Brontosaurus, Pluto, and WorldNetDaily

Buffoon Award

We know what you want. You want insanely incoherent anti-science rants; and you like creationism — as wild and crazy as we can find. We understand why you’re here, and we want to assure you that you’ve come to the right place.

Thanks to our Retard-o-tron™ with its sirens and flashing lights, we were alerted to an especially good item at the online home of many such rants — the website of WorldNetDaily (WND) — described in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page. That explains the jolly buffoon logo above this post.

Look what we’ve got for you: Obama the Apatosaurus. The headline makes no sense to us either, but that doesn’t matter. It was written by Burt Prelutsky. That’s a new name to us, but WND says that he “has been a humor columnist for the L.A. Times, a movie critic for Los Angeles magazine and a freelance writer for TV Guide, Modern Maturity, the New York Times and Sports Illustrated.” After all that bouncing around, he seems to have found his natural home at WND. Here are some excerpts from his article, with bold font added by us:

Liberals are always given to landing on the side of what they insist is science, whether the topic is Darwin’s theory of evolution versus intelligent design or man’s ability to control the weather. That’s because they believe that scientists are, like themselves, much smarter than other people.

You have, of course, noted Prelutsky’s linkage of liberals and science. Many of you see no problem with that, but your Curmudgeon does. Our political ideas have more in common with those of Ben Franklin than with anyone now living, and he wouldn’t fit into either of today’s political parties. We’re written about that before — see Who Would Ben Franklin Support? In Ben’s mind there was no conflict between his politics and science; and it was the same with many of the Founders. Okay, never mind what your Curmudgeon and those other old fogies think, lets get on with the WND rant:

But the fact is that science, to put it as kindly as possible, is an imperfect science. Scientists are, after all, people. They are therefore as prone to being affected by greed, blind ambition and even ignorance as any of us.

We beg to differ. Scientists are far from perfect, but anyone motivated by greed, blind ambition, and ignorance would be likely to go into politics, or maybe some creationist religious sect. But Prelutsky has examples to support his claim. Get this:

For instance, for a great many years, they believed the Piltdown Man was the missing link. Instead, it, not he, was a rather clumsy hoax. We also had Pluto, which for a long time, was regarded as one of the planets in our solar system. Then, without warning, Pluto woke up one morning to find it had been demoted to the status of a plutoid.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! We’ve written many times about what an ark-load of lunacy it is to use the Piltdown hoax as an argument against science — see Piltdown Man: The Creationists’ Savior. The claim that the reclassification of Pluto is an argument against science does occasionally pop up in creationist rants — but only in the most ignorant of that genre. It’s always some variation on: “Those infernal scientists were wrong about Pluto, and they’re wrong about evolution too!

But that’s not all. Prelutsky has yet another example of the absolute failure of science:

And how many people are even aware that the Brontosaurus apparently never even existed? Unlike the Piltdown Man, it wasn’t an intentional fake. Instead, anthropologists mistakenly mixed up a few bones. What it was actually was something called an Apatosaurus.

Aha! Stupid scientists! Yes, the Brontosaurus was once considered a separate species, but after the fossils were re-examined, it was reclassified as an example of the previously discovered Apatosaurus.

We sense some kind of coherence of symptoms here. Prelutsky is consistent (in a completely bizarre way) regarding the reclassification of Pluto and Brontosaurus. He sees both as … well, evidence of cracks in the edifice of science, which indicate that the whole thing will soon tumble to the ground. But that’s not the extent of his case against science. Let’s read on:

Some would say that at least scientists eventually get around to correcting their mistakes. But until they do, they defend their beliefs by belittling doubters, generally labeling them as flat-earthers.

Yes, Prelutsky is definitely making a good point here. Scientists aren’t perfect — Pluto is proof of that! — yet they’re nasty and strident when belittling their critics. The lesson here, we assume, is that every time a scientist laughs at a creationist, the creationist should respond: “Oh yeah? What about Pluto?” That belongs in the creationist toolkit along with: “Were you there?

We’re not yet halfway through Prelutsky’s article, but from here on it descends into other subjects: climate change, Obamacare, left-wing professors, and gay activism. We’ll let you click over to WND to read that material on your own. But maybe you shouldn’t. Aren’t you shamed enough by Pluto and Brontosaurus?

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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26 responses to “Brontosaurus, Pluto, and WorldNetDaily

  1. Hey — astronomers were never wrong about Pluto. It has been known since its discovery that it is very small and in an orbit that is quite tilted when compared to the ecliptic plane of the other planetary orbits.

    It’s all just a matter of classification. When other bodies similar in size to Pluto were discovered, it was decided to re-classify them all as members of the Kuiper Belt of icy bodies similar to comet nuclei. Very big comets, but comets nonetheless. Call them comets, call them planetoids, call them asteroids, call them minor planets — call them what you will. It’s all just in the name; not about their composition.

    There’s an interesting story about the brontosaurus/apatosaurus mix-up. I don’t remember all the details (I first heard of it in a 1980 episode of Nova, “The Asteroid and the Dinosaur”), but in the late 19th century there were two very strong-willed, egotistical rivals in the dinosaur-discovery rush, and one of them discovered a nearly-complete skeleton of what actually was an apatosaurus, but it was missing the head. Well, it wouldn’t do for his museum to display a huge dinosaur without a head, so he just stuck one on that had been discovered in the same formation, and called his new “discovery” a brontosaurus.

    The last name of one of these two rivals was Cope. When the other discovered that some interesting rocks he had found were actually fossilized dinosaur poop, he called them coprolites in “honor” of his rival. They didn’t like each other very much.

  2. Some would say that at least scientists creationists eventually get around to correcting never even admit their mistakes. But until they do And while they’re at it, they defend their beliefs by belittling doubters, generally labeling them as flat-earthers atheists and liberals.

    There. FTFY.

  3. @Pope RSG: Ignore his rant about Pluto or dinosaurs. Instead, ask him how old each of those is. Let’s see if he has the guts to admit they’re millions to billions of years old. Then ask him why making corrections is not okay. Finally, ask him how he would have handled the situation if he were in charge.

  4. @Cardinal Gary: Nah. I’d rather just tell him he has a coprolite for a brain.

  5. retiredsciguy says:

    The last name of one of these two rivals was Cope. … he called them coprolites in “honor” of his rival.

    I love the story! I hadn’t heard it before, and I suspect it may not be accurate, but it suggests a number of ways we can immortalize certain creationists.

  6. I just searched Sports Illustrated’s archives for “Burt Prelutsky.” One article from March 16, 1970. It was a review of the book Incredible Athletic Feats. A veritable Dan Jenkins or Grantland Rice!

    Also, if you enjoy a good time, head on over to burtprelutsky.com. And by “a good time,” I mean “jabbing pencils into your eyeballs.”

  7. For instance, for a great many years, they believed the Piltdown Man was the missing link. Instead, it, not he, was a rather clumsy hoax.

    Well, true. But if you want a better hoax that fooled the fundamentalist community, I direct you to none other than the Cardiff Giant hoax! It was a 10-foot (3.0 m) tall purported “petrified man” uncovered on October 16, 1869, by workers digging a well behind the barn of William C. “Stub” Newell in Cardiff, New York. Both it and an unauthorized copy made by P.T. Barnum are still on display. (Wikipedia)

  8. I, for one, found this rather informative. I mean, who knew that anthropologists spent enough time working with dinosaurs to be involved in the brontosaurus error?

    Regarding the coprolites, I wouldn’t be surprised if the story is completely true. I’ve seen other examples of naming feuds. I can’t recall their names but I once read about a pair of entomologists who named most of their many discoveries as insulting snipes at each other.

  9. @SC — I wish I could remember Cope’s rival’s name. I’ve heard the coprolite story from several sources, the first being a paleontology professor at the University of Cincinnati. Anyway, I think the story is true. If it weren’t named for Cope, wouldn’t the stuff be called craprolite?

    And, speaking of paleontologists, I didn’t catch this on the first reading, but Prelutsky wrote (emphasis mine): “And how many people are even aware that the Brontosaurus apparently never even existed? Unlike the Piltdown Man, it wasn’t an intentional fake. Instead, anthropologists mistakenly mixed up a few bones.”

    I’m sure Prelutsky meant to write “paleontologists”, but just got the spelling wrong.

  10. Jason, it looks as though we were writing at the same time. I’m just a slower typist. Not to mention that I took a lunch break.

  11. retiredsciguy says: “I think the story is true. If it weren’t named for Cope, wouldn’t the stuff be called craprolite?”

    That actually is what it’s called, according to Wikipedia — see Coprolite. They say it’s from a Greek word, kopros, meaning “dung.”

  12. Charles Deetz ;)

    they defend their beliefs by belittling doubters, generally labeling them as flat-earthers.

    So where were all these Pluto-doubters and Brontosaurus-doubters? Is there an Institute of Planetoid Research? The Apatosaurus Institute? Maybe they just disbanded after getting things corrected.

  13. @retiredsciguy:

    I think you mean O. C. Marsh (rival of E. D. Cope).

    As for your “feud” with “Cardinal” Gary, I share your temptation to tell people like Prelutzky what I think of their brains, but would not do it because it would only feed their persecution complex. If there’s an audience present, it will likely include people who are not committed evolution-deniers, but have been fooled by some anti-evolution nonsense.

    So, as Gary recommends, calmly and politely asking the activist basic “what happened when” questions about his preferred “theory” will show that audience which side is seeking honest answers, and which side is playing games. If the activist gives a clear answer, you can say “then you might want to debate [insert name of prominent evolution-denier who holds a contradictory position].” If he evades the question or plays dumb, just say “[insert name of prominent evolution-denier who holds a contradictory position] can give me a straight answer, so you can too. Please try again.”

  14. @Frank J: Yes — I was just checking things on Google when you wrote. The two rival paleontologists were Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh. Here’s some fascinating reading at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bone_Wars

    It looks like the “coprolite” story is apocryphal. The word has been in use since the 1820s; the Cope v. Marsh rivalry wasn’t full-blown until 1872 or 3.

    A tie-in to this blog from the Wikipedia link above:
    “Their differences also extended into the scientific realm as Cope was a firm supporter of Neo-Lamarckism while Marsh supported Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.”

    At least Cope wasn’t a creationist. Also from the Wikipedia link — it was Marsh who first proposed that birds are descended from dinosaurs.

    Oh — and Frank, I agree that your more civil way of handling a debate would be the proper way to go if I were ever in a debate with a creationist and there were an audience present. However, that’s probably not ever going to come up, so I’ll just go on thinking that creationist’s brains are fossilized — whether they are coprolites or not.

  15. I should have said “yours and Gary’s way of handling a debate”.

  16. Our Curmudgeon directs our attention to

    to Wikipedia — see Coprolite. They say it’s from a Greek word, kopros, meaning “dung.”

    In this instance (at least) Wikipedia is correct. It’s a lovely tale about the naming after Edward Drinker Cope, but alas, entirely apocryphal. The term coprolite was coined in 1829, in Britain, by the Rev. William Buckland.

    Sorry to rain on the parade…

  17. On the other hand, the widely used expression “to Megalonyx” a woman — i.e., to horrify, gross-out, and cause her to suffer life-long nightmares — has a known historical source.

  18. As been stated by others, the examples given are a testament to science!!
    None of those ‘errors’ were pointed out by creationists! They were found and corrected by science.
    When false hoods are found in the buyBull are they found by creationists? NO! Are the corrected??? No!! they are kept busy making apologies for them.

  19. Our Curmudgeon claims

    the widely used expression “to Megalonyx” a woman — i.e., to horrify, gross-out, and cause her to suffer life-long nightmares — has a known historical source

    But only in lexicons in the sort of alternate science fiction universes as described in your previous article.

    In this universe is altogether different, e.g.

    Megalonyx: Did the earth move for you?
    Olivia: The earth? The whole bloody cosmos did a backflip for me!

  20. Scientists do in fact often harshly criticize unfounded ideas. You should hear what they say to each other. I read somewhere that most people do not realize the degree of criticism that is considered everyday commentary among scientists.

    Another scientist and I were once criticizing each others’ theories in the presence of a bunch of lawyers (don’t ask). After listening for a while, one of them said to us “Boy, you scientists really play hardball!”

    They were *lawyers*.

  21. SC said:

    On the other hand, the widely used expression “to Megalonyx” a woman

    Oh, crap. Here we go! (grabs popcorn… finds comfy chair)

  22. Someday, Miss Olivia is going to make a comment on this blog, and you guys are going to completely lose it. 🙂

  23. Megalonyx fantasizes this conversation:

    Megalonyx: Did the earth move for you?
    Olivia: The earth? The whole bloody cosmos did a backflip for me!

    In truth, the conversation was more like this:

    Megalonyx: I will do anything, even move the earth for you!
    Olivia: I don’t care if you make the whole bloody cosmos do a backflip!

  24. Curmy confides —

    “The headline makes no sense to us either…”

    Looking at etymology of “Apatosaurus, one finds that it translates as “deceptive lizard,” which WND writer Burt Prelutsky says is how they refer to Obama, as unsubtle and humour-devoid an epithet as it is. And, since Apatosaurus is extinct, perhaps also Prelutsky’s hopes for liberals’ future…

  25. retitedsciguy: “However, that’s probably not ever going to come up, so I’ll just go on thinking that creationist’s brains are fossilized.”

    When it comes to an anti-evolution activist (and your context indicates that you mean that, and not a mere rank-and-file evolution-denier who hasn’t given it 5 minutes’ thought), I think that would be one extreme – a severely compartmentalized or “Morton’s Demon-ized” person, who is otherwise fully functional, even rational, on other subjects. However I see activists as being on a scale between that extreme, and the other, where they are fully aware that they are peddling nonsense, either for fun and profit, or for what they honestly consider a noble cause. In all cases they are salesmen whether they know what they’re doing or not. Even the “fossilized” brains have (involuntarily?) processed only those memes that “feel good” and rejected those that don’t. Like used car salesmen, they know what to say about their product and that of the competition – and more importantly what to leave out.

  26. Pluto was still a planet when it was a plutoid. A plutoid is a group of bodies with the orbital resonance (2:3 with Neptune) and coloration of Pluto. The new classification is as a dwarf planet so still a planet of sorts.