Evolution in the News - February 2000
by Do-While Jones

National Geographic Gets a Black Eye

Last November National Geographic ran an article that began with these words:

With arms of a primitive bird and the tail of a dinosaur, this creature found in Liaoning Province, China, is a true missing link in the complex chain that connects dinosaurs to birds. Scientists funded by National Geographic studied the animal, named Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, under ultraviolet light and used CT scans to view parts of the animal obscured by rock. 1 [emphasis supplied]

The article went on to say that, “This fossil is perhaps the best evidence since Archaeopteryx that birds did, in fact, evolve from certain types of carnivorous dinosaurs.” What they thought would be a feather in their cap has turned into a black eye. USA Today recently said,

The “missing link” dinosaur-bird featured by National Geographic magazine in November is a fake. 2

That report came a full ten days after Science News broke the story.

Red-faced and downhearted, paleontologists are growing convinced that they have been snookered by a bit of fossil fakery from China. The “feathered dinosaur” specimen that they recently unveiled to much fanfare apparently combines the tail of a dinosaur with the body of a bird, they say. 3

Science News then told how the tail of a dromaeosaurid dinosaur from a private collection in China must have been added to the Archaeoraptor fossil.

We don’t want to make too big a deal over their mistake, but we do want you to know that the fossil is a fake, just in case anyone tries to tell you that it is, “a true missing link in the complex chain that connects dinosaurs to birds”. It’s just a fake.

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1 National Geographic, Vol. 196, No. 5, November 1999, “Feathers for T. Rex?” Page 100 (Ev)
2 USA Today, January 25, 2000, “Dinosaur-bird link smashed in fossil flap” page D1 (Ev-) (Ev-)
3 R. Monastersky, Science News, Vol. 157, January 15, 2000, “All mixed up over birds and dinosaurs” Page 38 (Ev)