Fred Flintstone waded here: Hoaxsters ready to teach creationism to Texas kids

August 5, 2008

Creationists in Texas claim to have found a stone with footprints of a human and a dinosaur.

No, I’m not kidding.

Hoax

Hoax “dinosaur and human footprints” claimed to be found in the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas.

Could you make this stuff up? Well, yeah, I guess some people think you could. Somebody did make this stuff up.

According to a report in the too-gullible Mineral Wells Index, long-time hoaxster and faux doctorate Carl Baugh’s Creation Evidence Museum announced the rock was found just outside Dinosaur Valley State Park. The area has been the site of more than one creationist hoax since 1960, and was an area rife with hoax dinosaur prints dating back to the 1930s. (See these notes on the warning signs of science hoaxes and history hoaxes.)

The estimated 140-pound stone was recovered in July 2000 from the bank of a creek that feeds the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas, located about 53 miles south of Fort Worth. The find was made just outside Dinosaur Valley State Park, a popular destination for tourists known for its well-preserved dinosaur tracks and other fossils.

The limestone contains two distinct prints – one of a human footprint and one belonging to a dinosaur. The significance of the cement-hard fossil is that it shows the dinosaur print partially over and intersecting the human print.

In other words, the stone’s impressions indicate that the human stepped first, the dinosaur second. If proven genuine, the artifact would provide evidence that man and dinosaur roamed the Earth at the same time, according to those associated with the find and with its safekeeping. It could potentially toss out the window many commonly held scientific theories on evolution and the history of the world.

Except, as you can see, Dear Reader and Viewer, it’s a hoax. No dinosaur has a footprint exactly resembling the print of Fred Flintstone’s pet Dino, as the rock shows; nor do human footprints left in mud look like the print shown.

Dear God, save us from such tom-foolery, please.

To the newspaper’s credit, they consulted with an expert who knows better. The expert gave a conservative, scientific answer, however, when the rock deserved a chorus of derisive hoots:

However, Dr. Phillip Murry, a vertebrate paleontology instructor in the Geoscience department of Tarleton State University at Stephenville, Texas, stated in his response to an interview request: “There has never been a proven association of dinosaur (prints) with human footprints.”

The longtime amateur archeologist who found the fossil thinks that statement is now proven untrue.

“It is unbelievable, that’s what it is,” Alvis Delk, 72, said of what could be not only the find of a lifetime, but of mankind.

Delk is a current Stephenville and former Mineral Wells resident (1950-69) who said he found the rock eight years ago while on a hunt with a friend, James Bishop, also of Stephenville, and friend and current fiancee Elizabeth Harris.

Yes, it’s unbelievable.

For comparison, real hominid footprints look much different — the print below was left in a thin-layer of volcanic ash about 4 million years ago, 61 million years after dinosaurs went extinct, according to timelines corroborated by geologists, paleontologists, astronomers, nuclear physicists and biologists:

Print of a hominid, found at Laetoli, Africa; image from Stanford University

Print of a hominid, found at Laetoli, Tanzania, Africa; image from Stanford University. Photo: J. Reader/SPL

With luck, serious scientists will get a chance to analyze the prints soon, and note that they are hoaxes. If history is any guide, however, Baugh and his comrades will keep the rock from scientific analysis, claiming that scientists refuse to analyze it.

The rock is approximately 30 inches by 24 inches. The human footprint, with a deep big toe impression, measures 11 inches in length. Baugh said the theropod track was made by an Acrocanthosaurus. Baugh said this particular track was likely made by a juvenile Acrocanthosaurus, one he said was probably about 20 feet long, stood about 8 feet tall and walked stooped over, weighing a few tons.

Its tracks common in the Glen Rose area, the Acrocanthosaurus is a dinosaur that many experts believe existed primarily in North America during the mid-Cretaceous Period, approximately 125 million to 100 million years ago.

Baugh said Delk’s discovery casts doubts on that theory. Baugh said he believes both sets of prints were made “within minutes, or no more than hours of each other” about 4,500 years ago, around the time of Noah’s Flood. He said the clay-like material that the human and dinosaur stepped in soon hardened, becoming thick, dense limestone common in North Texas.

He said the human print matches seven others found in the same area, stating the museum has performed excavations since 1982 in the area Baugh has dubbed the “Alvis Delk Cretaceous Footprint” discovery.

This “find” comes as the State Board of Education begins rewriting science standards for Texas schools. The chairman of the SBOE is a committed creationist who publicly says he hopes to get creationism into the standards and textbooks in Texas, miseducating Texas students that creationism has a scientific basis.

Delk’s own daughter, Kristi Delk, is a geology major at Tarleton State University in Stephenville and holds different beliefs from her dad about the creation of Earth and the origins of man.

She said she wants to see data from more tests before jumping to any conclusions.

“I haven’t come to terms with it,” she said. “I am skeptical, actually.”

Listen to your daughter, Mr. Delk.

In a story Texas educators hope to keep completely unrelated to the foot prints hoax, Mineral Wells area schools showed gains in academic achievement on the Texas state test program.

Additional resources:

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Gary Hurd at Stones and Bones, who Is a bit of an expert in this stuff, calls “fake.

Here is how to fake a patina that will look like this fake fossil: Brush the surface with vinegar, and then sprinkle with baking powder followed by baking soda, and let dry. Repeat until you are happy with the results. This is not the only way, or even the best way. But it is simple, and will fool the average fool. Especially easy if they want to be fooled.

So, having spent a little bit more time on the photo of this fake, I feel that I understand a bit more about how it was produced. A legitimate dinosaur track was found and removed. Incompetent, unprofessional “Cleaning” damaged it. An parital overprint, or simple erosion depression was “improved” by adding “toes.” The faked surfaces were smothed over with a simple kitchen concoction to make a “patina.” Artifact fabricators next bury the fake for a year or two, or they smear it with fertilizer and leave it exposed. This helps weather the object and obscure tool marks.

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On economics, pay attention to Santayana, and Greenberg

August 5, 2008

George Santayana is best known as a historian. He’s famous for his observation on the importance of studying history to understand it, and getting it right: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  (See citation in right column of the blog.)

Steve Greenberg is a historian cartoonist whose work is published in the Ventura County (California) Star. He offers a Santayana-esque analysis of economics positions of presidential candidates.

Steve Greenberg, published in the Ventura County Star

Steve Greenberg, published in the Ventura County Star

Click on the thumbnail for a larger version.

Steve Greenberg, Ventura County Star, via Cagle Comics

Steve Greenberg, Ventura County Star, via Cagle Comics

Greenberg has compressed into 33 words and 5 images a rather complex argument in this year’s presidential campaign.

Is Greenberg right? Do you see why Boss Tweed feared Thomas Nast’s cartoons more than he feared the reporters and editorial writers?

This election campaign we may be able to get the best analysis and commentary from cartoonists. Same as always. Teachers: Are you stockpiling cartoons for use through the year in government, economics, and history?

Other resources:

Note to Cagle cartoons: I think I’m in fair use bounds on this. In any case, I wish you would create an option for bloggers, and an option for teachers who may reuse cartoons year after year. I’ve tried to contact you to secure rights for cartoons in the past, and I don’t get responses. Complain away in comments if you have a complaint, but let us know how we can expose cartoonists to broader audiences and use these materials in our classrooms for less than our entire teacher salary.


Irony: Celebrate Solzhenitsyn, not his ideas

August 5, 2008

In the old, old movie, from the H. G. Wells story, “Things to Come,” the forces of scientific good (led by Raymond Massey) use a gas to knock out warring parties, to stop the shooting, and to give the good guys a chance to disarm disputants and set things right.

1936 movie poster for Things to Come - WikiMedia image

1936 movie poster for "Things to Come" - WikiMedia image

That was fictional. The “Gas of Peace” doesn’t exist.

The sniping will continue about P. Z. Myers’ complaint that some Catholics grossly over reacted when they threatened death to a fellow who didn’t swallow his wafer at communion, and then kept the wafer (not a hostage — the wafer has been returned), and a lot of the sniping will come from Rod Dreher at the Dallas Morning News.

Did anyone else note the irony of Dreher’s comments commending the ideas of the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who campaigned his entire life against authoritative oppression of freedom and enforcement of ideas against all good and common sense, while at the same time railing against Myers’ similar campaign?

Santayana’s Ghost needs to do more active haunting. We can’t excuse tyranny from a church, nor tyranny from any government in the United States of America, either. Freedom typically works better when the freedom to offend is greater than the privilege of being free from being offended. Why doesn’t Dreher see that?

More resources:


Montauk “monster?” No, it’s a raccoon

August 5, 2008

Darren Naish at Tetrapod Zoology did the scientific work any RKSI person ought to do, and identified the carcass that washed up on a beach in Montauk, New York, as a poor old raccoon.  (“RKSI?”  Road Kill Scene Investigator — though maybe this should be “Beach Kill.”)

Raccoon, Tennessee Department of Health Photo

Raccoon, Procyon lotor, Tennessee Department of Health photo

Beaches of Montauk, New York, appear to be safe.

Religionists often accuse me of having “faith” in science, and to a small degree that is accurate.  I do have faith that, much of the time, there is a rational explanation for things that at first appear magical, or to verify stories of monsters, goblins, or Republican platform planks.  Naish uses his experience in watching decomposing critters on the beach to show how to identify the creature in Montauk.  This is a powerful demonstration of the power of scientific methods:  Naish worked the issue from 3,470 miles away (about 5,585 km).

With a bit of luck the popularity of this monster story, and the resolution of the mysteries by Naish and other like-minded scientists, might inspire a few people to do the CSI-style thing, to actually study science.  One might study animal anatomy, as Naish has done, or one might apply to the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology program at the Knoxville campus.

Naish said:

Like all of these sorts of mysteries, this one was fun while it lasted, but the photos that really clinched it for a lot of people weren’t (so far as I can tell) released on the same day as the initial, tantalizing mystery photo (the one shown at the very top). And I don’t mind this sort of thing too much: we get to see a lot of dumbass speculation, sure, but the immense interest that these stories generate show that people – even those not particularly interested in zoology or natural history – have a boundless appetite for mystery animals. If only there were some clever way of better utilizing this fascination.

The truth is out there. Sometimes it helps to have a good university library and some scientific knowledge to flush it out, and flesh it out.  Students, you can become the bearer of answers you seek.

Word of the day:  Taphonomy (beyond the usual, “one more science creationists don’t do”)

Other resources:

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pharyngula, once again (so many tips there, it’s probably soaked).


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