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Dinosaurs even the score

Tom Feilden | 07:47 UK time, Tuesday, 20 July 2010

King Kong battles a dinosaur in a scene from the attraction "King Kong 360 3-D"

This is an amended version of the original blog

We know from the fossil record that dinosaurs and mammals must have co-existed for millions of years, and yet we know almost nothing about the nature of that relationship.

One clue, which appears to give mammals the upper hand, comes from the fossilised remains of a relatively large mammal, repenomamus robustus, discovered in 2005. It was found with the bones of a baby dinosaur in its stomach, and as the Smithsonian's Brian Switek speculates, it had apparently snacked on a young psittacosaurus shortly before it died.

Score it one-nil to the mammals. But as the old adage goes, one swallow doesn't make a summer, and most palaeontologists suspect the true nature of the relationship - given their size and dominance - is that predatory dinosaurs regularly preyed on mammals.

New evidence supporting this, more conventional predator-prey relationship, is emerging from the 80 million year old rocks of the Wahweap Formation in Utah's Grand Staircase National Monument. Reporting in the journal Geology a team lead by Professor Edward Simpson from Kutztown University has discovered evidence that predatory dinosaurs may have dug down into the soil to reach small burrowing mammals.

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The first trace evidence shows scraping marks in the sandstone rocks made by a digging dinosaur, probably a deinonychus or Troodon. Below the claw marks numerous downward arching curves reveal the branching burrows of its intended victim - underground structures very similar to those made by small social mammals living today.

Based on the close association of these structures the researchers suggest a predatory dinosaur was trying to get at a mammal hiding in its burrow.

Commenting on the findings Brian Switek says "If you look appears that the dinosaur was repeatedly sticking its foot into the hole and raking out sediment".

Behaviour that certainly appears consistent with a carnivore digging out its next meal. Life it seems - at least for early mammals in the Mesozoic - was nasty, brutish and short.

Tom Feilden adds...

Firstly can I say I'm very grateful for the comments posted on my original blog. I made an honest mistake, and appreciate the opportunity to explain what happened.

Correct attribution is an essential component of good journalism, especially in the field of science writing, where such a premium is put on the ownership of ideas and on accuracy and fact checking.

In writing my original blog I mistakenly assumed that Brian's article, posted on the Smithsonian website, had in fact been written by professor Edward L. Simpson, whose name (along with the other authors involved in the original research published in Geology) appears prominently at the bottom of the article. Hence my attribution of the ideas and quotes in the blog solely to professor Simpson.

Indeed if you try printing out Brian's blog (as I did) you will find that his strap-line falls off the bottom of the page entirely. I shouldn't have missed it, but I'm afraid I simply didn't spot Brian's name, and assumed the blog was a synopsis of the academic paper by the named authors, which I could therefore draw from.

As a result, in describing the research I subsequently used both the original paper and the blog as if they were a single source, reproducing the arguments and, inadvertently, attributing a direct quotation from Brian's blog to professor Edward L. Simpson. It was certainly never my intention to claim the ideas as my own.

Clearly I didn't look closely enough at the sourcing for the Smithsonian blog. It was an honest mistake, one we've acknowledged to the Smithsonian, but obviously it shouldn't have happened. It's been a salutary lesson for me, and I can only offer my sincere apologies.


  • Comment number 1.

    The graphic with this article appears to show a gorilla with a dinosaur. This is as bad as showing a human with a dinosaur. They did not exist at the same time!
    The mammals that dinosaurs may have been hunting would be small rat like ground or tree dwelling early mammals.

  • Comment number 2.

    This post is quite similar - especially in the introduction - to a post I wrote last week (July 16) for the Smithsonian blog Dinosaur Tracking:

  • Comment number 3.

    I must concur with mtbee's comment here; as a News Outlet the BBC needs to be seen to get its facts right. Whilst the picture is clearly a reference to the "fight scene" from King Kong, it adds nothing to the story and will in fact misinform anyone who has not come across this film.

    Were there no suitable images in the Journal Article with which to festoon your piece?

  • Comment number 4.

    This article is quite clearly substantially plagiarised from Brian Switek's post linked above. Shame, BBC. Shame.

  • Comment number 5.

    The banner image is not a problem to me. It's obviously King Kong, and it's a humorous compliment to the story's mammals-vs-dinosaurs theme.

    The problem here is Brian Switek's charge that the piece is basically regurgitated from his post at the Smithsonian blog. This is sloppy at best, baldly unethical at worst. This isn't the most difficult story in the world to write. Can't you do better than tossing a blogger's work in a blender? Switek's not exactly a kid doing this as a hobby, either: he's a well-respected member of the science blogosphere and a great freelance writer. You should know better than this.

  • Comment number 6.

    1: This article is clearly a rip-off of this Smithsonian post by Brian Switek The topic, form, and structure are the same and his was the first popular coverage of these findings.

    2: You do not reference the paper that this information originally came from: Edward L. Simpson, Hannah L. Hilbert-Wolf, Michael C. Wizevich, Sarah E. Tindall, Ben R. Fasinski, Lauren P. Storm and Mattathias D. Needle (2010). Predatory digging behavior by dinosaurs Geology, 38, 699-702 : 10.1130/G31019.1 And it is clear that you did not actually speak to the scientist involved BECAUSE...

    3: The first half of your "quote" from Dr. Simpson is lifted word for word from the Smithsonian post, which is original work and not Switek quoting Simpson either in person or from the paper.

    4: That is really a terrible graphic for this story. And I hope you got permission to use it.

  • Comment number 7.

    Oh dear.

    I've always regarded Today as one of the best sources of journalism on the planet. However, if a really, really good explanation of the remarkable similarities between your piece and Brian Switek's piece isn't rapidly forthcoming, I am going to have to reconsider that.

  • Comment number 8.

    oh dear, oh dear... score 1-nil to the N. American Mammal.

    Plagiarism is the ultimate crime for researchers & journalists. How are you going to dig yourself out of this one Tom?

    Presumably not by repeatedly sticking your foot into the hole and raking out the sediment - (hope you don't mind me borrowing that analogy!)

  • Comment number 9.

    I completely agree with earlier posts. There are really clear rules about how to present other people's work. This is a BBC website, not Fox News, so we should be able to trust it completely and we can only do that if its contributors do the right thing. An apology to Switek might not go amiss either.

  • Comment number 10.

    Nice response from Tom Feilden above, which makes it completely clear this was a sincere mistake. The rest of you should be ashamed of yourselves.
    Although this was an important issue to raise, accusations of plagiarism - a serious accusation indeed - have been made without offering the benefit of the doubt. Calls to 'reconsider Today as a source of journalism' and for Feilden to 'dig himself out of this one' are childish and self-important. Are you really so impatient that you can't wait a few hours for a response before firing your kneejerk broadsides?
    If I'm ever in court I hope I don't get a jury like you lot.

  • Comment number 11.

    Tom (the commenter): Had Tom (the journalist) and the BBC reacted more promptly, none of the accusations would have appeared. There's full 25 hours between comments 2 (Switek pointing out the similarities between his blog and Feilden's) and 4 (the first comment about "Shame!"), and the "correction" must have happened three days after Switek raised the issue.

    If you're ever in court and you think you can reply to questions and requests with a 72 hours' delay, you're going to have a hard time whatever the jury...

    Tom (the journalist): Had you put a link to Switek's blog, nobody would have ever accused you of plagiarism. Now, could you and the BBC Editors please come around to understand what Internet is, and stop agonising about adding any link to outside sources??? THANK YOU!

  • Comment number 12.

    There are always a variety of takes on any issue, and when things get obscured by who knows what and when, often only solely down to an individual's recollection of their own actions, perhaps all that is left is to look at the facts, especially timelines. Be they hours. Or days. The BBC can often be a little reluctant to respond to and even concede mistakes, after all.

    So the longer the response delay, there more likelihood of a range of subjective views, especially as to the 'niceness' and completeness of clarity of responses.

    However it does strike one, and is perhaps a shame, how often these can fall along tribal lines, especially with use of 'them vs. us' terms such as 'you lot'. Mature and humble though they may be.

    But one does look forward to the BBC and its reporters according the principle of 'benefit of the doubt' in their professional conduct... in future.

  • Comment number 13.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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