Steve Brusatte is a world-renowned dinosaur expert. The Ottawa native is a paleontologist who’s been interviewed by every scientific journal known to humanity and many newspapers, too.
Recently, however, Brusatte found himself in a British tabloid – the kind that usually stalks the royal family – when he was interviewed by the Daily Mail about dinosaur fossils being auctioned off, a practice he opposes.
Brusatte resides in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was amused to learn his tabloid fame reached the states; but this was by no means a professional first.
“At the risk of sounding like a member of the Royal family or a pop star or a soccer player, no, this isn’t my first rodeo with the British tabloids,” Brusatte said. “My first brush with these strange newspapers came back when I was a master’s student in Bristol in 2007 and 2008, when I described a few new species of giant meat-eating dinosaurs. The University of Bristol put out a couple of press releases, and the tabloids immediately took notice.”
So did his father, retired Judge Jim Brusatte. He scans the internet regularly for news about his paleontologist son and wasn’t surprised to learn about Steve sharing space with the Windsors.
“He runs around with those people,” the judge deadpanned. Turning more serious, he said, “Nothing surprises me about Steve, but, my Lord, he has the ability to reach people in areas I never expected.”
Actually, Professor Brusatte has graced the tabloids numerous times since 2013, when he started his job at the University of Edinburgh and more of his research and discoveries hit the British press.
“It was bizarre but exhilarating seeing my dinosaurs – and occasionally my face – in the pages of the Sun and the Mail and these other papers I had known about from British television shows,” he said.
Then again, dinosaurs were tailor-made for the tabloids. Nobody on Fleet Street could resist the discovery of a long-nosed cousin of the Tyrannosaurus rex that Brusatte and his peers nicknamed “Pinocchio rex” – “The papers loved that!” – or when his team announced a new fossil of an ocean-dwelling reptile from the Jurassic Period, found on the Isle of Skye. That immediately (and predictably) set off a frenzy of headlines about the Loch Ness Monster.
Brusatte has a touch of ink in his blood, having worked four summers at the Ottawa Daily Times, and enjoys fielding queries about his research. Fossils and dinosaurs are his “passion,” and he traces his interest to pop science books, so he doesn’t view any medium as not worth his time.
“I value science communication, and it is probably the most important thing I do,” he said. “I always make time to write, to do interviews for television or radio, and to speak to journalists, whether it’s about my research or discoveries made by other scientists.”
One might suppose his tabloid presence would spark some good-natured ribbing in the University of Edinburgh faculty lounge, but his colleagues haven’t made a peep.
“They probably barely noticed,” Brusatte said. “And if they did, they probably rolled their eyes: ‘Steve’s talking about dinosaurs in the papers again, how original.’
“They probably skimmed past it to read the latest gossip about Harry and Meghan.”
Brusatte recently served as an adviser to “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” and published “The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us” in June. The book followed a run on the New York Times Bestseller’s list for his 2018 work, “The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World.”