Cheap thrills #1: It’s Godzilla! No, wait, just a really big platypus!

“Cheap thrills” is a new column devoted to those cases in which scientists and/or their media cronies go waaaay out and oversell a story to get HITS on their websites. Sometimes this reflects nothing more than the heavy hand of an over-caffeinated headline writer, but sometimes the scientist is fully complicit. For example…

For those of you who missed this magnificent story yesterday, researchers from the University of New South Wales in Australia have discovered GODZILLA! Well, not really; they found a fossil of a platypus. And it was an astounding TWO TIMES the size of a modern platypus – over a meter long!!! This dramatic discovery, naturally, prompted one of the discoverers to call the beast “Godzilla”. See the story here:

http://news.yahoo.com/extinct-godzilla-platypus-found-australia-014351630.html

My memory of Godzilla is a city-crunching lizard, about 1,000x the dimensions of anything found in nature today, several times the size of the largest dinosaurs… But a three-foot platypus? Give me a break. Is there something about Australia that makes everything look bigger, or is it just me?

This is not just the work of a press officer; the scientists played along. Here are some quotes from the original article:

“It pretty well blew our minds,” University of New South Wales professor Mike Archer told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. of the animal, which is estimated to be about twice the size of the modern platypus.

“And then bang out of the blue drops this monster. Platypus Godzilla.”

And my favorite: Archer goes on to say…

“Platypus Godzilla. You can imagine the humorous scenes where somebody looks at the modern platypus and says ‘That’s not a platypus’ and and then picks up this monster and says ‘That’s a platypus’.”

Sigh. Evidence that scientists have a sense of humor? All right, it’s painful, but at least give them marks for making an effort…?

Another headline for this winning story:

“Scientists discover monstrous, flesh-eating platypus”

from the link:

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/weird-wide-web/scientists-discover-monstrous-flesh-eating-platypus

At least that story’s a little more… modest. This press release quotes another researcher on the paper, Suzanne Hand, who seems a bit less outspoken. Sorry, Mike, I’ll be getting my news from Suzanne from now on.