The Ford versus Naish Smackdown

My copy of Darren's book

My copy of Darren's book

How often have you read an article that takes a piece of scientific research, misinterprets the evidence presented and blows the results way out of proportion?  The titles of such articles tend to be the sensationalist types, using explosive statements that are guaranteed to get the general public's attention, aka 'click bait'.  This is pretty much what Ford's presentation sounded like - a bunch of decisive, explosive and sensationalist statements that in reality, meant absolutely nothing. 

On the 15th March, Conway Hall hosted what was supposed to be a debate between Brian J Ford and Dr Darren Naish.  Ford is about to publish a book in which he argues that all dinosaurs were, in fact, aquatic.  Yes, you read it right - ALL dinosaurs.  Now, to call it a debate would be generous.  That implies that both sides had well researched and founded arguments, which wasn't the case.  In fact, it felt very much like an argument between a sensible adult and a petulant child throwing a tantrum - which is ironic considering how many times Ford accused palaeontologists (in general) of being childish and simple-minded. 

You may think that I am being unfair and that my post isn't objective enough, and you're right, it isn't.  In fact, it cannot be.  Ford encouraged the palaeontology community to 'embrace a new concept' with absolutely no evidence to back it up - except for a few cartoons. He was unable to accept or discuss real evidence and seemed to imply that the idea that dinosaurs were aquatic was both new and his.  Naish addressed this head-on in his first presentation slide, showing that the same idea had originated years ago and been subsequently dismissed.

Brian J Ford | Credit: Talita Bateman

Brian J Ford | Credit: Talita Bateman

Dr Darren Naish (feat. Chameleons s2) | Credit: Talita Bateman

Dr Darren Naish (feat. Chameleons s2) | Credit: Talita Bateman

Ford essentially cherry-picked any data that vaguely supported his argument and ignored any evidence that went against it.  If I were to summarise some of my favourite Ford v Naish moments, where Ford tells us how current concepts are wrong and so "his" idea must be correct - apparently by default - they would be as follows:

Ford: Dinosaurs are too big and couldn't possibly cope with their weight - enter big mammals analogy. Also, they had long tails that are not needed if they were terrestrial. Therefore, they must have been aquatic.
Naish: Should we just ignore current anatomical and morphological evidence including the Caudofemoralis longus muscle then?

Ford: No reptile has ever evolved a system for warming themselves up - enter link to how our notions of the climate back then are incorrect. Therefore, they must have been aquatic.
Naish: Huh? So, we're ignoring any mammals or bird descendants of reptiles then? Awesome.

Ford: Some dinosaurs have 'fin-like' structures - enter Spinosaurus data. Therefore, they must ALL have been aquatic.
Naish: Ok, so maybe we finally have a semblem of an argument here (maybe). I'm assuming we're ignoring the significant anatomical differences between a fish's dorsal fins and a Spinosaurus sail? Also, chameleons...no?

Ford: Some dinosaurs were duck-like and so must have lived like ducks in water.
Naish: Hadrosaurids were not actually "duck-billed" and let's not forget that evidence confirms a tree-based diet.

Casper and the stegosaurus | Credit: Talita Bateman

Casper and the stegosaurus | Credit: Talita Bateman

Overall, the debate wasn't much of a debate at all. It was worth it just to hear more about dinosaurs from Darren but all I got from Ford was a big sales pitch.  On a positive note, however, Ford's old school PowerPoint animations were pretty spectacular!  I haven't seen someone use bouncing green ticks on a slide since I was in Year 7.  Forget about dinosaurs and science, Brian. Start a #BringPowerPointAnimationsBack trend!