Scientist Fired for Finding “New” Dinosaur Fossil

It looks like we have yet another creationist lawsuit to watch. We learned about this one from the Los Angeles CBS website: CSUN Scientist Fired After Soft Tissue Found On Dinosaur Fossil. They say, with our bold font:

Attorneys for a California State University, Northridge scientist who was terminated from his job after discovering soft tissue on a triceratops fossil have filed a lawsuit against the university.

It appears that CBS is getting the story from only one side of the controversy, so we need to exercise caution in reaching any conclusions. It’s extremely doubtful, in our humble opinion, that anyone would be fired for discovering a fossil. We’re also told:

While at the Hell Creek Formation excavation site in Montana, researcher Mark Armitage discovered what he believed to be the largest triceratops horn ever unearthed at the site, according to attorney Brad Dacus of Pacific Justice Institute.

The Pacific Justice Institute? They like to handle creationist cases. We’ve run into them before — see Caldwell Litigation Against UC: Dismissal Affirmed on Appeal. Wikipedia has an article about them: Pacific Justice Institute. They seem to be the right outfit for a case like this. They have a press release about it at their website: University Silences Scientist After Dinosaur Discovery. It says:

When examining the [triceratops] horn under a high-powered microscope back at CSUN, Armitage was fascinated to see the soft tissue. The discovery stunned members of the scientific community because it indicates that dinosaurs roamed the earth only thousands of years in the past rather than going extinct 60 million years ago.

According to court documents, shortly after the original soft tissue discovery, a university official challenged the motives of Armitage, by shouting at him, “We are not going to tolerate your religion in this department!”

Here’s a copy of the complaint that was filed: Mark Armitage vs. Board of Trustees of the California State University, et al. It’s a 21-page pdf file. We haven’t read it yet. Okay, back to CBS:

Armitage’s findings were eventually published in July 2013 in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Really? It was published a year ago and it hasn’t been in the news until now? CBS gives this link to the published article: Soft sheets of fibrillar bone from a fossil of the supraorbital horn of the dinosaur Triceratops horridus. It was published in Acta Histochemica, which is indeed a peer-reviewed journal.

So what happened after that? It’s not clear at all. The only thing we hear from the other side of the case is this:

CSUN spokesperson Carmen Ramos Chandler told CBSLA Armitage was a temporary hire between 2010-2013 and worked as an electron microscopy technician. She could not comment on the lawsuit as university officials had not yet received the complaint.

So all we have is the plaintiff’s side. The poor guy found a fossil, published about it, and then … Ka-Boom-O, he’s expelled! Could there be any more to the story? We strongly suspect that there is, but we’ll have to wait and see how the case progresses. Oh wait — CBS adds this at the end of their story:

The discovery is the latest in several recent – and controversial – soft tissue finds by archaeologists: researchers last November claimed the controversial discovery of purported 68-million-year-old soft tissue from the bones of a Tyrannosaurus rex can be explained by iron in the dinosaur’s body, which they say preserved the tissue before it could decay.

We’ve had posts about soft tissue alleged to have been found on dinosaur fossils before, for example: Dinosaur Fossils Found with Hot Red Meat? Those never amounted to anything. But this could be the case that finally brings down the horrid house of Darwin. Stay tuned to this blog!

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15 responses to “Scientist Fired for Finding “New” Dinosaur Fossil

  1. As Curmy noted in his post two years ago, this science is old news. Mary Schweitzer found remnants of soft tissues in dinosaur bones, which while unexpected, does not at all suggest that such tissues are only a couple of thousands of years old. Schweitzer is a fairly devout Christian and was even ‘expelled’ from her congregation because she affirmed evolution and a very old earth with very old fossils.

  2. docbill1351

    What a mess! A mess o’ creationists, that is.

    Armatage is familiar and I’ll have to figure out where he’s surfaced before, unless I’m just remembering the original story from last year. That’s probably it. He was hired by CSU, Northridge as an electron microscope technician. He’s got a BS in education from Liberty University and a “masters” is parasitology (how fitting!) from our old friends, Institute for Creationist Research! Most of his “work” appears to have been in his microscope sales company.

    Armitage is certainly not a “CSUN Scientist.” He’s a technician on contract. He also holds position #453 in the Encyclopedia of American Loons.

    Kevin Anderson is sure enough an Asst. Prof. of Biology (microbiologist) at Arkansas State University, Beebe which is a 2-year college and he’s a great creationist! He is Director of the Van Andel Creation Research Center for the Creation Research Society and editor of the Creation Research Society Quarterly.

    As for “peer reviewed,” who knows. They published at the on-line site of who knows what journal published by Elsevier that has a bad reputation for publishing junk for a price.

  3. docbill1351

    I read the complaint and it will be interesting to hear the other side. If the complaint is accurate then Dr. Ernie Kwok may have stepped in it thoroughly and left a trail with witnesses.

    Not exactly a Coppedge case but maybe more along the lines of the California Science Museum.

  4. A Google search on “Mark Armitage” triceratops shows that he’s all over the place — at creationist websites.

  5. This was almost certainly an attempt by a flaming creationist to gain credibility for YEC beliefs by creating the impression that research done at a California State University supports the claim of a 6,000 year old Earth, I am convinced that when CSUN officials saw what Armitage was up to and realized how damaging this scheme could be to the reputation of the California State University if its name was associated with pseudoscience they knew the had to act quickly and decisively.

    CSUN had to deal with a religious zealot who put his own personal agenda above the very legitimate interests of his employer. There is only one way to deal with an employee who for his own personal reasons threatens the integrity of his employer. They had to terminate him as soon as possible.

    Get ready for the righteous wailing of all the creationist organizations about how CSU violated the creationist’s rights, even though CSU, unlike AIG does not require employees to sign a statement of faith.

  6. If it’s young soft tissue, it should still have DNA. I’m willing to bet none could be found — at least, not reptilian DNA.

    Also, CBS says “The discovery is the latest in several recent – and controversial – soft tissue finds by archaeologists:…”

    It would not be surprising for archaeologists to discover soft tissue. Paleontologists, however, would be a different matter. The science illiteracy in the news media is appalling. May as well be calling a geologist an astronomer; a chemist a biologist; a gynecologist a mathematician…

  7. Christine Janis

    “a gynecologist a mathematician…”

    Why not, AiG (or is it ICR?) has a gynecologist they call a paleontologist.

  8. Douglas E: “Schweitzer is a fairly devout Christian and was even ‘expelled’ from her congregation because she affirmed evolution and a very old earth with very old fossils.”

    Who knows how many members of fundamentalist churches just privately accept evolution but keep quiet about it, to avoid being “expelled.” In fact, had she just affirmed the old earth part and still expressed denial or uncertainty of evolution, she might not have had a problem, because, as I understand it, at least half of those churches have no problem with OEC. But like many devout Christians, she answers to a higher authority (God) than the paranoid authoritarian leaders of her church.

  9. Stephen Kennedy: “Get ready for the righteous wailing of all the creationist organizations…”

    Including DI, even though they don’t challenge any mainstream chronology, and don’t advocate attempts to discredit evolution by pretending that fossils are much younger than previously thought. Though as with Freshwater, their “defense” will probably be minimal, and not really intended to help Armitage, but only to further fool the public that “intolerant” mainstream science “expels” anyone who “challenges” evolution.

  10. It seems logical that such a discovery would attract the interest of the actual paleontologists at CSUN, who would do a proper investigation and publish the results. How is it that a microscope technician is allowed to keep the fossil, do research(?), write a paper (with a junior college professor from another state) and publish it in a somewhat suspect online journal?

    My guess is that CSUN has an internal process for this sort of thing which Armitage ignored – probably despite warnings which are not mentioned in the lawsuit. Certainly the university did not consider Armitage to be a professor (although he taught students how to use the microscope) and definitely not a paleontologist. It seems very unlikely that they would have authorized him to publish as a representative of the university without some internal review and validation by actual scientists in the paleontology department, who would then properly co-author the paper. They may not have known until the paper appeared online that he published it.

  11. Christine Janis

    @ Ed. I don’t even know of a paleontologist at CSUN, and i don’t think any US university has a “paleontology department”.

    There’s actually no internal process within universities for submission of papers. If he was hired by the institution, then he has a right to put that as his address on his paper, and to submit whatever he likes for publication wherever he likes — he certainly doesn’t have to show his material or data to anyone at the institution (that’s what peer review is for). Of course, there may be fallout later, as we can see.

  12. …he certainly doesn’t have to show his material or data to anyone at the institution (that’s what peer review is for). Of course, there may be fallout later, as we can see.

    Not really. If he submits fraudulent information, it’s the institution’s responsibility to deal with it however they choose to maintain their credibility. In this case it would appear that they are quite justified in summarily dismissing this fraudulent “researcher” if there is no evidence to back it up the paper’s claims, and that appears to be the case.

  13. docbill1351

    It’s a fascinating story, Mary Schweitzer, to be sure. She possesses the insight to ask, “What’s this stuff?” And it turns out to be a big deal. My closest association to that kind of mind was knowing Banks and Hogan when I worked at the Phillips Research Center. They kept getting this gunk in their reaction vessel and asked the same question. Turns out it was polyethylene and they had discovered a new process for making it.

    Schweitzer, of course, realized that contamination could be a real possibility and went to great lengths sending samples to a number of laboratories to confirm her findings.

    Armitage did none of that work. He just threw a chunk into his EM, took a picture and “published” the results in a dubious on-line, pay-for-view journal.

    That said, it seems hardly worth getting fired for. I’m looking forward to “the rest of the story.” Paul Harvey ……………………………………… good day!

  14. BTW, let me add too that if this was actually published in a real “peer” reviewed journal, it doesn’t speak well for the process should it turn out to be a hoax.

  15. We’ll they did say he was a tempory hire. What is the likelyhood that he was a contract employee who just didn’t have his contract renewed.