Earlier this week, Gizmodo’s science writer intern was able to cover two fossil dinosaur news items in one day. That coverage was better than what some of Gizmodo’s science writers have written, but there’s the occasional area wherein some better writing or better editing could have made a stronger article. Here are my opinions on some areas where improvements could have occurred. Also I think some non-Gizmodo writers might have been a little bit too eager to paraphrase these articles.

Giant Dinosaur Foot Identified 20 Years After Being Unearthed in Wyoming

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The nearly complete foot fossil, made up of 13 bones, was unearthed in 1998

The thirteen bones in question are an astragalus, five metatarsals, five non-ungual phalanges, and two ungual phalanges. Not all of them were unearthed in 1998; one of the unguals was excavated at a later time.

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between 155 million to 148 million years ago.

This stated age range for the Morrison Formation (directly from the cited National Park Service page) is the same as the age range given by Kowallis et al. (1998). More recently research such as Trujillo and Kowallis (2015) placed the bottom of the Morrison Formation somewhere near 157 Ma. In short, that 155-148 Ma age range might not accurate, but more research needs to be done to really get good calibrated ages for the Morrison.

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Scientists there have dug up diplodocuses, allosauruses, stegosauruses

No, they haven’t, because those words are poorly-constructed nonsense. The word Diplodocus is a formal name for a group of organisms, just as Canis is a formal name for a group of organisms including puppers or Felis is a formal name for a group of organisms including kitties. No English speaker refers to puppers as canises or kitties as felises, so it follows that no one should refer to diplodocid dinosaurs as “diplodocuses”. Same thing with “allosauruses” or “stegosauruses”; those are also poorly-constructed words.

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This is really awkward to write. All three of these lines are very close to the fourth paragraph of Allan Adamson’s article on this over at Tech Times that was published the next day.

Jessica Boddy, Gizmodo:

The nearly complete foot fossil, made up of 13 bones, was unearthed in 1998 from a body of rock spanning multiple states called the Morrison Formation. That area has produced a wealth of dinosaur fossils from the Late Jurassic Period, or between 155 million to 148 million years ago. Scientists there have dug up diplodocuses, allosauruses, stegosauruses—the list goes on.

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Allan Adamson, Tech Times:

The nearly complete foot fossil is composed of 13 bones. It was excavated from a body of rock called the Morrison Formation in 1998. The area has produced numerous dinosaur fossils from the Late Jurassic Period about 155 million to 148 million years ago. Scientists have so far unearthed diplodocuses, allosauruses, and stegosauruses from this area.

I leave it to Gizmodo’s staff to decide if they wish to do anything about this.

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some kind of brachiosaur that stretched 80 feet long, the researchers wrote

First off, the researchers did not write that, because the paper never gives a length estimate for the dinosaur. The paper does state that the estimated hindlimb length of the animal is 2% larger than the type specimen of Brachiosaurus altithorax. Logically following, it’s probably safe to estimate that this mystery sauropod was slightly larger than that species. Since B. altithorax is estimated at 26 meters (85 ft) of length, then the mystery sauropod was potentially a meter or two longer (~90 feet long). Once again, that’s not hugely different than what was written, but right now this article about a new “giant” brachiosaur says that it’s smaller than an already known brachiosaur, which is kind of silly.

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Secondly, although Gizmodo is published for a primarily US audience and it makes sense that that length estimate is given in US customary units, scientific writing tries to consistently use SI measurements, since scientific writing is for all humans, not just the ones born and raised in the US. Gizmodo writers have been aware for years that they should use SI and US customary units, but apparently Gizmodo editors are not committed to making sure that authors follow any guideline.

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got famous in Jurassic Park (and then got horribly murdered in Fallen Kingdom,

Jurassic Park is the title of a film and it gets italicized. Fallen Kingdom is the subtitle of a film and it also gets italicized. Also spoiler alert for a film that came out within the past month?

study-author

I have never seen this hyphenated word used before. Since this word shows up in non-hyphenated form two times in the article, I’ll assume this hyphenated spelling is a typographical error.

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a handful of other long-necked dinosaurs like diplodocuses and camarasaurs.

“Diplodocuses” is still a poorly-constructed word. I can’t tell if “camarasaurs” is a typographical error for camarasaurids or if it is a not-poorly-constructed word for individuals of the genus Camarasaurus.

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At just under a meter wide, the researchers said it the largest sauropod foot ever discovered.

There’s a verb missing in this sentence. Also, readers who like US customary units will be happy to know that a meter is about 3.28 feet or 39.4 inches. Also, the authors never give a width for the foot. They don’t have the complete foot, and what bones of the foot they have aren’t articulated, so they don’t make the assumption that they know the size of the entire foot. The only mention of a ~meter wide foot in the research article is a reference to 1.1 meter sauropod footprint fossils which are from Australia and quite a few million years closer to the present day. A short article for public release written by Kendra Snyder from the American Museum of Natural History quotes Anthony Maltese as saying that the foot was “nearly a meter wide,” so maybe this article should cite that?

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Philip Mannion, a paleontologist at Imperial College London

Why does Philip Mannion get a link while the other scientists quoted in this article do not? That seems odd. Femke Holwerda is on Twitter, David Burnham has a University of Kansas website, Anthony Maltese has a blog he hasn’t updated in a few months, and Elizabeth Freedman Fowler (whose previous research got Gizmodo coverage) is one of the two people running this Facebook page. All of them have an online presence and links are free to provide so why not link early and link often?

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the world’s largest sauropods, the titanosaur and argentinosaurus,

There’s a lot to unpack here. I’ll start with the easiest thing and work my way to more difficult issues. Argentinosaurus is a proper generic name and it should be capitalized and italicized. There are a lot of species of dinosaurs which are titanosaurs, so “the titanosaur” is not informative and, without clicking the link, I don’t know what particular titanosaur the author is referring to. Clicking the link I learn that the author meant “The Titanosaur”, which was a placeholder name the American Museum of Natural History placed on their cast of a skeletal mount before it was formally named, and which Gizmodo wrote about in early 2016. That makes this confusing because now both provided links are about the same species of dinosaur: the second link is Gizmodo’s coverage of Patagotitan mayorum when it was discovered in 2014 (before it was named), and the first link is Gizmodo’s coverage of that species when it was formally named and described.

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So I think that an improved version of this would be

the world’s largest sauropods, the titanosaurs Patagotitan and Argentinosaurus

New ‘Amazing Dragon’ Dinosaur Species Discovered in China

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Lingwulong belonged to the diplodocid family, the researchers write in their paper published Tuesday in Nature Communications.

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Nature Communications is the name of a journal and should be italicized. Lingwulong does not belong to the diplodocid family.

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Specifically, it seems to be a dicraeosaurid

Right. By being a dicraeosaurid, it can’t belong to the diplodocid family. It belongs to the diplodocoid clade, which is a larger and more inclusive group than the diplodocid family. Dicraeosaurids and diplodocids are all diplodocoids.

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(a big group of dinosaurs that includes the titanosaur, diplodocus, brachiosaurus, and others).

As I said above, “the titanosaur” is not an accurate enough term to make any sense. Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus are proper generic names and they should be capitalized and italicized.

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Research has previously shown that neosauropods thrived from between 163 million and 145 million years ago, in the Late Jurassic period.

I’m unsure on what the word “thrived” here means. Before this discovery, neosauropods were known from ~163 Ma until the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event at 66 Ma. They “thrived” between 163 Ma and 66 Ma.

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But Lingwulong fossils date back to 174 million years ago, suggesting neosauropods were roaming Pangea much earlier, in the Middle Jurassic.

Pushing the age of a Mesozoic animal group from 163 to 174 Ma is not that much earlier; that’s less than 10% older. And it’s okay to spell Pangea in this manner but it was spelled Pangaea in the previous paragraph so I don’t know why two spellings of one word were used.

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This is extra awkward to write. Both of these lines are very close to the sixth and seventh paragraphs of Tiffany Hagler-Geard’s article on this over at ABC News later that day and the seventh paragraph of Allan Adamson’s article on this over at Tech Times that was published the next day.

Jessica Boddy, Gizmodo:

Research has previously shown that neosauropods thrived from between 163 million and 145 million years ago, in the Late Jurassic period. But Lingwulong fossils date back to 174 million years ago, suggesting neosauropods were roaming Pangea much earlier, in the Middle Jurassic.

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Tiffany Hagler-Geard, ABC News

Research has previously shown that neosauropods thrived from between 163 million and 145 million years ago, in the late Jurassic period.

But Lingwulong shengi fossils date back to 174 million years ago, suggesting neosauropods were roaming Pangea much earlier, in the Middle Jurassic period.

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Allan Adamson, Tech Times:

Research earlier suggested that the neosauropod thrived in the late Jurassic period between 163 million and 145 million years ago but researchers estimate the Lingwulong shenqi fossils were 174 million years old. This suggests that the neosauropods were roaming Pangea much earlier in the Middle Jurassic period.

I leave it to Gizmodo’s staff to decide if they wish to do anything about this.

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“The discovery of Lingwulong

Lingwulong is a proper generic name and it should be italicized.

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he’s skeptical that Lingwulong is truly a diplodocid

It’s a diplodocoid.

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It is still possibly a diplodocid, he said, because it’s so old and primitive that it may just not have evolved what we think of as a typical diplodocid skull yet.

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It’s a diplodocoid.

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If Lingwulong is indeed a diplodocid,

It’s a diplodocoid.

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He also noted they ranged from 35 to 55 feet (11 to 17 meters) long.

Thank you.

Why do I care

There are websites that cite or paraphrase parts of, or the entirety, of these articles. For example this article by Patrick Supernaw at Great Lakes Ledger paraphrases the entire second article that I focused on in this. Or, more ethically, the first article was cited by The Week and Inquisitr (although I will warn you that that article has its own issues.) Since other places spread around Gizmodo’s information and misinformation, it’s better if Gizmodo can minimize the misinformation.

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Also this is a Kinja blog so I mean obviously I am going to give other Kinja properties the most attention because they’re also forced to endure Kinja.

Top image courtesy of BBC News who edited it from Figure 2a of Xu et al 2018. Said figure was made by Aijuan Shi.