientific flaws, the damage is mostly done. It is indeed mainly for entertainment, and huge numbers of people enjoy it because the movies are fun to watch. Maybe we should just bury the hatchet and focus our efforts elsewhere? After all, the movies are still huge adverts for STEM subjects, even if they are now much more like fan fiction than love letters. We should steer young prospective palaeontologists, science enthusiasts and dinosaur fans of the future in the right direction, rather than turn them away by simply nit-picking at their ticket in (and I say this as someone 100% guilty of doing the latter in this very article – it’s easy to get carried away!).

Let’s compare palaeontology’s media presence to its bigger physics-based brother: space exploration. Unlike palaeontology, which has essentially one big live-action franchise and nothing else, space has had a continual presence in cinema for decades. It has had the time and opportunities to incorporate more and more real-world science. Things like the lack of sound in space, how gravity works and what a black hole may look like.

Yes, there are still many unrealistic aspects because the audience needs to be engaged, but the key difference is that many different directors have had a go and at least tried to make their movies more convincing. Just look at the plethora of big budget space releases we’ve had since Gravity came out: Interstellar, The Martian, Ad Astra, and series like The Expanse. How often do you see dinosaurs in non-cartoon films outside of the Jurassic franchise, and when you do, how well-researched are they?

Why Jurassic Park was important. Mainstream media’s endorsement of new science is part of a wider relationship between that science and the public, and contributes greatly to keeping it alive. Granted, Jurassic World still brings people in, but it starts the public on the back foot by not giving them current science and little reference pointing them in the right direction. It falls on the outreach/sci-comm community to step forward and spend more time dispelling misconceptions (which is good in a way because outreach is great fun).

This monopoly over dinosaurs’ public image should ideally be broken. The public needs a bigger and more accessible yardstick to compare with the Jurassic franchise. They should be easily able to say “the dinosaurs in those movies are inaccurate, they should look more like this”. Not just because I’m telling them to through outreach efforts, but because the public likes dinosaurs and deserves something that lets them do it themselves. Currently though, this does not exist in popular culture. Walking With Dinosaurs came out over 20 years ago. It may have been the closest thing to rival the movies for the public’s attention, but soon afterwards it too was outdated (the same goes for its follow-up, Planet Dinosaur, though to a lesser extent). It just happened to be unlucky timing, in that it came out just before the main swing of the feather revolution and other breakthroughs of the 21st century. Space science already had its Walking With Dinosaurs moment with Carl Sagan’s 1980 series Cosmos, which returned to great praise with physicist and sci-comm juggernaut Neil deGrasse Tyson in 2014. It’s about time palaeontology got its next big public update too.

For larger studios this shouldn’t be difficult given their enormous budgets. All it takes is more engagement with the research community, to hire advisors who know their stuff and a willingness to listen to them. Even Jurassic Park 3 was starting to update things, as Stan Winston’s design team gave the raptors little head quills (in 2001!). The 2013 Walking With Dinosaurs movie also managed a good amount of communication with scientists, and although it wasn’t much of a critical success it gave us a glimpse of what was possible (also worth noting that critics liked the well-researched and visually impressive animation, but not the cheesy voiceover story which 20th Century Fox insisted on adding late in production, fearing the public would become bored otherwise, i.e. they didn’t want to risk doing something different). There have also been ambitious real-world immersive experiences like Dinosaurs in the Wild (which I had the immense privilege to work at in 2017). Projects like this have big potential, and if done right could fill a significant gap in the market.

The Nerds Fight Back and Hope for the Future

One of the biggest hurdles to clear when getting the public up to speed is that there are many places to get information about dinosaurs (and prehistoric life in general) but not all of it is updated and reliable. Wikipedia is generally a good place because many palaeontologists, especially those working on dinosaurs, actively update Wikipedia articles to include their most recent work on them. While this does result in some very long overly-academic sections where competing research teams have a bit of a back-and-forth over certain issues, at least readers can see what is still debated and why.

Outside of Wikipedia, which is often a dry read and as a result off-putting to the layperson, where can the public go for good, engaging palaeontological information? After all, there’s a lot of clickbait out there alongside piles of stuff from other inaccurate media and the Jurassic franchise itself. It also doesn’t help at all that mainstream news can be very patchy when it comes to reporting almost anything in the field. Here’s where the outreach and science communication community steps in. Whether it be museums, academics or enthusiasts, we live in an exciting time when the public is increasingly able to get well-researched content presented to them on familiar formats such as YouTube, livestreams and podcasts.

You can tune into hour-long live discussions hosted by museums with current researchers answering questions in real time (no doubt bolstered by recent boom in video calling thanks to the current situation!). You can listen to podcasts by people passionate about the science of palaeontology dispelling misconceptions, interviewing experts, relaying the latest and most interesting discoveries, or going over the basics for the uninitiated. Thanks to channels like PBS Eons you can watch mini-documentaries on YouTube with accurate palaeoart to bring the prehistoric world to life, and we’re seeing an increase in small networks and indie studios making their own features. There are other projects aiming to catalogue up-to-date information together into consistent, easily comprehensible online resources like the pterosaur archive Pteros.

The Emerging Palaeo-media Revolution. Since Jurassic World didn’t do it, a wide variety of passionate palaeontology nerds have taken up the gauntlet and are pushing for better-informed content. These are only some examples, there are many more. There is evidently a demand for this, and mainstream media will hopefully realise the largely untapped potential it holds…

In physical literature we are seeing a great array of popular science books about prehistoric life and its reconstruction being published – with the non-academic reader in mind. Palaeoartists are banding together to make accurate and beautiful prehistoric-themed merchandise for decorating your home and self. You can also now buy very well-designed and researched toys and models thanks to efforts like Beasts of the Mesozoic and the PNSO dinosaur series.

It’s even happening to video games, among the most exciting upcoming examples being Prehistoric Kingdom – a park simulator in a similar vein to the popular Jurassic World: Evolution, but for those who want to look after animals rather than movie monsters. Similar improvement is increasingly happening for content aimed specifically at children (obviously, since children are among the biggest dinosaur fans of all and represent a huge market), though not being a parent I’m less familiar with that side of things.

All these efforts serve to re-connect the public to the ever-changing world of palaeontology research. It’s a link that the original Jurassic Park made an effort to strengthen but Jurassic World generally did not. Will mainstream media pick up on this increasing momentum? It would seem this is indeed finally happening! A couple of years ago Apple TV greenlit a major new dinosaur series with BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit, to be called Prehistoric Planet. Among the team working on it were reported Jon Favreau (of Iron Man and Mandalorian fame), Mike Gunton (Planet Earth II) and Tim Walker (Ice Age Giants). Will it live up to or even exceed the lofty expectations left by Walking With Dinosaurs, and be big enough to sway public perception? We’ll just have to wait and see…

Could Jon Favreau be the superhero dinosaurs need?

So…does it matter?

At the end of the day, Jurassic World is under no concrete obligation to be realistic. But its creators must surely have recognised they are dealing with the largest dinosaur-related media entity on the planet. That should come with at least some level of awareness and responsibility, especially since the movie that started it all back in ’93 was indeed largely well-researched and hugely influential as a result. 20 years ago(!), Jurassic Park 3 was still taking on new theories about feathers and for 2001 its Spinosaurus looked pretty good (even now I have people on outreach almost refuse to believe it doesn’t look like that anymore, which again demonstrates the franchise’s influence and the changing science simultaneously). Jurassic World’s dinosaurs ended up being rather inconsistent with the franchise’s past approach…by keeping too many things the same.

Perhaps that’s why the flashbacks were added for Dominion, which in their defence do seem to contain some better-looking reconstructions this time round, but at the same time the inaccuracies shown alongside them could be seen as self-defeating. Outside that, Jurassic World’s general disregard for accuracy may not be hurting anyone (depending on how you define “hurt”) and it does provide an in-universe explanation for it, but it still feels like a lot of lost potential. I hope this piece serves to explain to those in Jurassic World’s corner why so many people were disappointed. That it’s a bit more complicated than just saying “it’s only a movie”.

Whether you think the pro-accuracy crowd have been demanding too much, or that Universal were insulting 20 years of hard work in a beloved field of science by wasting its largest public platform, is largely up to you. There are hardliners on both sides and being too factional about it likely won’t help anyone. It’s an issue steeped in subjectivity since, again, being entertainment means Jurassic World doesn’t have to do anything realistically. I and many, many others were saddened that it didn’t, but I won’t berate people for enjoying it as it is. If you are one of the millions of people who love the dinosaurs as they are shown, understand that I’m not saying you shouldn’t. Indeed, I still had fun watching both recent entries (though nowhere near as much as the original obviously), so I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike them as movies. Now that we’re almost three films, a couple of TV seasons and a handful of video games into the new series, the more prominent issue regarding accuracy seems to be their lack of competition.

And of course, Jurassic World will still continue to inspire many people even if it could be much better as palaeontology’s popular ambassador. I have to give kudos to Colin Trevorrow for trying something different this time and acknowledging the issue. I’ll very likely watch it in the cinema anyway, and probably like it as a monster movie as Samuel Welles did. Who knows, maybe this concept of the dinosaurs now being loose in the wild could lead to some funky genetic shenanigans and a new look for the familiar beasts. At any rate, as the saying goes, “let people enjoy things”…

…but also respect valid reasons for others being disappointed.