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No. 50: Mar-Apr 1987

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Feathered Flights Of Fancy

Some more salvos have been fired in an endlessly fascinating controversy (at least it is that to us). First, F. Hoyle and C. Wickramasinghe, hardly strangers to these columns, have published Archaeopteryx, The Primordial Bird: A Case of Fossil Forgery. The book elaborates their theory that the Archaeopteryx fossils, much ballyhooed as "proofs" of evolution, are outright forgeries. Second, T. Kemp, a zoologist on the staff of the University Museum, has returned the fire with a mean-minded review. He states that Hoyle and Wickramasinghe "exhibit a staggering ignorance about the nature of fossils and fossilization processes." Kemp concludes his review with an admission that the possibility of forgery should indeed be investigated.

"But it should be done by those who actually understand fossils, fossilization and fossil preparation, not by a couple of people who exhibit nothing more than a gargantuan conceit that they are clever enough to solve other people's problems for them when they do not even begin to recognize the nature and complexity of the problems."

(Kemp, Tom; "Feather Flights of Fancy," Nature, 324:185, 1986.)

Finally, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe reply in a letter to Nature that L.M. Spetner and his colleagues in Israel have analyzed samples of the Archaeopteryx fossil with a scanning electron microscope and X-ray spectroscopy. Results: the rock matrix and the feathers thought to be spurious are radically different.

"These striking differences in texture and composition between the suspect regions and the native matrix are, in our view, a strong indication that this dispute will eventually be resolved in our favour."

(Wickramasinghe, N., and Hoyle, F.; "Archaeopteryx, the Primordial Bird?" Nature, 324:622, 1986.)

Comment. If you think the controversy over, you do not understand the passions involved! Incidentally, would the paleontologists themselves ever thought about forgery and considered applying X-ray spectroscopy and electron microscopes to the problem? A judge should not sit on the bench during his own trial.

From Science Frontiers #50, MAR-APR 1987. 1987-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987