Saturday, 14 July 2018

Station Of Critical Review By Kennedy Hiscox-Wormegay: Bryan Stamford's 'So Big, They Swim'

(A note to regular Beware! readers: Hiscox-Wormegay is currently suspended from duties, pending disciplinary action. Relief reviewer Dex Diabolo is keeping his seat warm. Enjoy!)

From deep within 2018's left field comes Bryan Stamford's So Big, They Swim, a 500-page opus which, when still only a rumour, threatened to turn establishment palaeontology on its head. It was claimed that the BBC was so concerned by its imminent release that it cancelled production on David Attenborough's twelve-part Giants Of The Past series and deleted everything in their back catalogue which referenced sauropod dinosaurs. The specialist blog, Sauropod Humeri - Photo Of The Month (or 'SH-POM!'), was inundated with interview requests from numerous journalists, all of them asking how they could have been so wrong.

So what's the deal?

For years, palaeontologists have been in agreement that dinosaurs went about their day-to-day lives doing the do on solid ground. This model is in stark contrast to a proposed nineteenth century idea, which suggested that some of the larger animals were simply too heavy to exist on dry ground, and must have used water to support their mass. However, decades of actual, real-life, no-nonsense scientific research, by real scientists—and not weirdo jack-of-all-trade university-of-life types—has demonstrated repeatedly that sauropods were well-adapted to an entirely terrestrial existence. In fact, if taken as aquatic animals, sauropods were utterly, utterly awful animals, destined to die out during the testing phase.

New (Old) Kid On The Block

Stamford in his days as a rock 'n' roll
violinist, before he became a rock 'n' roll
flautist for Dr. Eam. (Public Domain)
Enter onto the stage Bryan Stamford, a fringe theory science writer who lists amongst his skills "rock 'n' roll flautist for D Ream tribute band, Dr. Eam" and "Butlins Debating Society under 11s coach, 1976." He also founded seventeen popular(-)science radio programmes (all of which were only pitched; none were picked up) and lists numerous television appearances on his online CV. However, most of these seem to comprise Stamford's presence in the audience only, and are the source of much disagreement on his Wikipedia entry's 'Talk' section.

And then, something mindbogglingly crazy happened. We presume that someone from the publisher, HarpistCollier, about to retire and with nothing to lose, was getting sozzled at the bar on some cruises ship (where Stamford was either lecturing or playing his rock 'n' roll flute) and overheard one of Stamford's self-aggrandising conversations about how he—and he alone—knew the truth about dinosaurs, and that Big Palaeo was suppressing the truth.

The transcript would probably look something like this:
Collin Harper, a commissioning editor from the well-known publisher HarpistCollier, is due to retire and is thinking about how his dream of 'going out with a bang' remains unfulfilled. About to call it a night, he overhears the arse-send of a conversation between a dapper septuagenarian with an impressively full head of white hair, and a couple of bored middle-aged cruise-goers getting pissed the night before a medical conference.
Stamford: ...and that's when I realised that palaeontologists had got it wrong for nearly seventy years! And I thought, "I can't believe how ridiculous those ivory tower palaeontologists are! Stupid, simple, small-minded! I mean… I mean... *chortle* They're fucking ridiculous!"
The two guests seem taken aback by a well-spoken senior citizen dropping an F bomb so casually. Their journey is linked to a medical conference, so they are broadly familiar with science journals.
Cruiser 1: So, have you published your studies?

Stamford: *Snorts* Of course not! THEY don't want this stuff out there!

Cruiser 2: Who are they?

Stamford: And that's not to say I didn't try! I contacted all of the top journals: Country Life, The Watchtower, Take A Break... They wanted to see my supplementary data! Can you believe that? Take A Break wanted to see my data! The nerve of those stupid, small-minded bastards! The woman at Watchtower said she had debated enough palaeontologist types to know that "long-necked dinosaurs" didn't need to live in lakes. Can you believe that? Big Palaeo got to the johoes!

Cruiser 2: That's a big tick in my book.

Cruiser 1: Haven't you contacted Nature? Or New Scientist? Surely those are more relevant to your cause. I mean work.

Stamford: Pfft! Those fascists? Have you met the tiny-minded, moronic reviewers you have to get past to get published?! If you don't have friends reviewing your work, you're... you're basically fucked! *guffaw*

Cruiser 1: Well, listen... It's been great chatting, but things start early tomorrow so we better get some kip.
The three shake hands and the two conference goers depart, presumably to find a bar on another deck. Stamford watches the two exit, and looks pretty pleased with himself. Collin Harper makes his move.
Harper: Excuse me! Oh, hi, yes, um, I couldn't help but overhear a good deal of your conversation. Would I be right in thinking you're a dinosaur expert?

Stamford: Well, no, not as such. My area is ectoplasm viscosity and its effects on the emotional state of manifestations... So no, not dinosaurs... But yes, I have studied them. Quite intensively, actually! So yes, yes. I am an expert. In dinosaurs. Yes.

Harper: Ah, excellent. Becau——

Stamford: And I'm rock 'n' roll flautist!

Harper: Right... That's great. But it's the dinosaurs I'm more intere——

Stamford: Did you hear that bit about my appearance on Question Time?

Harper: "Hear about..."?

Stamford: When I was talking with those other two. Were you there for that bit?

Harper: I... don't think I——

Stamford: Ah, excellent! Yes, I was on Question Time in 1997. I argued with Philip Hammond, against the use of DNA to convict criminals. The cytoplasmic media of cells is susceptible to paranormal corruption.

Harper: What?

Stamford: Yes, it was a seminal moment in British politics.

Harper: Er... They got you on to talk about that?

Stamford: Yes. Well, no. I was in the audience. But it was still a key moment for the series. I believe it changed that way they took questions from the audience. 

Harper: I bet it did. But listen, I really need to——

Stamford: Did you see my appearance on Trisha?

Harper: *Sigh* I'm from a publishing house!

Stamford: *Splutter* Let me get you a drink!

And that's how we think Stamford got his book deal: a chance encounter with someone who didn't give a shit. We reached out to CollierHarpist for an interview, but they were initially reluctant to comment. In an email, they said, "...Mr Stamford has requested that until the book is officially launched next week, we do not breathe a word of any of this to anyone. As you might understand, our marketing team is frustrated."

Luckily, Stamford had accidentally leaked his own book by posting a DropBox link to a PDF version at his own Facebook page, straining his already fraught relationship with CollierHarpist. Although this was bad news (financially speaking) for the author and publisher, it was great for people hoping to witness the train wreck without having to pay for it. We bagged our download and then sat down to trawl through its general awfulness. Here is our take:

Throughout So Big, They Swim, Stamford describes thousands of minor personal achievements, none of which really relate to the book's premise. For example, in 2001 Stamford attended an event at the American Museum of Natural History, and "successfully" reduced a 7-year-old boy to tears when he told the child that "palaeontologists know fuck all about dinosaurs" and that he could learn more about them from his baby sister. In 2012, whilst driving home from a talk on how cells work together to create cosmic forcefields, he prevented a carjacking by absent-mindedly driving into the back the car being jacked. And it goes on like this for hundreds of pages. When it does manage to stay on topic, the arguments against a terrestrial lifestyle in large dinosaurs rarely make it beyond "I can't believe palaeontologists think this!"

We thought about writing a more-considered review of Stamford's book, but it really wasn't worth the effort to write more than a paragraph. We would say buy it yourself, but save your money and buy something else. Like this. Or this. Or this. Or this.

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