Saturday, June 11, 2016

Just say NO to Montanaspinus

So I got back home from my museum job to see a number of posts filling my Facebook and Twitter feeds about the "discovery" of Montanaspinus inexpectatus from Hell Creek Montana, a Late Cretaceous spinosaurid the same size as Spinosaurus living in the same environment as Tyrannosaurus rex. I remembered hearing about something like it while watching a number of the Saurian live streams, and initially believed it was an inside joke referring to the fact that the Saurian Devs kept getting requests to include Spinosaurus in the game, even though the species is not native to Hell Creek. These reports, which were being spread by a number of rather prominent paleoartists, were claiming it was indeed a real animal and posted it on numerous web group pages. Let's just say that this raised my eyebrows quite a bit.

Sure enough, it turns out that it was untrue. I asked some paleoartists online about what was circulating on social media, and learned that many of them were poising the whole ordeal as an experiment to see if it would be picked up by prominent members of "Awesomebro" culture and general fanboys online. From what I've gathered they did it all themselves without the knowledge of the Saurian team and claimed it was a real animal for only a couple of hours before coming clean. (They initially planned to keep it up for 2 weeks, but decided against it after being called out by paleontologists and other concerns.)

Let's just say that whether it was a few hour long prank or not, I don't think this was a good idea. Despite the paleoart being shared of the animal having hidden words such as "prank" in the folds of its skin, and people clearly showing doubt towards it from the start, I'm still seeing people in my social media feeds and numerous groups sharing the images as if they were real. Even if the descriptions now have come clean saying that Montanaspinus isn't real, I just read a study the other day stating that 70% of people on Facebook will only read a headline to a scientific study before commenting. Sad as it is, we need to be aware of this, and something like this floating around being treated like it's real by some rather prominent faces in online paleo isn't a good thing.

I know it was just a joke, and if it came out on April Fools or something then I'd be much more ok with it. But seeing as this was primarily created to be misleading, and primarily aimed at fanboys and awesomebros, this worries me. I like to poke fun at fanboy and awesomebro culture as much as the next guy, and MANY awesomebro tropes completely irk me to no end, but that doesn't mean I want to make fun of the fanboys themselves or make them believe things that are untrue just for the fun of it (even though they believe many things that are untrue to begin with). I'd much rather want to use my time and effort to try and prevent misleading information to spread. Imagine if this completely false story got picked up by some blogger and spread like wildfire across social media. Us passionate about these sorts of things would have a serious mess to clean up.
Even if some fanboys might be trolls, douche bags, or general excrement-heads doesn't mean all of them are. People seem to forget that we ourselves often started out as the quote-on-quote "fanboys" that we so often joke about. Indeed in some ways fanboys are some of the biggest voices and majorities in paleo, whether we like it or not, and they shouldn't have to be our enemy. Rather than working against these kinds of people, we should be working hard to better educate them and teach them why the real science is important and just as interesting, not making fun of them for not knowing nearly as much as others might.

For more general thoughts on the whole awesomebro trend in paleo, I recommend you check out Scott Potter's recent Editorial of Thagomizers.
As for Montanaspinus, it seems like it caused no serious harm this time, and hopefully nothing misleading like it will surface ever again.

Great to be back! Looking like I'll be doing more posts with classes being over. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments for future, more cheerful blog posts.

Until next time, stay sharp!