Feature Article - September 2008
by Do-While Jones

Sliming Soft Tissue

Watching evolutionists slime each other about dinosaur soft tissue is amusing, but it undermines public perception of Science.

It used to be that you could believe what scientists said. Science was based on observation and experimentation. Science revealed the truth. Truth doesn’t change.

But the theory of evolution is nothing more than an opinion, so evolutionists have had to redefine “science” to be “consensus of scientists.” Opinions change, and can’t be trusted. Therefore, the public comes to feel that science can’t be trusted.

Dinosaur Soft Tissue Background

A good example is the recent change in opinion about the analysis of dinosaur bones. We’ve been following this story for almost 10 years, and we invite you to review what we have written in previous essays 1 to get all the details. Briefly, here’s what happened:

In 1990, Mary Schweitzer found what appeared to be dried blood in some unfossilized dinosaur bones. This discovery is inconsistent with the notion that dinosaurs have been extinct for millions of years. Her results were published in a now-defunct science tabloid in June 1997. Shortly thereafter, as Ben Stein might say, she was “expelled” from Montana State University Northern.

Our literature research found several other reports, published in professional scientific journals from 1990 to 1994, of proteins still remaining in unfossilized dinosaur bones. One researcher was receiving funding to determine what process allowed organic material to be preserved for millions of years because of the obvious application to food processing and storage.

Mary somehow got a job at North Carolina State University and continued her research on unfossilized organic matter in dinosaur bones. She managed to get her research published in one of the major professional scientific journals by noting the similarity between the dinosaur material and corresponding substances in modern birds. Thus, it became “proof” that dinosaurs evolved into birds.

Dinosaur Soft Tissue News

We’ve told you all that before, in greater detail. Now, let’s bring you up to date. The January, 2008, issue of Discover magazine published the “Top 100 Science Stories of 2007.” Number 10 on that list was Mary’s proof that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Mary was still riding high in evolutionists’ eyes last January. Discover said,

Even more astounding, the team, which included Harvard University mass spectrometrist John Asara, was able to obtain sequences from proteins formed tens of millions of years ago. In addition to taking on the T. rex project, Asara also succeeded in wresting 76 collagen sequences from a slightly younger find—mastodon bone fragments with soft tissue estimated to be 160,000 to 600,000 years old. Some matched the mastodons’ closest living relative, the elephant. (Ele­phant protein sequences in present databases are incomplete, so other matches for the mastodon turned up among more distantly related mammals, including dogs, cows, mice, and humans.) Since then, Asara and his team have gotten more than a hundred total collagen sequences, showing an even greater similarity to today’s elephant. 2

It is tempting to talk about the discovery of frozen mammoths, and why that implies a problem with the evolutionists’ timescale; but let’s not get led astray from the point of this month’s essay. The point is that, as recently as January, proteins from T. rex and mastodons were presented as proof that birds evolved from dinosaurs, and elephants evolved from mastodons.

A linked article described the analyses of the T. rex protein samples performed by John Asara, who runs a mass spectrometry research lab at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, and his colleagues. Asara was able to match sequences from all the collagen fragments to those of living species including chickens, better defining the evolutionary link between reptiles and birds. 3

When you think about it, the proof isn’t really compelling. Bones are bones. All bones contain calcium, so nobody would claim that the presence of calcium in dinosaur bones and bird bones is proof that birds evolved from dinosaurs. So, it isn’t surprising, or significant, that dinosaur bones and bird bones contain some of the same proteins and collagens.

The real breakthrough, say the scientists, is not proving the link to chickens, which was expected, but learning that this kind of fossil preservation and molecular analysis is even possible in material over a million years old. 4

Since the link to chickens confirms their prejudice, it isn’t important; but there is still that nagging question of how organic material could have survived for millions of years. Evolutionists had previously been able to convince a lot of people that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Showing similarity of proteins doesn’t really bring much to the table. Believing that organic molecules can survive millions of years is a tougher sell. So, it is more important for the evolutionists to prove that the organic material isn’t really organic material at all. As a result, “truth” had to change again.

Truth Changes Again

The journal Science started publishing doubts on August 1, 2008.

In 2005, researchers made headlines when they reported that they had found intact blood vessels from a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex. The discovery raised hopes that paleontologists could get their hands on the flesh and blood of vanished animals. This week, however, other scientists challenged the results, arguing that the dinosaur flesh was in fact just coatings of young bacteria. But the original researchers stand by their results, calling the new argument weak. "There really isn't a lot new here," says Mary Schweitzer of North Carolina State University in Raleigh. 5

Science News reported,

Three years ago, a team of scientists rocked the paleontology world by reporting that they’d recovered flexible tissue resembling blood vessels from a 68-million-year-old dinosaur fossil. Now, another group suggests that such pliable material could be something much more mundane: a modern-day film of bacterial slime. 6

Remember, this all started with Schweitzer’s discovery of something that looked like dried blood in dinosaur bones. Here is today’s “truth” about them.

Kaye and his colleagues suggest that the small, blood-cell-like spheres in the bones they studied are tiny enigmatic structures called framboids, named for the French word for raspberry. The team found these berry-shaped microstructures in many of their samples. Framboids are typically made of iron sulfides, but those riddling the fossils analyzed by Kaye’s team — as well as those found by Schweitzer’s team in the 68-million-year-old T. rex leg bone — were instead composed of iron oxide. 7

(By the way, here’s a related observation, for what it is worth. When Mary first published her findings, she was opposed by a famous paleontologist. From 2003 to 2005, when Mary’s results were hailed as proof of evolution, guess whose name was mentioned prominently in the published articles, giving him some of the glory. Now that the tide may be turning against Mary, it is “Schweitzer’s team” again, and he isn’t there defending her. )

Mary didn’t just find things that looked like dried blood cells. She also found things that looked like blood vessels.

In 2003, a crew led by Jack Horner of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, dug up an exquisitely preserved T. rex fossil. Schweitzer dissolved a fragment in weak acid. With the bone gone, transparent vessels were left behind (Science, 25 March 2005, p. 1852). Other fossils yielded branched tubes, spheres that resembled blood cells, and what appeared to be bone-forming cells known as osteocytes. Later, Schweitzer and colleagues isolated what they identified as collagen proteins from the T. rex and from a mastodon fossil. The sequence of amino acids in the mastodon collagen was closest to that of elephants; the T. rex collagen was most similar to that of birds, its closest living relatives. 8

What do scientists say about that today?

A variety of evidence suggests that pliable material found in fossils may be biofilms of modern-day bacteria rather than ancient cells and blood vessels. Many of the fossils analyzed by Kaye and his colleagues, including specimens recently unearthed from rocks several meters deep in a quarry, contained such flexible material. Carbon-dating analyses of some samples indicate that the material is very recent, forming after 1950, Kaye says. 9

As commonly happens among paleontologists, there are charges that the other guy won’t grant access to the raw material.

Even the T. rex protein samples have been questioned. On 30 July, Tom Kaye, a research associate at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, Washington, asserted that the collagen extracted from the ancient bone was in fact remnants of bacterial slime. Schweitzer told Nature that she rejects the evidence, from scanning electron microscope images, because it came from other bones — Kaye says that his team was denied access to the original bone. 10

Political Procedural Ploys

In politics, there are all sorts of procedural ploys that can be used to derail legislation. The politics of science are no different.

With the controversy over their original article unabated, Schweitzer says that she will hold a private meeting in November with invited scientific authorities to develop additional standards for publishing such work. But Pevzner is looking for a different response. "How many technical comments should there be before an article is withdrawn?" he says. 11

Do you suppose the conclusion of that private meeting might depend upon who gets an invitation? Does it bother you that there is a question about how many people must object before an article is censored?

Charges of Bias and Prejudice

Schweitzer says she welcomes skepticism but that Kaye and his team "only address aspects of our study that fit conveniently with their preconceived ideas." They did not explain how proteins from a bacterial biofilm could be similar to bird or elephant proteins, for example. "They pick and choose what to focus on," Schweitzer says, arguing that a rebuttal of her work must account for all of her evidence. She also doubts that bacteria could have formed the tubes. 12

What? Scientists "only address aspects of our study that fit conveniently with their preconceived ideas?" We are shocked! It sounds like scientists can be biased. Say it isn’t so!

Asara points out that his find does not mean chickens are the closest tyrannosaur relatives among modern birds, since he was able to compare the T. rex sequences only to species present in public protein databases. But identifying a bird as the nearest match validates researchers’ expectations based on skeletal evidence. 13

We are supposed to believe the results because they “validate researchers’ expectations?” Isn’t that an admission of bias and prejudice?

Trust Me, I’m a Doctor

Evolutionists are so afraid that if creationists are allowed to criticize the theory of evolution, then it will confuse students and undermine their trust in science. The truth is that since evolutionists have replaced the old definition of science (“information obtained through repeatable observation and experimentation”) with a new definition of science (“whatever the most powerful scientists currently believe”). They are the ones who are undermining public trust in science.

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1 Disclosure, May 1999, “Dinosaur Blood and DNA
Disclosure, October 1999, “We Dug Dinos - Part 2
Disclosure, April 2005, “Surprising Dinosaurs
Disclosure, May 2008, “No Longer Expelled
2 Barone, Discover, January 2008, “Top 100 Science Stories - #10. T. rex time Machine”, page 32
3 Dalton, Nature, 28 August 2008, “Fresh doubts over T. rex chicken link, page 1035
4 Barone, Discover, January 2008, “Top 100 Science Stories - #10. T. rex time Machine”, page 32
5 Zimmer, Science, 1 August 2008, “Is Dinosaur 'Soft Tissue' Really Slime?”, page 623
6 Perkins, Science News, 30 August 2008, “Tissue found in dino fossil may be biofilm”, page 12
7 ibid.
8 Zimmer, Science, 1 August 2008, “Is Dinosaur 'Soft Tissue' Really Slime?”, page 623
9 Perkins, Science News, 30 August 2008, “Tissue found in dino fossil may be biofilm”, page 12
10 Dalton, Nature, 28 August 2008, “Fresh doubts over T. rex chicken link, page 1035
11 ibid.
12 Zimmer, Science, 1 August 2008, “Is Dinosaur 'Soft Tissue' Really Slime?”, page 623
13 Barone, Discover, January 2008, “Top 100 Science Stories - #10. T. rex time Machine”, page 32