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.

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?….

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