Jurassic World movie trailer: Scientifically, it's a turkey

What do Jurassic World and Thanksgiving have in common? The challenging science of dinosaur (and turkey) domestication.

Universal/Jurassic World

Some paleontologists already have a bone to pick with the new Jurassic World trailer: It's bad science. 

But a University of Chicago professor sees something else in the movie's trailer:  What the domestication of turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner teaches us about breeding dinosaurs.

Amateur paleontologists and science writers, including Brian Switek @Laelaps, complained about some inaccuracies they've spotted in the trailer. 

Others swiftly abandoned the faux science to focus on the spelling error in the film’s hashtag.

University of Chicago Prof. Michael LaBarbera, who works in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, has written a paper titled “The Biology of B-Movie Monsters," which discusses what happens when “Biology and Geometry Collide” in film making. 

“I can see why palentologists are upset by these movies because they love these dinosaurs, just love them and here a filmmaker is playing with them, changing – and in a way –  perhaps demeaning them,” Professor LaBarbera says in a phone interview.

After watching the trailer, the professor says, “Seeing the pack of trained raptors and again the overall premise that dinosaurs can be either be bred, or in this case, far more unlikely, genetically engineered to run alongside a food source and play rather than devour it, is a fun fantasy. That’s all it is though – fantasy.”

The professor plays-out two possible scientific methods for creating a romping raptor, or a T-Rex, that plays fetch.

According to LaBarbera, the first and most realistic route to success would be domestication through selective breeding and that means scientists getting cozy with baby dinos to see which ones bite so they can to weed out those who are violent.

“I want to know the guy who’s going to get into the pen with velociraptors to see which one bites,” he laughs.  

He adds, “This reminds me of how we domesticated turkeys. So I suppose, really, this trailer is coming out at exactly the right time because the process would be the same.”

Turkeys in the wild were originally sly, vicious raptors that looked like good eating, so some adventurous souls began to try to domesticate them.

“Oh what a disaster that initially was,” LaBarbera says. “They needed to make the turkeys more stupid by selective breeding, but the problem was that they got so stupid they would look up at the rain and drown because they didn’t close their nostrils. The birds would kill themselves in every way imaginable, by sticking their head in the ground and by gathering into corners and suffocating.”

The birds were finally domesticated, resulting in a dramatic drop in the price of turkey, which led to the birds becoming the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, LaBarbera explains.

“So really, Jurassic World is a cautionary Thanksgiving tale for those who hope to someday dine on dinosaur on the holiday,” he quips.

It took the Russians 20 years to try and breed a tame fox at one generation per year and turkey domestication took a similar time span, according to LaBarbera.

“So seeing this film trailer you have to ask yourself, ‘What’s the domestication time of a T-Rex,’” LaBarbera says. 

The second option, which is the premise for Jurassic World and the less scientifically likely, is genetic engineering.

LaBarbera says that road leads not to success, but to evacuating your research facility with dinosaurs in hot pursuit…oh wait.

“The thing that’s really scary about that kind of science is that if you believe you’re smart enough to somehow know which genes to control in the brain to get certain effects like being docile, the world would be your oyster,” he says. “The implication then is that you can modify humans to remove certain traits.”

To summarize his reaction LaBarbera says, “This is a wonderful fantasy and every palentologists dream, frankly, to walk with dinosaurs. However the idea that you can domesticate them is beyond the pale.”

For now, at least, tame velociraptor is off the scientific menu.

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