"National Geographic has reached an all-time low for engaging in sensationalistic, unsubstantiated, tabloid journalism" Storrs L. Olson, Smithsonian Institution

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The Archaeoraptor Fraud
of National Geographic Magazine

"Piltdown bird"

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The original story was featured in National Geographic magazine.

Feathered Dinosaurs

At a press conference held at National Geographic Headquarters October 15, a team of Geographic-supported experts unveiled the fossil, which they named Archaeoraptor liaoningensis. At the time, the team members announced that the 125-million-year-old creature, as well as two other fossils from China which were also featured, demonstrated that feathers were widespread among theropods, the carnivorous dinosaurs that include Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor. Unique to the Archaeoraptor fossil, they said, was the presence of both a bird-like bone structure and a strong, dinosaur-like tail.
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We await National Geographic's next major discovery.

Piltdown Whale? 

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"National Geographic has reached an all-time low for engaging in sensationalistic, unsubstantiated, tabloid journalism"

Storrs L. Olson
Smithsonian Institution

1 November 1999


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



National Geographic admits the Fraud!

Further Investigation

Following the announcement, team member Xu Xing of Beijing's Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) returned home to China and traveled to Liaoning Province, where the fossil was discovered. While there inspecting the fossil site his suspicions began to grow that the dinosaur-like tail might not belong to the rest of the animal. Following leads among Chinese fossil dealers, in late December Xu Xing visited a collector and found a fossil, which, he now suspects, is the counterpart to the tail of the Archaeoraptor specimen. In addition, CT scans of the fossil, funded by National Geographic, seem to confirm Xu Xing's suspicions.

Ongoing Research

"It was disappointing to learn that Archaeoraptor may be a combination of animals," said Christopher Sloan, senior assistant editor of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and author of the magazine's article about the find, published last November. "But we're still convinced that Archaeoraptor is an important specimen. After all, if it is a composite, it is a composite of some very important 125 million-year-old fossils.



The Archaeoraptor Fraud: This Bird Will Never Fly

by Charles Colson

BreakPoint Commentary #000128 - 01/28/2000

The Archaeoraptor Fraud: This Bird Will Never Fly

Most of us know National Geographic as the magazine we flip through at the doctor's office. Renowned for its stunning photography, National Geographic is one of the most highly esteemed periodicals in the world. That is, until last November's issue featured a discovery hailed as the best evidence to date for Darwin's so-called "missing link."

But what was supposed to be startling news has turned out to be yet one more example of the scientific community peddling fraud as scientific fact. The discovery was remarkable. Archaeologists in China had unearthed a fossil of a half-bird/half- dinosaur. This fossil was proclaimed to be irrefutable evidence of a transitional form between one species and another -- evidence that evolutionists have long sought but never found.

Then the truth came out. In reality, the Archaeoraptor fossil turned out to be the remains of two animals pieced together. While some call it an honest mistake, most now believe that it was actually an elaborate and deliberate hoax. But why, you may ask, is the scientific community so quick to embrace disreputable evidence? And why would an institution like National Geographic fail to take steps to confirm the reliability of such an amazing discovery?

The answer: They're desperate. You see, the lack of any evidence for transitional forms is one of Darwinism's dirty little secrets, and some scientists would do just about anything to keep it a secret - even to the point of fabricating evidence.



"a breathtaking forgery"


January 25, 1999

Tim Friend

January 25, 1999
Dinosaur-bird link smashed in fossil flap
by Tim Friend, USA TODAY

The "missing link" dinosaur-bird featured by "National Geographic" magazine in November is a fake.

Archaeoraptor, the unofficial name of the fossil, is actually two animals pieced together either as an honest mistake made by its discoverers in China or as a breathtaking forgery. The composite, on display at the National Geographic Society in Washington until last week, consists of a birdlike upper torso and the tail and feet of a small raptor. The magazine described it as a "true missing link in the complex chain that connects dinosaurs and birds."

The specimen, smuggled into the USA from China, was found at a gem show last year in Tucson by Stephen Czerkas, owner of the Dinosaur Museum in Monticello, Utah. He purchased it for $80,000 and made a deal with "National Geographic" to study and publicize it and ultimately return it to China.

How "National Geographic" finds itself at the center of a scientific embarrassment is a tale as layered as the 120-million-year-old sediment from which the fossil reportedly was unearthed.

"Assuming that all the evidence is in and it is a composite, not since I've been editor has anything happened like this," "National Geographic" editor Bill Allen told USA TODAY. "At any time prior to publication, if we had been informed of any problem at all, we would have yanked (the article)."

The composite nature of the fossil was not detected by the magazine's team of scientists, and a scientific paper that was submitted to both "Science" and "Nature" was never published. As a result, "Geographic" was on its own with no independent review of the fossil. Allen says he was notified Dec. 20 by a Chinese doctoral student and member of the "Geographic" team that the fossil was not authentic. The society modified text on the public display to say questions had been raised about the fossil's origins. "National Geographic" will publish a correction in its March issue.

But Storrs Olson, curator of birds at the Smithsonian Institution's Natural History Museum and an outspoken skeptic of the bird-dinosaur link, says he warned the magazine in November, when the article was published, that there were serious problems with he fossil. He says he was ignored. "The problem is, at some point the fossil was known by "Geographic" to be a fake, and that information was not revealed," Olson says.




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