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The Frauds of Evolution #12: Frauds of a Feather — National Geographic’s Archaeoraptor Hoax Part 2

Peacock feather detail showing the 'eye'


The following Open Letter by Dr. Storrs Olson of the Smithsonian Institution to Dr. Peter Raven of the National Geographic Society was sent in reaction to the publication of an article promoting the idea of dinosaur-to-bird evolution. In consideration of our current topic, I deemed it beneficial and relevant for the reader to have the advantage of Olson’s full letter. (Emphases are all mine.)

National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D. C. 20560
1 November 1999

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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.

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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
Ph. 202-357-33212
FAX 1-202-633-8084

(Source: Answers in Genesis)

It should be stressed that Olson is an evolutionist himself. He has no young earth creationism ax to grind. He is simply honest. And it is clear what he thinks about the integrity of those he is criticizing at National Geographic.

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Dr. Timothy Rowe was commissioned by National Geographic to scan the specimen of archaeoraptor. Rowe discovered during his analysis and reported that “26 fossil bones from 5 animals, including a dinosaur and a bird, had been fraudulently constructed to make a transitional fossil.” (Source: YouTube video featuring Dr. Carl Werner on the program, Origins.)

According to Dr. Rowe the first thing that grabbed his attention was that the dinosaur tail had no verifiable fit between the tail and any of the other parts of “the” fossil. Other irregularities included the two shin bones were glued in with no verifiable association with the pieces around them, and the feet were actually a foot, created from slab and counterslab, and glued in place. And here’s the most damning part against National Geographic:

“Dr. Rowe reported his startling discoveries to the National Geographic scientists, yet soon afterward the unexpected happened. National Geographic held a press conference announcing the discovery of archaeoraptor failing to disclose the fossil as a fraud.”

In other words, National Geographic had advance notice of the hoax prior to their news conference, and publication of the article three months after Dr. Rowe’s analysis, but went ahead and published their spin on “the” fossil as “a true missing link in the complex chain that connects birds to dinosaurs,” all with great fanfare and a news conference going out on news services around the whole world.

Dr. Rowe states: “We provided the data and our interpretation to the representatives of [National] Geographic–and the scientist in charge, as he walked out of the building, his last comment to me was, ‘Well, all of these Chinese things have been fiddled with’.”

In other words, Dr. Rowe’s discovery and definitive report that the fossil was a hoax, a composite, was simply being brushed aside, ignored and summarily dismissed by National Geographic without consideration! Apparently, National Geographic had an agenda and nothing was going to derail them from their purposes. Storrs Olson had no idea just how bad the situation really was at National Geographic when he wrote his scathing criticisms. Olson’s criticisms were directed against biased interpretation of data. One can only guess what Olson would have written in his letter if he had known National Geographic was prepared to perpetrate a deliberate hoax!

According to Dr. Rowe: “We presented our interpretation and original copies of the data to all parties and it was a total shock when the news conference came that they were announcing that this was a valid specimen.”—emph. supp.

National Geographic’s editor, Bill Allen, and writer Christopher P. Sloan, published the now-imfamous article, “Feathers for T. Rex?” in which Sloan claimed that archaeoraptor was “a true missing link in the complex chain that connects dinosaurs to birds.”

It was immediately after the publication of the article that Storrs Olson fired off his OPEN LETTER to Peter Raven of the National Geographic Society on November 1, 1999, not knowing that the fraud in the case went far beyond mere propagandistic spin and “science fiction” but constituted a deliberate HOAX, as well.

It would appear from Dr. Timothy Rowe’s testimony that the powers-to-be at National Geographic, knowing full well that they were perpetrating a hoax, were prepared to push the hoax for as long as they could. National Geographic’s archaeoraptor hoax, however, began to unravel very quickly when Xu Xing, one of the principals involved, a Chinese scientist, defected from the National Geographic camp with a letter to the editor in March of 2000 declaring that additional information led him to conclude that archaeoraptor was a composite fossil with a dromaeosaur tail attached to a bird body—in a word, a hoax.

The evolutionary propaganda game represented here is very ingenious (and insidious) in its simplicity. News conferences are one of the principal and longstanding methods to promote the evolution fraud as “fact” to an unsuspecting public. When National Geographic or any other of the Big Name promoters of the evolution hoax calls a news conference to announce yet another “missing link” has been discovered, a chain reaction of global publicity is generated which involves a worldwide dissemination of propaganda through all of the world’s news and media networks.

The evolutionists look at projects such as the archaeoraptor hoax from a “net gain” perspective. They are not worried about any necessary retractions that have to be made afterwards. All of the initial fanfare and hoopla is what the public remembers. The subsequent retractions which may or may not ensue are 1) never as spectacular as the news conferences, and 2) never accompanied by the same level of fanfare and promotion as announcements of “missing links”, and 3) are completely forgotten (or never noticed in the first place) by the public at large. The net effect created is the impression that another “proof” of evolution has been discovered, and that is looked at by evolutionists as a net gain. In other words, the news conference/retraction process is all part of one big propaganda game. These propaganda efforts are aimed, never forget, at the general public from whom the floodgates of money flow from both public (government) agencies and private foundations. The evolution hoax is a proverbial “gravy train” upon which many and varied individuals and organizations are happy to ride.

The ongoing feathered dinosaur fraud now in vogue among some evolutionists, is clear demonstration, at least to me, that a very large proportion of evolutionists in academia, in research, and in publishing are simply not on the level. It is not about the search for truth and understanding of the world and universe we live in. It is all about the next grant of public funds, financial security, and, for many, institutional power. For some it is about ideology, i.e., Naturalism, or a combination of money and ideology. The pervasive practice of terminating the employment of those who are found out not to believe in Darwinism in academia, scientific research and relevant government agencies, along with the routine denials of tenure, denials of admittance to Ph. D. programs, refusal to award Ph. D.’s after being earned, demotions, and even campaigns of vilification directed against “scientific sinners” is evidence of a system suffering from deep and systematic corruption and degradation.

I occasionally read or hear admonitions from fellow creationists (young earth or otherwise) to the effect that we should “tone down the rhetoric” and especially not draw conclusions about the personal integrity of specific evolutionists advocating their beliefs. To which I respond, Why in the world not? Have you read my article on Henry Fairfield Osborn and the Nebraska Man hoax? Do you really believe Osborn was actually honest in his approach to the creation-evolution controversy? Get real! And have you checked out what I (courtesy of Luther Sunderland in Darwin’s Enigma) had to say about Niles Eldredge’s very public comments about evolution during the Seagraves textbook trial with 20 million people watching him on ABC television? Do you really believe that Eldredge did not tell a willful, calculated, bald-faced lie about supposed horse evolution after he had just recently repudiated it? Get doubly real!

Niles Eldredge, remember, was the one who had advocated taking a “gloves off” approach toward creationists. Apparently “gloves off” includes the Big Lie. Eldredge was advising his fellow evolutionists how to approach the creation-evolution controversy, but I am perfectly willing to heed his counsel myself! The difference is that I will do it with truth, whereas Niles Eldredge (et al) was willing to tell a deliberate lie when he found it an expedient method to snooker 20 million people into believing in evolution. Bottom line: when there is a chance to influence public opinion, evolutionists will lie. Why not simply report the plain truth that evolutionists tell lies?

It is not as if the facts in the above-cited cases are ambiguous and I’m overreaching in my conclusions. Any contrary conclusion is indulgence in the implausible. Also, we can include in this list of names high level and “reputable” Drs. Leo Hickey, Louis S. Russell, Preston Cloud, and Tim White, all of whom I spotlighted in the second article of this series, and all of whom went on camera proclaiming the existence of “innumerable intermediate species” in the fossil record, only to turn right around and try to explain why there are not any. It is common knowledge that the claim of verified intermediate species in the fossil record is false and the whole field of “punctuated equilibria” (presumably driven by “allopatric speciation”) exists to try to explain why we don’t find such intermediates.

Understand this about the evolutionists’ claim that there are “innumerable intermediate species” in the fossil record: evolutionists are disingenuous in this regard, and they are self-deceived. Their approach to the debate as to whether there are “innumerable intermediate species in the fossil record” is to simply DEFINE the problem in their favor. They are guilty of equivocation in this matter.

Remember: evolutionists regard ALL living organisms as one great “tree of life” stretching back to the first living cell as a common ancestor. In their view, ALL of the fossils represent one long sequence of intermediate forms. Yes, the actual connecting links between species are universally missing, but that’s a moot point. This is what evolutionists mean when they say there are “innumerable transitional forms” in the fossil record. Never mind that there is not a single watertight case to be made for continuity between one species and the next; evolutionists simply “know” that the fossil record represents “the tree of life,” and therefore there are innumerable transitional forms in the fossil record. In fact, there is nothing else.  Evolutionists are guilty of engaging in the tautology here, the circular argument–assumption. The assumption itself is regarded as being the proof of the assumption. See how easy it is to “prove” that the fossil record is full of transitional forms?

When evolutionists say that there are innumerable transitional forms in the fossil record, they are engaged in a confidence game of semantics void of substance.

I am told by some of my fellow Christians that I am violating the admonition of the Lord, “Judge not that you be not judged,” when drawing such conclusions about someone else’s integrity. My fellow Christians who say such a thing need to go back and read the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in context. The Lord’s admonition is not against judging, but against hypocritical judging. Mark now my admonition: quoting Scripture out of context is Scripture twisting, so don’t do it! You may also want to blow off the dust from your Bible and open it up to Matthew 23.

Evolutionists have no moral foundation except the survival of the “fittest,”–in a phrase, “Nature—red in tooth and claw.” They have demonstrated over and over again that they believe in this principle, that they are committed to it, and that they are willing to behave accordingly. The above-mentioned firings of Darwin doubters from their jobs in academia, science research, and government attest abundantly to this fact, as does the extensive censorship and repression of information at odds with their cherished Naturalistic paradigm. For evolutionists, the idea of a free and open and honest exchange of ideas and rational debate are archaic, outdated notions from a more primitive age. They fancy themselves as being at the apex and pinnacle of evolutionary development and beyond such primitive, archaic notions and consider it beneath themselves to have to engage with us Neanderthals. The comments elicited from prominent evolutionists themselves (such as Richard Dawkins) at the beginning of Ben Stein’s documentary, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” constitute abundant evidence of the extreme arrogance, monumental hubris and gargantuan presumptuousness of the current academic, evolutionary elite. They condemn themselves out of their own mouths.

But there I go digressing again.

So what is actually going on in the feathered dinosaur claim? There are actual physical fossils to examine, right? Either there are clear feather impressions or there are not, right? Practically everybody who has an interest in this subject will immediately think of the photos they have seen of the (bird) archaeopteryx fossils with their exquisite preservation of detail of feathers almost down to the microscopic level. The truth is a little more complex. Exquisite, fine preservation of details in fossils to the extent existing in the archaeopteryx fossils is due to the very fine-grained sandstone in which they were fossilized and is, in fact, rare.

There are basically two things going on: 1) indistinct patterns in the fossils, almost certainly from collagen, are being interpreted as feathers and 2) extinct birds, such as microraptors, are claimed to be dinosaurs.

Anybody who wishes to consider this issue in detail should read Dr. Alan Feduccia’s in-depth scientific treatment of the subject in which Feduccia is critical of what he calls “the current dogma,” (Journal of Morphology, 266: 125-166). Feduccia is an expert ornithologist.

Feduccia notes:

“Our findings show no evidence for the existence of protofeathers and consequently no evidence in support of the follicular theory of the morphogenesis of the feather. Rather, based on histological studies of the integument of modern reptiles, which show complex patterns of the collagen fibers of the dermis, we conclude that “protofeathers” are probably the remains of collagenous fiber “meshworks” that reinforced the dinosaur integument. These “meshworks” of the skin frequently formed aberrant patterns resembling feathers as a consequence of decomposition.”—Journal of Morphology, pg. 125 (2005), my emphasis

Feduccia went on to note that the scientific articles of other researchers advocating that dinosaurs sported feathers were “misleading,” (pg. 132), and he speaks of “the flimsiness of the arguments with respect to the thesis of feathered dinosaurs,” and the “weakness of such arguments,” (pg. 134) and “the arguments are faulty and lack scientific rigor,” (pg. 135).

Some other significant citations from Feduccia:


“Skin impressions are fairly commonly preserved in diverse dinosaurs…Aside from the Lower Cretaceous Chinese fossils, in no case is there any evidence of feather-like structures. The typical dinosaur skin has the “pebbly” texture of tuberculated skin (particularly well-preserved in hadrosaurs), and there are no known integumentary appendages.”—pg. 145

“(T)here is a total lack of any convincing structural or biological evidence for the existence of protofeathers in the Lower Cretaceous dinosaurs of China… microraptors…are thus birds and not true theropod dinosaurs.”—pg. 146

“(T)he discovery of Caudipteryx (cover article in Nature, Ji et al., 1998) was the first announcement of a ‘feathered dinosaur’ despite its myriad bird-like features, which were completely ignored…Caudipteryx is a flightless bird. ”—pg. 156


So exactly what is going on with these scientists who are “seeing” feathers on dinosaurs? Or, more precisely, “feather impressions” in dinosaur fossils? It is what I have termed in the third installment of this series the evolutionary “placebo effect” or the “Piltdown Syndrome.”

Evolutionist Roger Lewin, commenting on the British scientists who were the principals in the Piltdown Man investigation explains:

“(T)he real story of it all has been somewhat obscured: ‘namely, what could have led so many eminent scientists to embrace such a forgery?’ How is it that trained men, the greatest experts of their day, could look at a set of modern human bones—the cranial fragments—and ‘see’ a clear simian signature in them; and ‘see’ in an ape’s jaw the unmistakable signs of humanity? The answers, inevitably, have to do with the scientists’ expectations and their effects on the interpretation of data.”—Bones of Contention, pg. 61

Anybody who thinks the phenomenon of Piltdown Man is a relic of the past is sorely mistaken. In the field of evolution, nothing has changed since 1913. The same subordination of the critical faculties to subjective hopes and expectations that plagued Sir Arthur Keith, Arthur Smith Woodward and all the other great scientists involved in the Piltdown Man affair is plaguing the feathered dinosaur enthusiasts of today. They are either incapable or unwilling to be led by empirical data.


In the next article of this series, we will turn to the topic of OOPARTS, the acronym for “out of place artifacts.”

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Written by Tom Shipley

I am a former atheist and was an evolutionist during my college days, but came to faith in Christ at the age of 20. I regard my pro-creation activities as part of the work of the kingdom of God. I believe that a very tough, strident and unapologetic stance against evolution is called for though I may soften my tone if and when Mark Armitage and David Coppedge, fired for their creationist beliefs, are given their jobs back. Articles copyright Tom Shipley. All Rights Reserved.

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  1. Hi Tom, I really enjoy reading a lot of your articles. Amazing research. I hope you’re doing well and are still fighting the good faith.

    • Thank you, Loan.Yes, still fighting the good faith. Life is busy these days. Most of my activity the last year or so has been responding to various people on YouTube. I’m hoping to get back into the habit of researching and writing by the end of this year.

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