Dancing Dinosaur Footprints Busted

on November 15, 2008

Remember the “dinosaur dance party” we reported on News to Note three weeks ago? Yeah, forget that.

Thankfully, we reported on both sides of the story then: those who thought the marks on a rock in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument were dinosaurs tracks, and those who thought the “tracks” were all in some scientists’ minds. We said then:
It’s interesting to read how news organizations frequently pass off such news as this “dinosaur dance floor” find unchallenged. But the National Geographic News’s coverage reminds us how much interpretation goes into science.
Whereas other news sources plainly state the discovery of dinosaur footprints as a scientific fact, National Geographic News’s Rebecca Carroll quotes dissenting paleontologists Alan Titus and Andrew Milner. “I’ve observed thousands of tracks [of one of the dinosaurs the team identified] in early Jurassic rocks of the Colorado Plateau and have never seen one that looked like the one in the news release,” said Titus.

We concluded, “[T]hese may all turn out to be dinosaur tracks and marks indeed; our point is just that the news media is usually quick to hype the findings of one science team (which has an incentive to make its discovery as impressive-sounding as possible) and present it all as science fact. Bible believers should keep this in mind when it comes to any sort of news, and especially science news.”

Which brings us to this week’s Associated Press report, which begins, “So maybe there was no dinosaur dancing after all.” The report quotes the same Milner who gave his opinion to National Geographic News three weeks ago, but has since hiked to the spot with three other paleontologists. “We didn’t observe a single footprint,” Milner says, claiming the paleontologists “hoped” to find some.

“We didn’t observe a single footprint.”

Instead, the paleontologists believe the supposed dinosaur “footprints” and marks of tails being dragged are nothing more than erosion.

University of Utah researcher Marjorie Chan, one of the coauthors behind the “dinosaur dance party” idea, responded, “I’m interested in the truth, no matter what the outcome is.” That’s certainly an admirable attitude, and at this point, our guess is as good as anyone else’s who hasn’t visited the site. What’s important to remember is the certainty with which many news sources originally reported the news—and the likely credulity of many readers. Keep that in mind when reading science news (or news of any sort, really!).

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