Another "Missing Link" Bites the Dust
Were you impressed by National Geographic's Archaeoraptor in their November '99 issue? I think a lot of people were. Did you know it was a fake? Here is an article written in USA Today:
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 the 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.