Saturday, April 01, 2006

The conspiracy to create dinosaurs
Last December, when I began my mammoth series, I considered doing a sort of field guide to creationists. It's a good thing I didn't attempt it; that same month Darksyde, a science blogger, was promoted to the front page of The Daily Kos and soon began that exact series. It's a good thing that he beat me to the draw, because he is far more prolific than I and has produced eleven parts to his series "Know Your Creationists" in the same time that I have managed to produced two (Dr. Cuozzo and the battle between mammoths and dinosaurs and Porcher Taylor and the satellite evidence of Noah's ark).

And yet, I don't think I'm entirely out of the competition. I have my own special group of creationists. While Darksyde has been working his way down from the top, I have been working my way up from--where, not the bottom, because who knows where that is, but from the visible middle. Cuozzo's Neanderthal dentistry has worked it's way into the popular young-earth creationist world view and Taylor is just the latest in an unending series of ark-eologists.

In that spirit, I'd like to introduce you to David P. Wozney. Mr. Wozney feels that there is good reason to doubt that dinosaurs ever existed.

It appears that Mr. Wozney is a Canadian and a member of some sort of some sort of fundamentalist and socially conservative Christian church. I say "appears" because Wozney tells us very little about himself, and rather than clearly stating his beliefs and opinions, he approaches things tentatively, merely stating that something is "possible" or that certain selected evidence "suggests" this or that conclusion. In addition, he is very quick to argue semantic points with anyone who dares to interpret his words. I'll say more about this style later.

I have deduced Wozney's religious beliefs from the fact that one of the pages of his website is dedicated to preparing for the rapture and that he occasionally appears as a commenter at various blogs to suggest that the legalization of same sex marriage in Canada should not be possible.

Following the election in 2004, a map showing a mock re-organization of North America circulated on the internet. It showed the blue states of the northeast and coasts annexed to Canada with the remainder of the US renamed "Jesusland." Mr. Wozney pasted the same identical comment into the comment threads of about 50 blogs.
Is the "Jesus" of this so-called "Jesusland" the Jesus of the Jefferson Bible (also called "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels")?

He never explains what the question means and doesn't participate any further in any of the discussions. In most cases he arrived toward the end of the discussions and was often the last post, which in itself is curious; what point is he trying to make that is so important that he went from blog to blog leaving his question long after everyone had gone home? We might never know.

Semantic quibbles are not usually the most convincing form of arguments, but at least Wozney does not argue using dictionary definitions. Still, he seems to feel that words have singular and unchanging meanings that are obvious to all. This faith in words is common out on the fringe. It's also the main underpinning of literalist fundamentalism, which he supports.

Wozney also has some problems with modern science. He has dedicated over half of the pages of his website to casting doubt on the Apollo moon landings. His website's other main sections deal with preparing for the Rapture and casting doubt on the very existance of dinosaurs. The latter is a longish essay called "Dinosaurs: Science or Science Fiction" originally posted to his site in 1997.

This is where I come in. My name is John. I carry a mammoth. <Cue Dragnet theme music...>

Wozney states his thesis at the beginning of his piece:
When children go to a dinosaur museum, are the displays they see displays of science or displays of art and science fiction? Are we being deceived and brainwashed at an early age into believing a dinosaur myth? Deep probing questions need to be asked of the entire "dinosaur industry".

This article will discuss the possibility that there may have been an ongoing effort since the earliest dinosaur "discoveries" to plant, mix and match bones of various animals, such as crocodiles, alligators, iguanas, giraffes, elephants, cattle, kangaroos, ostriches, emus, dolphins, whales, rhinoceroses, etc. to construct and create a new man-made concept prehistoric animal called "dinosaurs".

Where bones from existing animals are not satisfactory for deception purposes, plaster substitutes may be manufactured and used. Some material similar or superior to plasticine clay or plaster of Paris would be suitable. Molds may also be employed.

Note the tentative tone. At the end of his piece, he is more emphatic in claiming fraud:
The dinosaur industry needs to be investigated and questions need to be asked. I personally do not have any reasons to believe dinosaurs ever existed and I believe they may be a fabrication of nineteenth and twentieth century people...

The rest of that sentence deals with motive. It might be prejudicial to reveal his speculation on that topic before looking at his evidence, so I'll review that first. Fortunately for me, he gives us a numbered summary at the end of his piece, so I don't have to speculate about what he thinks his killing points of argument are. I'll give you his summary list and backtrack on each one for what he believes is supporting evidence.
1. Nature of dinosaur discoveries - only within the last 150 years and in huge unusual concentrated quantities going against the laws of nature and probability.

I'm interrupting here in order to keep the layered block quotes from making my head explode. The point above is from Wozney's summary, below is from his previous evidence. Unfortunately, he also uses big block quotes to present his evidence. I'm warning you that the layered indents will take some attention to keep straight. What more can I do?
"The class Dinosauria was originally defined by Sir Richard Owen in 1842, in a two hour speech that reportedly held the audience captivated....

"It is generally accepted that the first discovery of dinosaur remains in North America was made in 1854 by Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden during his exploration of the upper Missouri River."


So, dinosaurs were described in 1842 before the discoveries in 1854 which were required to give a clear picture of what dinosaurs looked like! Were discoveries made or constructed to fit the descriptions?

Wozney is suggesting that Hayden falsified his discoveries in order to support Owen's thesis. However, Owen's thesis was not lacking in evidence. Owen's description of the class Dinosauria was based on fossils found in the British Isles. The first dinosaur remains found in North America were made twelve years later, but they were not he first dinosaur remains to be described in scientific literature.

More significantly, Wozney implies that no dinosaur fossils had ever been found prior to the 1840's (his date of "only within the last 150 years"). He goes on at great length on this point:
Why were there no discoveries by native Americans in all the years previous when they roamed the North American continent? There is no belief of dinosaurs in the native American religion or tradition.

For that matter, why were there no discoveries prior to the nineteenth century in any part of the world? According to the World Book Encyclopedia, "before the 1800's, no one ever knew that dinosaurs ever existed..".


Why has man suddenly made all these discoveries? Belgium, Mongolia, Tanzania, West Germany (and North America as well) were inhabited and very well explored for thousands of years and there were no discoveries until the nineteenth century. Why?

Wozney is simply wrong here. People have excavated fossils (both dinosaur and non-dinosaur) since the beginning of recorded history. They have collected them and displayed them in temples and private gardens and used them for medicine. Before the 1800's, no one knew that dinosaurs existed because the word "dinosaur" hadn't been coined yet.

Adrienne Mayor has written two books on this subject, one dealing with classical Greece and Rome and the other dealing with the Native American cultures that Wozney says never noticed fossils. The Greeks described fossil fields on the island of Samos. Large fossil bones have been discovered at the school where Hippocrates taught. Other bones were discovered in Egyptian temples in the 1920s.

Our ancestors interpreted large fossil bones according to their local world views. Uncovered bones were evidence of giants in the past, of monsters defeated by legendary heroes, of dragons, or of the wars among titans that accompanied the creation of the present world. The first paleontologists in China found fossils by earning the trust of local apothecaries and exploring the sources of their "dragon bones." Greek paleontologists have had the same success by exploring locations mentioned in the travels of Hercules and the wars among their ancestors' gods.

His second point embedded in this number is that concentrations of fossils are too unlikely to be believed. He is very specific on this point.
Finds of huge quantities of fossils in one area, or by one or few people, goes against the laws of natural probability and suggests a possible concentrated planting effort.

I'm not sure what kind of distribution he thinks the laws of probability would predict. Fossils form under only very special circumstances. Most dead things decompose and are recycled in a vast number of organic processes. Floods carry mixed bones to lakes, deltas, and river bends were they pile up, are buried, and fossilize. Volcanic eruptions hermetically save entire herds where they huddle for shelter. Landslides shove every living thing into a valley and cover them in an unsorted mass. If Wozney expects an even distribution of fossils across the face of the Earth, he doesn't understand the processes involved. He's arguing from ignorance.
2. Nature of dinosaur discoverers and excavators - not by (initially) disinterested parties. When discovered by parties without a vested interest, they need to be told by dinosaur experts that they are dinosaur bones.

Wozney finds the following episode very suspicious.
"Dinosaur skeletons were found for the first time in abundance in the Garden Park area of Colorado and at Como Bluff, Wyoming, in the late 1870s. These specimens initiated the First Great Dinosaur Rush in North America, driven largely by the efforts of a Philadelphia paleontologist, Edward Drinker Cope, and Othniel Marsh, a paleontologist from Yale University.

"These two men started as friends but became bitter rivals in a feud of legendary proportions. The stories surrounding these two include tales of armed field parties, spies, and intercepting shipments of fossils intended for the other."[Wozney's emphasis.]

Why were fossils being shipped to the discoverers and from whom?

On more than one level, this question betrays Wozney's gross ignorance of the history he is criticizing. Gentlemen professionals in the nineteenth did not usually dirty their hands with manual labor; they hired workers. Even when scientists in the field did violate the expected behavior of their class, men involved in a race to be the first to discover, would not have done all of the exploring by themselves. Cope and Marsh did not explore the entirety of western North America alone; they hired agents to find the best sites for them.

Wozney continues to flog this point:
Discoveries and excavations seem not to be made by disinterested people, such as farmers, ranchers, hikers, outdoor recreationists, but rather by people with vested interests, such as paleontologists, scientists, university professors, museum organization personnel, who were intentionally looking for dinosaur bones or who have studied dinosaurs previously. The finds are often made during special dinosaur-bone hunting trips and expeditions by these people to far-away regions already inhabited and explored.

This seems highly implausible.

People who are looking for fossils and know how to recognize them are more likely to find fossils than are people who are not. Wow. Mind you, this immediately follows Wozney finding it suspicious that the professionals might have bones shipped to them by non-professionals. Again, just because he finds it unlikely or implausible doesn't mean anyone else should. He's arguing from ignorance and that's his problem, not ours.

He is also completely wrong in saying non-professionals never find fossils. Every paleontological museum has experience with the constant stream of farmers, ranchers, hikers, and outdoor recreationists who show up every summer with bones in their hands hoping that they have made a major discovery. And, while the majority of these bones are nothing more than old cow bones, a significant enough percentage turn out to be meaningful finds that it is well worth their time for those museums to respectfully consider every amateur find.

In a 1998 exchange of e-mail with Nathan Shumate of Cold Fusion Video Reviews, Wozney backs off a bit from his claim that non-professionals never find fossils, but instead takes refuge in the possibility that those amateur discoveries are all the victims of a larger conspiracy.
How do we know the bones were not planted? How do we know the discoverers are honest and "on-the-level", so to speak? Again, we are taking other peoples' word that these are authentic finds.


It would take only a small number of people (less than ten, for example) to plant fake dinosaur bones on a worldwide scale. However, it is quite possible that much more than this number of people are involved.

If it's not one conspiracy, it's another.
3. Nature of public display preparation - integrity and source of fossils - possible tampering and bone substitution and possible fraudulent activities on a massive scale.

This is Wozney's key point of argument--because it is possible to make simulations of fossils, all fossils are suspect. He accepts no eyewitness testimony (the witnesses might be part of the con) and no expert tests (the experts might be part of the con. No chain of custody or of evidence is good enough for him to accept it as proof.

This idea of falsified evidence appears right at the beginning of his article. After his introductory paragraphs, Wozney shows the cover of a children’s' science project book called Make Your Own Dinosaur Out of Chicken Bones.

Wozney quotes an article that describes how large fossils are often covered in a cast of burlap and plaster for transportation to a museum for cleaning and study in a controlled environment. This causes him to raise a skeptical eyebrow, "So preparers and transporters work with plaster all the time! Plaster lying around therefore does not draw questions or suspicion." Oh my God. They have access to plaster. The bastards!!!

Every step along the way and every term of description appears suspicious to him.
"Eight years after this reference book was published the first comprehensive skeletal form of a real dinosaur--Hadrosaurus foulkii --was unearthed in Haddonfield, New Jersey. Taller than a house, it had the pelvic structure of a bird, the tail of a lizard and, incredibly, it walked upright on two legs, foraging with arm-like forelimbs." [Wozney's emphasis.]

Were the bones of a bird and lizard and other animals used in the discovery?

I suppose fraud was possible here, but only if the discoverers used the bones from a bird and lizard that were each taller than a house.
"Even fossils that are difficult, nigh near impossible to collect in the field, are harder still to prepare in the lab. Specimens that take from a day to a week to remove from their beds of stone can require months or even years to clean, consolidate, repair and reconstruct for study or display.... "

What exactly is taking months or years? Is the public being given altered versions of bones? What exactly is going on? Is this science or art and science fiction? Is the public being deceived?

Getting it right. Not intentionally. Science. Still science. No.
At The Changing Shape of Hadrosaurus foulkii we learn of an iguana skull being substituted for the skull of a dinosaur on display. Was the public told at the time? What are we not being told today?
"The original reconstruction of Hadrosaurus foulkii featured a creature in a kangaroo stance--an animal that used its tail as a third leg. At the same time, while the excavated fossil was nearly complete, it lacked a skull. Because parts of its skeleton resembled those of an iguana, the skull of a modern iguana was used as a model for the skull created for the original display in 1868. That sculpted skull is currently on display at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia as a historical curiosity."

I like this quote, because Wozney cites it of evidence of deception even though it shows just the opposite. First of all, the Academy of Natural Sciences didn't use an actual iguana skull on their "taller than a house" dinosaur. That would have looked stupid. They thought that certain parts of the Hadrosaurus resembled an iguana, so they used an iguana skull as a model to fashion a probable temporary stand-in. When they had a real Hadrosaurus skull to work with, they removed their guess-work skull and put it on display. Wozney knows about the fake skull because it's on public display with a sign that says "Fake Skull" and because scientists and historians have written about it. That is one incompetent act of deception.

In his exchange with Nathan Shumate, Wozney cites an article on the fundamentalist evangelical website Endtime Prophecy Org:
"To add to this comedy of errors, today in our museums and hallowed halls of science, we have hundreds of dinosaur skeletons constructed, not of REAL bones, but of 'MOLDED COPIES.' If you don't believe this, just ask your friendly museum curator exactly where that 'whole' brontosaurus skeleton, or that 'whole' Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton was discovered. Watch him start to cough and sputter as he tries to come up with a half-believable way to explain to you that they were really 'pieced' together based on a few discovered bones, or that most of the skeleton is based on some 'original' discovered somewhere which he himself has never seen! Or maybe he will be honest and tell you that what you are looking at is not even real bones."

If molded copies are being passed off as real bones, is this not deception and fraud? Would you trust an organization that is known to engage in deception and fraud?

Shumate tries to make some sense out of this, but it's hopeless. I've reformatted as a diolog the relevant parts of a very long e-mail thread with lots of other issues mixed in. Read the full debate here, but it will make your teeth hurt.
SHUMATE: Every museum curator I know is quite forthright with the fact that most museums have replicas, and that perfectly complete skeletons are as rare as hen's teeth; in fact, perfectly complete skeletons would be less plausible than fragmentary ones. In fact, skeletons at the museum near my house are labelled as replicas up front. While other museums may not advertise the fact, how does this equate to "depiction and fraud"?

WOZNEY: What percentage of people are aware that molded bones are being used? Please indicate your source for such information. When you see a dinosaur skeleton on display, how do you know which bones, if any, are authentic? Are they all marked or labelled?

SHUMATE: As I said, this is no secret. Fiberglass models are much lighter than fossilized stone bones, and thus are easier to hang. Also, there are often not enough specimens of popular species for each museum to have one (there have only been six T-rex skulls found, for example).

WOZNEY: How many museum curators do you know? Please provide names, addresses, and/or fax numbers, and the dates you had conversations discussing these replicas.

Also please indicate which museums clearly label bones as "molded" or "authentic." Also indicate what percentage of museums worldwide this represents.

SHUMATE: Since your quoted source gave no such percentages, addresses, etc., I see no reason that I should do so.

WOZNEY: Most people do not have the benefit of having museums near their houses.

SHUMATE: How does this relate to our discussion?

WOZNEY: Personally, I do not believe museums should be using replicas, as they tend to mislead people. How many images are there and how much video footage is there of these replicas that do not have an explanatory note that "the bones have been manufactured"? Does your museum state where the original bones are located?

SHUMATE: More appropriately, most are labelled with the location at which the original bones are found. They are willing to tell me where the originals are located; I visited my local museum over the weekend, and the staff was quite friendly and forthcoming. No sputtering to be heard.

WOZNEY: If people are believing that molded bones are authentic dinosaur bones, then they are being deceived. If molded or manufactured bones are being passed off as authentic dinosaur bones, then this is fraud.

SHUMATE: No. If they believe that, they're wrong. If someone is intentionally deceiving, then they are deceived. You have yet to prove intent.

It goes on and on and on in this vein. when the Endtime Prophecy quote is no longer useful to him, Wozney drops the whole matter with a simple : "I never stated that I believe his statement, nor that I disbelieve it. I simply presented it to make you aware that such a statement exists."

That kind of retreat would get most kids tossed off the debate team.
4. Existing artistic drawings and public exhibits showing off-balance and awkward postures that basic physics would rule out as being possible.

This seems more like a matter of art criticism than any sort of valid scientific critique. Since he doesn't name the specific drawings that have so offended him, I can't defend the artists' work. In any case, bad art doesn't prove anything about the probability of dinosaurs having existed.
5. Very low odds of all these dinosaur bones being fossilized but not the bones of other animals.

This is another place where Wozney is just plain wrong. The vast majority of fossils--by several orders of magnitude--are not dinosaurs, not mammoths, not primates or any other land animal. The vast majority of fossils are seashells. Many of them are similar enough to modern seashells as to be indistinguishable to the non-expert eye, but many are the strange and wonderful remains of extinct sea dwellers. Even if no dinosaur remains had ever been found, it would be possible to create the theory of evolution based entirely on shells.

Actually it's a little odd that Wozney includes this point in his conclusions because it's not a significant part of his prior arguments. Instead, at this point in the body of his essay, he has a grab bag of familiar young-earth creationist criticisms of evolution: some outdated critiques of radiometric dating, the claim that dinosaurs were too big to have been possible, the claim that coal and petroleum are not biological in origin, he even casts doubt on the entire idea of fossils being possible. He also takes issue with those who think the mention of Behemoth and Leviathan in Job are descriptions of dinosaurs. He's probably right on the last one, but the rest of the group are tired old arguments that have long since been discredited.
7. A lack of organizations and people questioning or being skeptical of each and every discovery and public display. Dinosaurs are popular.

Like bad art, the lack of organized skepticism doesn't prove anything one way or the other about the existence of dinosaurs. Of course, through the institution of peer review, the scientific community does provide skeptical questioning of each discovery, but that's not the kind of skepticism he wants. Like most creationists, Wozney makes sure to point out every famous accusation of scientific fraud in the history of paleontology. What he fails to note is that it is only because of the diligence of the scientific community that these frauds were exposed and publicised. Creationists didn't disprove the Piltown Man, evolution believing scientists did.

Underlying all of Wozney's points is a massively conspiratorial worldview. The nature of this worldview is clear when we return to his thesis statement and attach the part that I originally left off.
The dinosaur industry needs to be investigated and questions need to be asked. I personally do not have any reasons to believe dinosaurs ever existed and I believe they may be a fabrication of nineteenth and twentieth century people possibly under Satanic control pursuing an evolutionary and anti-Bible and anti-Christian agenda.

In case we missed it, he repeats that point several more times.
What would be the motivation for such a deceptive endeavor? Obvious motivations include trying to prove evolution, trying to disprove or cast doubt on the Christian Bible and the existence of the Christian God, trying to disprove the young-earth theory, and trying to disprove creationism. Yes, there are major political and religious ramifications.

The dinosaur concept implies that if God exists, He tinkered with His idea of dinosaurs for awhile, then probably discarded or became tired of this creation and then went on to create man. The presented dinosaur historical timeline suggests an imperfect God who came up with the idea of man as an afterthought, thus demoting the biblical idea that God created man in His own image.


The impression that I receive is that people were possibly being deceived and that the discoveries were possibly "being made" as a reaction and rebellion against God and the Bible.


As mentioned earlier, motivations for the possible invention of the dinosaur include trying to prove evolution, trying to disprove or cast doubt on the Bible and the existence of God, trying to disprove the young-earth theory, and trying to disprove creationism. Of course, the devil's ultimate goal is to cast doubt on the deity of Jesus Christ and prevent people's eternal salvation.

The name of Devils Canyon Science and Learning Center may possibly provide good insight to the real source of the dinosaur concept.

Point six, which I left out of his conclusions, also deals explicitly with this conclusion.
6. Implications of dinosaur discoveries to the theory of evolution and the belief that man was created in God's image, suggesting possible hidden and subtle political or religious agendas served on a naive and unsuspecting public.

This is a very revealing statement of a worldview that is quite common among creationists. Wozney is worried about the implication of dinosaurs and the theory of evolution and its effect on people's faith. Wozney goes on to say that this effect is so bad that he is led to suspect that the whole evolutionary idea must be a plot aimed at Christianity.

This is a classic argument in creation/evolution debates and it is impossible for the science side to refute because it has nothing to do with science. The most famous variation is attributed to the wife of the Bishop of Worcester upon hearing of Darwin’s theory of evolution : “Descended from the apes! My dear, let us hope that is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known.” This argument from effects implies that the very idea of evolution is so dangerous that we should suppress it, regardless of whether it is true or not.

Now days, the common form of this argument is to say that my making man a no better than a beast, we justify people acting like beasts. Then they mention Hitler, abortion, and tasteless television shows. In his exchanges with Shumate, Wozney mentions that Hitler believed in evolution and dinosaurs. The only reason for bringing that up, is to suggest a cause and effect relationship: the belief in evolution made Hitler into the monster that he was. I suppose the people who make this argument would be amazed to discover that people behaved badly before Darwin. It's an argument that betrays a very low opinion of nature and of human nature.

William A. Dembski, one of the leading spokesmen for the Intelligent Design movement, made a revealing statement along those lines in a 2004 appearance at a church in Waco:
I think at a fundamental level, in terms of what drives me in this is that I think God's glory is being robbed by these naturalistic approaches to biological evolution, creation, the origin of the world, the origin of biological complexity and diversity. When you are attributing the wonders of nature to these mindless material mechanisms, God's glory is getting robbed...

Wozney's conspiratorial worldview carries the argument one step further. Not only does the belief in evolution lead to bad things, but bad people are encouraging the belief in evolution with the express purpose of making us bad. This can only be an act of Satan and a rebellion against God.

At the end of his article, Wozney provides "Various Related Links." First is a link to Genesis 1, the creation story. Next is link to Luke 3, the genealogy of Christ. This is followed a couple links to young-earth creationist sites that doubt dinosaurs or radiometric dating. One of these articles, by "Larry's Sister Anna," states that anyone who believes in dinosaurs needs a good beating. He finishes with four sites reporting on fossil finds that were later exposed as fakes. None of his recommendations for further reading present the opinions of professional paleontology; he only has time for its critics. This one sided presentation is probably the most honest part of his entire article.

Update: Several readers pointed out that I reversed a pair of name tags in the Wozney/Shumate dialogue. Thanks. It has been fixed.

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