by Lee Weeks
An independent group of scientists belatedly convened by the National Geogaphic Society has described as unfounded the Society's report late last year of "a true missing link in the complex chain that connects dinosaurs to birds."
A panel of paleontologists and ornithologists released their findings in April, confirming speculation by outside scientists that National Geographic Society's media blitz touting a feathered dinosaur fossil lacked independent scientific confirmation.
Further examination by the scientists of the fossil has revealed that it is a composite of at least two different animals. The fossil was smuggled into the United States from China and was sold for $80,000 to the owner of a dinosaur museum in Monticello, Utah, before it eventually landed in the halls of the National Geographic Society in Washington.
"In their zeal to provide evidence for their belief that dinosaurs gave rise to birds they short-circuited the scientific process," commented David A. DeWitt, associate director of creation studies at Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia.
Wayne Wofford, director of the Edward P. Hammons Center for Scientific Studies at Union University, Jackson, Tenn., aded: "National Geographic will pay a heavy price for their over-zealousness. It will take them a long to time to re-establish the trust of the scientific community and the public."
In a six-page color spread, complete with artist's drawings, photographs and diagrams, National Geographic's November, 1999, issue reported that the "Archaeoraptor," supposedly a 120-million-year-old bird-like creature with the tail of a meat-eating dinosaur, had been discovered in a fossil unearthed in the remote Liaoning Province of China.
The fossil had also been showcased before more than 100,000 people, the majority of them children, at the National Geographic's Explorers Hall in Washington between October 15 and January 21.
By late January, with the dinosaur-bird link controversy in the media, National Geographic promised to publish a correction in its March issue. When published, that issue offered only a brief letter in the letters to the editor column on the subject. The letter, written by Xu Xing, one of the original examiners, wrote of comparing the fossil to another "feathered dromaeosaur" and concluding, "Though I do not want to believe it, Archaeoraptor appears to be composed of a dromaeosaur tail and a bird body."
"People who were looking for the retraction couldn't find it," DeWitt said. "A letter to the editor is not the usual way to handle an error of this magnitude." He is concerned, DeWitt said, that the scientific community's predisposition toward evolution too often takes precedence over objective scientific research.
"Many scientists are so convinced that Darwinism is correct that they can't even see the plain evidence that contradicts it," DeWitt said. "Because they only look for evidence that supports the theory, they can be easily duped. The ‘Archaeoraptor' incident shows what can happen when scientists fail to consider alternative explanations."
DeWitt said the Archaeoraptor hoax will now be preserved in history along with a "growing list of evolution and fossil fakes" such as:
- "Nebraska Man": In 1922, scientists heralded a fossilized tooth, reported to be 1 million years old, as the "missing link" in human evolution. The tooth was presented as evidence for evolution in the 1925 Scopes Trial. Later it was discovered that the fossilized tooth was of a pig.
- "Piltdown Man": For nearly 50 years scientists believed they had discovered evolution's missing link in a portion of a human skull that had been pieced together with the jaw of an orangutan. Later it was learned that the teeth had been filed down to look more human-like.
- "Haeckel's Embryos": Ernst Haeckel, a German developmental biologist, drew pictures of embryos of a fish, frog, chicken, pig, and human to illustrate evolutionary history supposedly common to all of these species. Despite the revelation that the drawings of the various species had been deceptively altered, the drawings may still be found in biology textbooks today.
- "Peppered Moth": In England, scientists' conclusion that darker-colored moths perched on tree trunks were better camouflaged from predatory birds than lighter colored moths was dispelled when it was revealed that photographs of the moths had been staged because the moths do not rest on tree trunks.
"One has to wonder how many other fossils are also composites of different animals," DeWitt said. "Since these professional scientists were so easily fooled, perhaps we should question how extensive such fossil mishaps are. They are probably more common than we think."