Tag Archives: fossil

Cosmos – Best Repudiation Yet of Creationists

Crab Nebula

The Crab Nebula, about 6,500 light-years from earth. See the twinkling celestial features in the background? If the earth were truly 6,500 years old, as young-earth creationists claim, then the universe wouldn't be old enough for the light from those features to reach earth.

I admit I was pretty skeptical when it was announced Neal deGrasse Tyson was rebooting Cosmos, with shows to air on Fox.  It definitely wasn’t Tyson himself, who I think is just the kind of charismatic, down-to-earth science “spokesman” that can relate to the masses.  While scientists may be wonderful at explaining the universe, we’re not always so wonderful at translating that explanation to the public as a whole.   My concern wasn’t for the host, it was the fact that it was being aired on Fox.  What would Fox allow? Would those at Fox try to use Cosmos to push the right-wing version of “science”, complete with anti-evolution and anti-global warming fallacies?

Thankfully the answer has been a resounding NO, and Tyson and Cosmos have taken on evolution full-on in the first few episodes. This week’s episode provided a wonderful, and oh-so-straightforward repudiation of the “young-earth” creationists.  Obviously the fossil record, radiometric age dating, and other methods have been widely used in the past to refute creationists. From a scientific standpoint, there’s obviously no refuting the evidence in these records, but particularly for methodologies such as radiometric dating, it’s enough of a “black box” that the public as a whole has little understanding of how it works.  It’s therefore easier for creationists to dismiss.

Tyson’s argument on Cosmos isn’t “new”, the same argument has occasionally been used before to refute creationists.  It was the presentation and the popular venue that I think really brought it home and made it one of the most effective repudiations of Creationists.  The argument is devastatingly simple.  The Crab Nebula is approximately 6,500 light-years away.  Young-earth creationists claim the earth is about 6,500 years old.  Given that by definition, a light-year is the distance light can travel in a calendar year, if the earth were only 6,500 years old, then ALL celestial objects further than 6,500 light-years away would be invisible to humans on earth. There simply wouldn’t have been enough time for light to travel that far, so that humans on earth could observe it.  Simple!  Straightforward!

And devastatingly effective in repudiating young-earth creationists.  Creationists have a long history of creating complete fallacies to counter the fossil record and other evidence of an “old’ earth…it will be interesting to see what laughable explanation they come up with to refute the latest Cosmos episode.

Corps of Engineers responsible for Flooding, Global Warming, War

Corps of Engineers - Logo
Be afraid. Be VERY afraid. Taking a walk with your young son? Having the “Best Day Ever”? THE CORPS IS WATCHING YOU.

OK, enough time has passed, and I’ve stewed on this long enough.  Last summer, I had a blog post where I defended the Corps of Engineers.  With the record flooding on the Missouri River, the Corps was taking heat for mismanaging the dams along the Missouri.  I defended the Corps and blasted the Corps critics for choosing to blame Corps and the government, instead of record rainfall and snowpack.

I am now taking all of that back.  The Corps DID cause flooding on the Missouri River.  Oh, the Corps ALSO is solely responsible for global warming, war, famine, pestilence, and teenage acne.

You see, I was “rewarded” for my post defending the Corps, and my reward was a visit from a Corps Park Ranger (who knew they had such a thing?), and threat of a $500 ticket.  Multiple times over the winter, I had mysterious phone calls from security at the USGS facility where I work.  They said a “ranger” wanted to see me.  I was gone on travel the first few times it happened, so all I had were messages on my machine. But, a few months ago…

I got to work, sat down, and almost immediately, the phone rang.  It was again from security, saying a park ranger was here to see me.  Having NO idea what it was about, I walked out into the atrium and was greeted by a Corps ranger in uniform.  I shook his hand, asked what it was about, and we walked back to the (very public) cafeteria for a chat.  The chat started out with him talking about my website and how much he enjoyed it.  Then…he asked if I liked to go fossil hunting as well as birding.

So, the background….last December, my son and I heard about the fossils you can find on the banks of the Missouri River in the fall, when the water levels drop.  I took my son one fine warm December Saturday, and we spent a couple of hours walking the shoreline.  It was great!  We found 3 small fossils, each about golf-ball sized, including a mosasaur vertebrae, a “tube worm”, and a giant ancient fish vertebrae.  The rest of the day, we went birding, ate at a little cafe in a small town, and had a WONDERFUL day.  It was SUCH a great day, that night I had a blog post entitled “Best Day Ever.” And…it was!  But little did I know…THE CORPS IS WATCHING ONLINE.

Mr. Park Ranger started asking me about that day.  Mr. Park Ranger had evidently seen my website, and I have NO doubt it’s because if you had typed in “Corps” with other search terms, my blog popped up because of the one post I had defending them.  Silly me.  Mr. Park Ranger started to inform me of the illegality of picking up fossils on Corps land.  Mr. Park Ranger started to inform me of the $500 ticket that was coming my way…unless I “cooperated”.  “Cooperation” evidently meant talking about anyone else I may have known who went there.

I work at USGS.  This guy NEVER called me at home.  He NEVER tried to contact me PERSONALLY.  EVERY TIME he tried to contact me, he contacted head of security at my work!!  Even though the “offense” was done on my OWN TIME, and had NOTHING to do with my place of work.  But then, he made a comment that at the “U.S. Geological Survey”, there must be other people “interested in fossils“.   He obviously was trying to make more out of the situation than was EVER there.  He obviously was hoping there was more to the story, than just a father and his son walking along the river.

So I sat there, in the atrium with this guy in uniform, a guard walking around behind me (making sure I didn’t bolt and make my way to Venezuela or something????). I had colleagues walk by and jokingly ask “are you in trouble with the law” and other similar comments, since I was sitting there with this guy in uniform, with a security guard behind me.  I replied “well, yeah, kind of!!!”.  ALL because the Corps Ranger decided to make this happen at my WORK,  and to try to make more of it than it was.

He asked for the fossils.  I gave them to him, since they were on my desk at work.  To make a long story short…after the threat of a $500 fine and a nice hour-long “discussion” in the atrium….eventually what happened is I got a written warning.

My crime WAS serious.  After all, I had posted on my blog ‘BEST DAY EVER’.  I had taken a walk along the river with my son, LAND THAT WASN’T MARKED.  There’s a mix of ownership at this spot, with no sign to say when I was leaving this one ownership type, and walking onto Corps land.  There was no sign saying it was illegal to pick up fossils.  In the end?  I pick up THREE ROCKS the size of golf balls, on completely unmarked land, and end up with a Park Ranger driving up 2 1/2 hours from Omaha a few times (!!!!), to confront me at WORK, without any personal contact asking me about it, asking if I would talk.

I asked him how I’d have ever known it was illegal to pick up fossils on Corps land.  After all, I work for the USGS, part of DOI.  Outside of a few special situations, you ARE allowed casual fossil collection like this on DOI land.  Who thinks that picking up a few rocks with your young son would get you in trouble, when you’re walking along the river on unmarked land?  Mr. Park Ranger’s response?  He said that if HE were going out on any Federal land, he would first contact whoever the local enforcement officer was that was responsible for that land, and ask that person what you can or cannot do.

Yeah, sure.  Just like EVERYONE does.  You’re going for a walk along the river, land with no posts of any kind, and the first thing that comes to your mind is “I MUST contact the federal officer in charge of enforcement for this land, to see what I can and cannot do!!!”  Ridiculous, especially given that you ARE allowed to casually collect on other federal land.

Ridiculous, because the shoreline where we were at IS UNDER 10 FEET OF WATER MOST OF THE YEAR!! It’s only when water levels drop in the fall, that this stuff is exposed.  So CLEARLY it’s BETTER to leave a golf-ball sized rock under water to erode away, than to teach your son to get outside, look around, and APPRECIATE the natural world and its wonders.  It’s CLEARLY BETTER to let a newly exposed little fossil quickly erode away, never to be seen by another human being again, than it is to pick it up and preserve it.

Idiotic.  The rule itself…Idiotic.  The lack of posting on mere ownership boundaries, much less the illegality of picking up fossils…idiotic.  The way the man ENFORCED this, continuing going through SECURITY AT MY WORK instead of CALLING ME PERSONALLY….Idiotic.

Hence, my retraction of my support for the Corps for last year’s flooding.  YOU ARE DAMNED STRAIGHT the Corps caused misery and suffering on the Missouri River last year. It was CLEARLY their fault for mismanaging the dams.  CLEARLY the Corps single-handedly also causes war, pestilence, disease, famine, and all of the other world ills.

“Best Day Ever”. This is a warning for all of you out there who would ever DARE say something similar online!  THE CORPS IS WATCHING YOU….

Bad Advice! Don’t go Fossil Hunting Here!

Back in December, I had posted a blog post entitled “Best Day Ever”.  And it was!  My 8-year old son and I had heard about a place to walk along the shores of the Missouri River, where you could find fossils.  We tried it one weekend morning, and had a blast!  For a couple of hours poking around the shoreline, we found an ancient fish vertebrae, a Mosasaur vertebrae, and a “tube worm” fossil.  Coupled with some birding we did that afternoon, and that wonderful sunny December day was indeed one of my “best days ever”.

Sounds great, right? You bet!!  However, it seems in life there are no “best days ever” without some reciprocal thing happening to balance it out.  As I’ve just learned, you CANNOT actually disturb or pick up a fossil in this location!  Thanks to my “Best Day Ever” blog post, I just had a little sit down chat with a ranger from the Corps of Engineers.  Turns out the spot my son and I were at is Corps of Engineers land, and you are NOT allowed to collect fossils here. 

The spot…along the Missouri River, by the Platte-Winner bridge in South Dakota on the west side of the Missouri River.  I have my own thoughts about this topic, but for once, I’ll listen to the side of me responsible for self-censorship and won’t provide them here.  Suffice it to say that if you try to fossil hunt in this area, if you’re on Corps of Engineer lands, it’s probably illegal.  And if  you do it, you may get a visit like I just did.

The one great difficulty though…there are NOT signs in this area that point this out.  The guy told me that Federal lands each have different rules, depending on who is managing it.  In this area, there’s a mix of Federal land management types, and there are NO signs that warn you against fossil hunting, or where one management type starts, and another begins.

Think the only “safe” thing to do is to avoid fossil hunting here altogether.  Or you too may get a “visit”.    To avoid any more trouble…that’s the last I’ll ever say on the topic out here.

“Best Day Ever”

Post Deleted -

Perusin’ & Musin’

Random thoughts from perusing the web…

Kraken PseudoscienceThis link is from National Geographic, but this “news” of the potential discovery of a “kraken”, a gigantic sea-monster sized fossil squid, has been all over the “news” in the past week.  I REALLY HATE when a citizen science site like National Geographic posts complete crap like this.  Some wacko totally overinterprets a fossil find as being evidence of an intelligent Kraken, and you start to see “news” about a fossil sea monster discovery.   It’s no wonder that so many Americans have a seemingly negative view of science right now, when complete hogwash like this is passed off as science on popular websites. 

Sea-level rise projected to continue for centuries – A paper published in Global and Planetary Change finds that even in the most optimistic (aka, unrealistic) projections of when human beings will curb emissions of greenhouse gases, sea-level rise will continue for several centuries into the future.  But hey, there is good news, as sea-level rise in YOUR lifetime may ”only” be a moderate global economic and environmental hardship.  It’s just your children and grandchildren who will really see catostrophic levels of economic and environmental destruction.  That kind of long-term consequence is way too far out into the future for most Americans to lose sleep over.

“Liberal” media hard on Obama?The Pew Research Center evaluated press coverage of political candidates and politicians, and found that Obama actually gets more negative press coverage than do Republican presidential candidates.  Shocking!  What about that “liberal” media bias?   I think the only media bias is towards people of prestige and power.  The more power and prestige someone has, the harder the media tries to tear that person down.  It’s not just the media, as tearing successful people down seems to be a growing American pasttime.   Rather than try to emulate the hard work and dedication of successful people, rather than try to elevate YOURSELF to that level, lazy Americans find it MUCH easier to try to tear successful people down.  

WeBird – Bird Song Identification AppI was hoping someone would make a smartphone app that does this!!  By spring of next year, the WeBird app should be available, an app that will identify a singing bird for you.  There are already a number of applications that have pre-recorded bird songs, which are indeed useful to have in the field.  However, if you hear a completely unknown bird song, the WeBird app is supposed to be able to not only identify the bird species, but may also be able to identify an individual bird.   The app has promise not only for recreational birders, but also for avian researchers.  Automatic recording and identification of bird songs is already being done on a limited basis, but such an app could take the idea mainstream for birder and researcher alike.

Elizabeth Warren “Going for the Hick Vote” - I can’t imagine running for a public office with as much visibility as Senator or President.  The intense scrutiny, the parsing of every single word that you say, would simply drive me nuts.  Elizabeth Warren, Scott Brown’s likely Senate opponent in Massachusetts, was heavily criticized in many quarters for jokingly saying she was “going for the hick vote” during an interview.  Warren was making fun of her own Oklahoma background during the exchange, but of course the media parses out one line out of context and places Warren in a bad light. 

World Population Set to pass 7 Billion!!  – Not exactly cause for celebration, but the best estimates state that the World’s population will pass 7 billion by the end of October.   As the article notes, what’s sad is that high population growth and poverty seem to go hand in hand.  Humanity has shown they have about just as much of a committment to solving this long-term problem as they have to solving the long-term issue of climate change.  We just seem incapable of addressing any issue over timescales outside of a decade or two.