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Bird-brained Dinosaur to Bird Proponents Get Wings Clipped, Eat Crow: The Archaeoraptor Hoax

To be fair, and as you will see below, not every evolutionist embraces the idea that dinosaurs evolved into birds or more particularly, that “Archaeoraptor” was a genuine fossil providing proof of the theory.

What this episode does show is, 1)How fallible this “science” is and why scientists and materialists who argue with such force and arrogance that this and that is so—will have to be doing it with new facts and new suppositions the following week.

I have been saying and of course others have been making the case that evolution is a religion. It has to be because it is not backed up by science. Mostly it is one half -baked theory after another, supported by twisted or misunderstood data with equal parts of sneering and rampant speculation. Data that comes in which overturns pet theories are almost seamlessly folded into new equally speculative evolutionary theories. . .

Speaking of religion, and the faith of evolution and evolutionists—note the words of evolutionist Storrs L. Olson, of the Smithsonian, about the faith, prejudice and proselytizing of the National Geographic and dinosaur to birder’s in general. These are the same words we have been using to describe evolutionists and materialists in general, but it is interesting to say the least to see them used by evolutionists themselves in reference to each other. .

The idea of feathered dinosaurs and the theropod origin of birds is being actively promulgated by a cadre of zealous scientists acting in concert with certain editors at Nature and National Geographic who themselves have become outspoken and highly biased proselytizers of the faith. Truth and careful scientific weighing of evidence have been among the first casualties in their program, which is now fast becoming one of the grander scientific hoaxes of our age---the paleontological equivalent of cold fusion. If Sloan’s article is not the crescendo of this fantasia, it is difficult to imagine to what heights it can next be taken. .. Storrs L. Olson, Smithsonian


The full text of his letter is reproduced below.

This saga is a shining example of how “science” and “scientists” can take the barest of facts and with the assistance of the media try to make these pet theories unassailable fact and truth. Anyone who in late 1999 said that they didn’t believe archaeoraptor was genuine or that the bird to dinosaur theory hadn’t been proved would have sneeringly been considered and idiot or at least grossly uninformed.

It is not a matter of If dinosaurs had evolved into birds, it’s merely a question of when and how they would have stated forcefully and confidently. Turns out they were wrong as they more than often are.

November 20, 1999: The First Salvo.

Science News

On a tip from a colleague, paleontologist and artist Stephen Czerkas visited a Utah fossil sale earlier this year. What he found there made his heart jump: an impression of a tiny animal that appeared to have the feathers of a bird but the long, bony tail of a dinosaur.

To Czerkas, this fossil, taken illegally from China, documented a crucial, hitherto unknown stage in the evolution of birds. "It's a missing link that has the advanced characters of birds and undeniable dinosaurian characters as well," he says. .

His excitement, however, mixed with fear that a collector would purchase the fossil and squirrel it away. Czerkas quickly located a benefactor, who donated money to buy the fossil for the Dinosaur Museum, which Czerkas and his wife run in Blanding, Utah.

At a press conference last month at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., Czerkas and his colleagues announced that they would return the fossil to China after its scientific evaluation. They also revealed the first details about the feathered dinosaur, which they have named Archaeoraptor liaoningensis. .

The newfound fossil comes from the northwest Chinese city of Liaoning, the fabulously fossil-rich locale that has yielded several new species of birds and dinosaurs with feathers. Archaeoraptor differs from these other dinosaurs because its skeleton indicates it could fly yet it retained features characteristic of dinosaurs like Velociraptor. For instance, the tail vertebrae had bony extensions that stiffened the tail and kept it off the ground. .

Archaeoraptor bolsters the hypothesis that birds evolved from bipedal carnivorous dinosaurs known as theropods (SN: 9/18/99, p.183), says Philip J. Currie of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alberta. .

"Our whole idea of what dinosaurs looked like is changing pretty drastically," says Currie, who is participating in the study of the specimen. The feathers on Archaeoraptor and other Chinese dinosaurs suggest that many theropod species could have sported feathers, including Tyrannosaurus rex when it was young. Feathers, however, would have hindered adult versions of such large theropods by causing them to overheat, says Currie. .

Not surprisingly, these ideas get a poor reception among the small group of paleontologists that discounts the connection between birds and dinosaurs. "Archaeoraptor is one of the worst preserved specimens in a long line of poorly preserved specimens," says Larry D. Martin of the University of Kansas in Lawrence. .

Martin, who has seen photos but not the actual specimen, says he couldn't identify feather impressions surrounding the fossil, nor could a Kansas colleague who traveled to Washington to see the fossil on display at National Geographic.

Martin also says that the fossil appears to be a composite made by putting together pieces of two facing sides of a split slab--called part and counterpart by paleontologists. He wonders whether elements from other specimens have gotten mixed in. "We should look at this and make sure it's all one animal," he says. .

Czerkas confirms that the Chinese fossil hunters who found the specimen did glue together sections of the part and counterpart, but he argues that the fossil is from one individual. .

November 1999; National Geographic Makes Dinosaur to Bird “Scientific Dogma”.

In “Feather’s for T.rex”, they provide a sculpture of Archaeoraptor, along with pictures of the fossil. Says Issue No longer in Doubt, dinosaurs evolved into dinosaurs. The article and its conclusions appear in all types of media all over the world. The author, listed on the masthead as part of the “Art” Department goes so far as to say:” “we can now say that birds are theropods just as confidently as we say that humans are mammals”.

1 November 1999; An Evolutionist Fires Back, As do Many Creationists

Dr. Peter Raven, Secretary
Committee for Research and Exploration
National Geographic Society
Washington, DC 20036
Dear Peter,
I thought that I should address to you the concerns expressed below because your committee is at least partly involved and because you are certainly now the most prominent scientist at the National Geographic Society.

With the publication of “Feathers for T. rex?” by Christopher P. Sloan in its November issue, National Geographic has reached an all-time low for engaging in sensationalistic, unsubstantiated, tabloid journalism. But at the same time the magazine may now claim to have taken its place in formal taxonomic literature.

Although it is possible that Mr. Czerkas “will later name” the specimen identified on page 100 as Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, there is no longer any need for him to do so.

Because this Latinized binomial has apparently not been published previously and has now appeared with a full-spread photograph of the specimen “accompanied by a description or definition that states in words characters that are purported to differentiate the taxon,” the name Archaeoraptor liaoningensis.

Sloan is now available for purposes of zoological nomenclature as of its appearance in National Geographic (International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, Article 13a, i). This is the worst nightmare of many zoologists---that their chance to name a new organism will be inadvertently scooped by some witless journalist. Clearly, National Geographic is not receiving competent consultation in certain scientific matters.

Sloan’s article explicitly states that the specimen in question is known to have been illegally exported and that “the Czerkases now plan to return it to China.” In Washington, in June of 1996, more than forty participants at the 4th International Meeting of the Society of Avian Paleontology and Evolution, held at the Smithsonian Institution, were signatories to a letter to the Director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences that deplored the illegal trade in fossils from China and encouraged the Chinese government to take further action to curb this exploitation.

There were a few fossil dealers at that meeting and they certainly got the message. Thus, at least since mid-1996 it can hardly have been a secret to anyone in the scientific community or the commercial fossil business that fossils from Liaoning offered for sale outside of China are contraband.

Most, if not all, major natural history museums in the United States have policies in effect that prohibit their staff from accepting any specimens that were not legally collected and exported from the country of origin. The National Geographic Society has not only supported research on such material, but has sensationalized, and is now exhibiting, an admittedly illicit specimen that would have been morally, administratively, and perhaps legally, off-limits to researchers in reputable scientific institutions.

Prior to the publication of the article “Dinosaurs Take Wing” in the July 1998 National Geographic, Lou Mazzatenta, the photographer for Sloan’s article, invited me to the National Geographic Society to review his photographs of Chinese fossils and to comment on the slant being given to the story. At that time, I tried to interject the fact that strongly supported alternative viewpoints existed to what National Geographic intended to present, but it eventually became clear to me that National Geographic was not interested in anything other than the prevailing dogma that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

Sloan’s article takes the prejudice to an entirely new level and consists in large part of unverifiable or undocumented information that “makes” the news rather than reporting it. His bald statement that “we can now say that birds are theropods just as confidently as we say that humans are mammals” is not even suggested as reflecting the views of a particular scientist or group of scientists, so that it figures as little more than editorial propagandizing. This melodramatic assertion had already been disproven by recent studies of embryology and comparative morphology, which, of course, are never mentioned.

More importantly, however, none of the structures illustrated in Sloan’s article that are claimed to be feathers have actually been proven to be feathers. Saying that they are is little more than wishful thinking that has been presented as fact. The statement on page 103 that “hollow, hairlike structures characterize protofeathers” is nonsense considering that protofeathers exist only as a theoretical construct, so that the internal structure of one is even more hypothetical.

The hype about feathered dinosaurs in the exhibit currently on display at the National Geographic Society is even worse, and makes the spurious claim that there is strong evidence that a wide variety of carnivorous dinosaurs had feathers. A model of the undisputed dinosaur Deinonychus and illustrations of baby tyrannosaurs are shown clad in feathers, all of which is simply imaginary and has no place outside of science fiction.

The idea of feathered dinosaurs and the theropod origin of birds is being actively promulgated by a cadre of zealous scientists acting in concert with certain editors at Nature and National Geographic who themselves have become outspoken and highly biased proselytizers of the faith. Truth and careful scientific weighing of evidence have been among the first casualties in their program, which is now fast becoming one of the grander scientific hoaxes of our age---the paleontological equivalent of cold fusion.

If Sloan’s article is not the crescendo of this fantasia, it is difficult to imagine to what heights it can next be taken. But it is certain that when the folly has run its course and has been fully exposed, National Geographic will unfortunately play a prominent but unenviable role in the book that summarizes the whole sorry episode.


Storrs L. Olson
Curator of Birds
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, DC 20560

Week of January 15, 2000; The End Comes Swiftly

All mixed up over birds and dinosaurs

By R. Monastersky

Red-faced and downhearted, paleontologists are growing convinced that they have been snookered by a bit of fossil fakery from China. The "feathered dinosaur" specimen that they recently unveiled to much fanfare apparently combines the tail of a dinosaur with the body of a bird, they say.

"It's the craziest thing I've ever been involved with in my career," says paleontologist Philip J. Currie of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, Alberta.

The fossil, named Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, comes from the northeastern province of Liaoning, where local farmers have been unearthing many new dinosaur species, some showing evidence of downlike coats and feathers.

Currie, Stephen Czerkas of the Dinosaur Museum in Blanding, Utah, and Xing Xu of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing announced the discovery of Archaeoraptor at a press conference in Washington, D.C., at the National Geographic Society last October (SN: 11/20/99, p. 328).

At the time, they called it a missing link between birds and dinosaurs because it manifested the long bony tail of dromaeosaurid dinosaurs and the specialized shoulders and chest of birds. The scientists couldn't be sure of the fossil's history because they had not excavated it. Spirited out of China, the specimen attracted Czerkas' attention when he saw it for sale in Utah. His museum arranged its purchase by a benefactor.

Recently, while examining a dromaeosaurid dinosaur in a private collection in China, Xu decided that the Archaeoraptor fossil is a chimera. The tail of that dinosaur is identical to the Archaeoraptor tail, he told Science News.

The two tails are mirror images of each other, derived from the same individual, says Xu. When rocks containing fossils are split, they often break into two fossils.

Currie suspects that someone sought to enhance the value of Archaeoraptor by pasting one part of the dinosaur's tail to a bird fossil.

Czerkas is reserving judgement until he can view both fossils together. "I've got all this other evidence suggesting the tail does belong with the [Archaeoraptor] fossil," he says.

The paleontologists already had concerns about the tail because the bones connecting it to the body are missing and the slab shows signs of reworking. They had convinced themselves, however, that the two parts belonged together.

Other scientists criticize the team and the National Geographic Society for unveiling the fossil before any detailed article had appeared in a scientific journal."There probably has never been a fossil with a sadder history than this one," says Storrs L. Olson of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Because National Geographic published an article about Archaeoraptor before any formal description, credit for the scientific name now goes to the author of the magazine article, rather than to the scientists, says Olson.

Currie says that the mix-up over this one fossil does not diminish the evidence suggesting that birds evolved from dinosaurs. It will, however, cause him to be more tight-lipped in the future about fossil finds until a journal article appears. "Certainly, I don't recommend to any budding scientist that they do it this way."

Feb 8, 2000; Another Article on the Hoax

WORLD High-flying dinosaur's wings clipped

By JULIAN BORGER in London ; The Guardian

Archaeoraptor first turned up in a hotel room in Tucson, Arizona. Stephen Czerkas, a dinosaur enthusiast who ran a small private museum, was wandering around a fossil fair when he heard that a Chinese dealer had something extraordinary.

When the dealer unwrapped a 30-centimetre-long slab of rock, Mr Czerkas experienced a paleontological epiphany. Embedded in the stone were the fossilised bones of an extraordinary prehistoric animal, with the complex limbs of a prototype bird and the distinctive tail of an earth-bound dromaeosaur, edged with the shadow of what seemed to be feathers. It looked like a dinosaur that could fly.

"It was stunning," Mr Czerkas recalls. "I could see right away that it didn't belong on sale. It belonged in a museum." He hastily contacted a patron who put up the $US80,000 ($125,000) the dealer was asking for, and took his prize home in a state of high excitement, convinced he had discovered evidence of a pivotal moment in evolution.

That was last February. Since then, the dramatic rise and fall of Mr Czerkas's new bird-dinosaur has been one of the strangest episodes in modern paleontology, and a scandal from which the science is still recovering.

After months of scrutiny involving x-rays and scans, Mr Czerkas's bird dinosaur was proclaimed a new species, Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, by none other than the prestigious National Geographic journal. The magazine heralded the find as a crucial "missing link", representing conclusive proof that birds were the last living descendants of the dinosaurs.

But weeks later, archaeoraptor was unveiled as a hoax, wedged together with bits and pieces from at least two animals by canny Chinese farmers with a feel for what paleontologists were looking for. It now appears to have been the dinosaur version of Piltdown Man, the notorious fossil hoax put together in Sussex in 1911 to provide the missing link between man and ape predicted by Charles Darwin.

Archaeoraptor's moment of truth came last December when a Chinese researcher, Xu Xing, visited Liaoning and found evidence that the creature's tail had been stolen from a land-bound dinosaur called a dromaeosaur.

Liaoning is a paleontologists' gold mine - a great expanse of powdery white siltstone deposited at the bottom of a lake 130 million years ago. It is so dense it has preserved not only the bones of dinosaurs that died there but also some of their soft tissues.

In 1996, a Chinese team from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology came across a fossil of a 30-centimetre-long dinosaur the size of a hawk which they named sinornithosaurus (Chinese bird dinosaur). It had a wishbone and the tail of a theropod. But what caught their attention was a fossilised aura of downy hairs around the bones. The following year, another bird dinosaur was discovered, beipiaosaurus, an ungainly two-metre theropod covered in 5 centimetre-long feathers.

The Chinese discoveries were published in Nature and in National Geographic, revolutionising the perception of theropod dinosaurs. If Jurassic Park was remade now, National Geographic argued, even the T-rexes would have to have feathers.

Until that point, the most widespread theory was that birds evolved separately from and parallel to dinosaurs, from a common reptilian ancestor that roamed the earth more than 250 million years ago.

How National Geographic got itself into this mess is something its own staff are still trying to untangle. It seems to have got itself caught in the crack between its dual roles as a scientific journal and a popular magazine. "It's a big disappointment, which hasn't happened since I've been here," Christopher Sloan, the senior assistant editor who wrote the ill-fated article, admitted. "We take a lot of pride in our work, and we go to great lengths to research every word and every picture."

February 3, 2000; National Geographic Quietly, Grudgingly, Retracts


For Immediate Release

WASHINGTON—Based on the best scientific information available at press time, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC reported on the Archaeoraptor fossil in the November issue of the magazine.

Only after the magazine had been published did NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC learn about the possibility that the fossil might be a composite. If it is a composite, it initially escaped detection by a team of scientists that included top experts on bird origins.

We immediately began an investigation into the matter and took the earliest possible opportunity to publish a disclosure of the new information in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazine (March 2000). We were obviously disappointed to hear that Archaeoraptor might be a composite and are committed to getting to the bottom of the mystery of this fossil. The magazine will report the findings to its readers.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC is currently in negotiations with scientists in China and the U.S. to get the fossils together for an independent review. This is the only way to determine conclusively if Archaeoraptor is a composite.

We also funded the original CT scanning work on the fossil and hope to see the published analysis in a peer-reviewed journal soon. Regardless of Archaeoraptor, most paleontologists have been convinced for some time that birds emerged from dinosaurs. This is based on a wealth of evidence unrelated to any of the current fossils from China.