In my interview with Chris Masnaghetti this week, I shared his wonderful Velociraptor infographic. He bemoaned the animal's status in pop culture, calling it the "most misinterpreted dinosaur ever," putting heavy blame on Jurassic Park. Seems right to me: those scaly beasties have become the theropod equivalent of Brontosaurus: a placeholder for dinosaurkind in general, whether or not they represent current paleontological thinking. Combine a catchy name with innumerable pop culture references, and you've got a dinosaur ambassador to the public that more often than not serves to obscure the wonders of paleontology as it is actually practiced.
The web is vast, and while some of us are brave and persistent enough to try to kill all the "unsinkable rubber ducks" of paleontological myths that get repeated in comment thread arguments ad nauseum, we'll never root them all out. There will always be people who believe that Triceratops is doomed, that the invalid status of Brontosaurus is pure scientific bullying, and perhaps most pernicious of all, that feathers on Mesozoic non-avian dinosaurs are like, totes lame.
Example: this recent Tumblr post from someone who just finished a college course on dinosaur paleontology:
i think the most important thing i’ll take away from my dinosaur class (other than pterodactyls are not actually dinosaurs and my entire life has been a lie) is that velociraptors were covered in feathers. and dog-sized. but mostlyWhat followed was an unattributed image of a feathered Velociraptor sculpture.
covered in feathers
can you imagine that shit in jurassic park??
I reblogged the post, adding the comment, "Funny how no one maligns wolverines by saying they could just 'kick them away.' Small does not equal harmless!"
You've got to feel sorry for either the student for having a teacher who failed to impart a greater level of appreciation for paleontology; or for the teacher for having such a closed-minded student. Knee-jerk dismissal of feathered dinosaurs is nothing new. Nor is the widespread misunderstanding of all dinosaurs as little more than bloodthirsty Kaiju monsters. Both are rubber ducks we'll probably always be annoyed by.
My first point in writing this post, beyond ragging on another feather-hater, is that more strongly than ever, I think that what we really need is a big, stupid, pulpy piece of entertainment that makes feathered dinosaurs scary and cool. Televised documentaries won't do it. It doesn't have to be perfectly accurate, but if it can at least achieve a rough approximation of what dinosaurs could have looked like - combining the "All Yesterdays" approach with pulp fiction, perhaps - public opinion could well swing our way. Especially as the Dinosaur Train generation grows up.
Ferocity and general badassness will drive public popularity of dinosaurs, but my second point is that after writing my "wolverine" rebuttal, I realized I'd inadvertently fallen into a similar trap as the original poster. My defense of a more accurate Velociraptor relied on the animal being vicious. Viciousness is certainly a trait of some animals, but when it's focused on as a particular special or admirable trait, it reduces animals to mere robotic killing machines (see any sensationalized story about shark attacks). Velociraptor is super cool, even if in life it was as docile as Nummymuffincoocolbutter. I formally apologize for this grievous error. Now I'm going to find a wolverine to cuddle.