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The Science of Jurassic Park

• September 17, 2013 • 2:00 AM

(PHOTO: ASHLEIGH290/FLICKR)

With Jurassic World set to hit theaters in the summer of 2015, we take a look at what the franchise got wrong, right, and vaguely correct.

Dinosaurs in the ‘90s were the vampires of today: a cultural avalanche that could not be stopped. However, due to the fact that dinosaurs are infinitely cooler, there may be hope on the horizon for a Jurassic Renaissance. Yes, hold onto your butts because the newest installment of the Jurassic Park franchise is now officially coming to a theater near you.

Titled Jurassic World, the film is scheduled to hit theaters in June 2015, and fans are as excited as Dr. Sattler with some Triceratops poo. It’ll be the fourth installment of one of the most popular series in film history—one that has pulled in $970 million worldwide despite the less-than-glowing reviews of the post-1993 sequels.

Part of the magic of the original Jurassic Park, aside from the chest of Ian Malcom, is the interest it drew to the science behind the story. Paleontologist Jack Horner, an advisor to the films, told USA Today that the movie generated kid-level-excitement about dinosaurs from many adults for the first time. But because it was, after all, a movie, some of the science was not particularly correct (or hadn’t caught up to the film yet).

So, in honor of the new film and John Hammond’s beard, here is a completely non-comprehensive list of the scientific rights and wrongs of Jurassic Park:

Part of the magic of the original Jurassic Park, besides the chest of Ian Malcom, is the interest it drew to the science behind the story.

WRONG: Crushing all dreams, a team of researchers from the University of Manchester have confirmed that the existence of dino DNA hiding out in amber fossils is “highly unlikely.” In the early 1990s, some scientist said they were able to do it, but the validity of their claim came into question when researchers at the Natural History Museum of London were unable to replicate the process. So when it came to trying the experiment again, the Manchester team used their most advanced DNA sequencing methods on insects in copal, the sub-fossilized precursor to amber that they figured would more likely yield success because of its younger age. But it still didn’t work. Team leader and amber expert Dr. David Penney was forced to conclude, “Unfortunately, the Jurassic Park scenario must remain in the realms of fiction.”

RIGHT: Remember, at the end, when the whole gang jumps on the hanging skeletons in the lobby, and the Velociraptors jump on too, and Timmy almost gets crushed because Timmy almost gets crushed throughout the entire movie? Well, the way the raptor raises its tail to make the jump is exactly what it would’ve done in real life, according to professor Robert Full of the University of California-Berkeley. After filming and studying the way red-head agama lizards run and jump off obstacles, Full and his team used that data to make a computer model of a Velociraptor. The model demonstrated that, muscles willing, Velociraptors would have used their tails for balance the same way as the lizards, confirming the dino-tail stabilization hypothesis put out by paleontologist John Ostrom in 1969. Swinging up the tale, Full decrees, is what keeps the raptor from landing face first.

WRONG: It’s now hypothesized that many dinosaurs sported feathers. Two confirmed plumed dinosaurs include the Gallimus bullatus (“They’re flocking this way”) and the stars of the show, Velociraptors. The Gallimus is a genus of ornithomimids, which have been found preserved with feathers in 75-million-year-old rocks from the badlands of Alberta, Canada. Raptor fossils have additionally been discovered with small bumps on the bone, where the quills of feathers once were. Paleontologist Dr. Robert Baker says raptors would have looked like a “ … kickboxing killer turkey, not a naked lizard!” meaning that the  six-foot turkey comment by the annoying kid in the beginning is actually sort of reasonable.

KINDA RIGHT: Sure, they weren’t the fastest creatures, but new research shows T. Rex’s were able to get a move on—making those Jeep chase scenes a little more realistic. For a while, scientists weren’t even sure if the T. Rex could run at all. But by putting skeletal and muscular measurements into a supercomputer, researchers at the University of Manchester were able to calculate the speeds of five meat-eating dinos. The figures, the team claims, are the best estimate to date for how fast the animals could run: the T. Rex clocks in at a not-so-shabby 18 miles per hour. “This carnivore was certainly capable of running,” insists paleontologist Phil Manning, “and would have little difficulty in chasing down footballer David Beckham for instance.”

Sarah Sloat
Sarah Sloat is an editorial fellow with Pacific Standard. She was previously selected as an intern for the Sara Miller McCune Endowed Internship and Public Service Program and has studied abroad in both Argentina and the U.K. Sarah has recently graduated from the University of California-Santa Barbara with a degree in Global and International Studies. Follow her on Twitter @sarahshmee.

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