May 4, 2020 | Jerry Bergman

Fake Spider Scares Experts

 

Yet Another Fake Fossil Published in a Peer-Reviewed Scientific Journal!
What’s going on in paleontology?

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

The headline of a creation website announced in bold letters, “Fake spider fossil passes peer review!”[1] It then asked, “What lessons should be learnt?” The first lesson is, although the common claim, at least by laypersons, is that peer review firmly proves the value and validity of a scientific article, such is not always the case. Since I now have close to 1,500 publications, the vast majority of which were peer-reviewed, I have some experience in the procedure, both its merits and shortcomings. I also have published a peer-reviewed monograph on the subject of scientific peer review.[2]

A major problem is that often the author knows more about the subject than the peer reviewers do. Thus, journal editors try to find peer reviewers that are at least as knowledgeable as the author. Then, when they are located, they often have little incentive to spend the time and energy necessary to carefully review the article, unless the university gives them credit for their work. Another concern is time constraints may not allow the required time to do the review properly. This is probably the most common problem.

Finally, the quality of peer review varies enormously. In my experience it is common to send an article to three reviewers to reduce this problem. Just last month an article I wrote came back with two reviewers recommending rejection, and the third reviewer, who was without question more knowledgeable than I was about the topic, recommended publication, adding relevant information to my article that further supported my conclusions and improved my article considerably. The editor, fortunately, recognized the weight of the reviewers was heavily in favor of the third reviewer and accepted the article. It is not rare to have the reviewer check every reference used, as occurred recently, and of the 70 articles I referenced in my article, she found only two errors, neither of which had any effect on my conclusions. In short, peer review is no guarantee of a perfect article, or even a valid study, as clearly illustrated in the case considered below.

A Really Very Bad Article

Fraud in science is now at an epidemic level as illustrated by the website Retraction Watch that documents thousands of retractions. It makes one wonder if any scientific paper can be confidently accepted.[3] At least no paper should be uncritically accepted regardless of whether it was peer-reviewed. One of the most detailed study of retractions has found the

number of articles retracted by journals had increased 10-fold during the previous 10 years. Fraud accounted for some 60% of those retractions; one offender, anesthesiologist Joachim Boldt, had racked up almost 90 retractions after investigators concluded he had fabricated data and committed other ethical violations. Boldt may have even harmed patients by encouraging the adoption of an unproven surgical treatment. Science, it seemed, faced a mushrooming crisis.[4]

Bergman describes the many tactics of censorship by the media, libraries, courts and schools.

It is true that although “statistics were sketchy, retractions appeared to be relatively rare,” and  the reason for withdrawal include honest errors. Part of the problem may be, it is not known if fraudulent papers were becoming more common, or if journals were just learning to be better at recognizing and reporting them. And the rate of retraction of papers written by creationists or Darwin Doubters is especially high. Typically they were peer-reviewed, accepted, and only retracted after the evolutionary community found out the author, or authors, were creationists, or Darwin doubters. Evolutionists reason that the historical molecules-to-man view is beyond question, so on these grounds alone any paper written by a Darwin dissenter must be wrong, and thus should be withdrawn. This problem has now been well-documented.[5] Conversely, many evolutionists see their results as supporting Darwinism not based on the facts, but due to their wearing their evolution glasses which, in turn, causes them to distort the evidence. From the paper cited below are a few examples.

The Latest Case

In short, the fossil that will now be considered looked very much like a well-preserved spider but, with the aid of fluorescence microscopy, was determined to be a fake after careful investigation.[6] The fossil was not a fossil spider as claimed, but the core was a fossil crayfish with spider legs painted on. Published in the respected Chinese scientific journal Acta Geologica Sinical[7] the crayfish with painted legs looked like no known spider. The author’s simple solution of the now-retracted article was to assume it was a new species that was given the name Mongolarachne chaoyangensis.

The  specimen  consists of  single  slab bearing  two  large cracks across  it  (Figs  1, 2). The  cracks  are mended and a filling cement has been used to enhance the repair. The fossil is preserved partly as external mold and  partly as cuticle.

The photograph and a line-drawing of the fossil ‘spider’, Mongolarachne chaoyangensis.
At first glance it looks like an exceptionally-preserved fossilized spider. From Palaeoentomology 2019.

Two obvious concerns were raised. First, the paper gave no details of how or where the fossil was obtained (provenance), which is very critical information in fossil verification. They only stated it was from the Liaoning Province of China. The Liaoning Province of China is infamous for fake fossils, including one of the most well-known fakes—Archaeoraptor —that National Geographic featured in a multi-page, full-color spread in the magazine. The Geographic editors were so anxious to exploit the fossil to prove evolution that it was published even before they had carefully vetted the fossil find.[8]

Invertebrate paleontologist and spider expert, University of Kansas Professor Paul Selden, first expressed concerns when he saw a picture of the claimed spider fossil. Selden explained that the

paper had very few details, so my colleagues in Beijing borrowed the specimen from the people in the Southern University, and I got to look at it. Immediately, I realized there was something wrong with it – it clearly wasn’t a spider. It was missing various parts, had too many segments in its six legs, and huge eyes.[9]

The big question is why would the forgers, whoever they were, forge the fossil? One reason is spider fossils are much rarer than fossil crayfish which, as a marine animal, are far more common. Close to 95 percent of all fossils are of marine animals, and a total of only 0.25 of all fossils are insects and arachnids combined, thus the value of a spider is far greater than a crayfish.[10]

How the Fossil was Exposed

Professor Selden used fluorescence microscopy to conclusively expose the fossil, which he notes “is becoming increasingly useful in paleontology, for identifying vertebrate bones, teeth, and feathers.”[11] Fluorescent pigments react to short-wavelength light , which involves a physico-chemical energy exchange where shorter-wavelength photons from the light are absorbed by molecules in the pigments, and re-emitted as longer-wavelength photons. The emitted colors vary according to the molecules.[12]

In short, a material absorbs light energy and then re-emits the light in various colors, which depend on the chemical traits of the pigment. Different materials in the fossil will re-emit light of different colors, depending on the chemical traits of the fossil material.[13] Thus, it can be used to detect alterations in the fossil, especially additions, such as paint in this case. Selden describes the process used to determine the fossil was a fake using fluorescence microscopy

to distinguish anthropogenic repair and alteration of an invertebrate fossil [allegedly] from the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation of China; specifically, an attempt to pass off a poorly preserved crayfish fossil as a giant spider by adding morphology with an oil-based paint, in addition to repairing the broken slab bearing the specimen. [14]

As noted, fluorescent light reacts to pigment differences, producing reflections that reveal the composition of the fossil components. The white emission indicated a mended crack; blue, the mineral composition of the host rock; red indicated actual fossilized material; and the yellow was most likely created by the oil-based paint.[15] See illustration below.

Note the many photographs used to analyze the spider legs by fluorescent light. From Selden, et al., Palaeoentomology, 2019.

As a result of Selden’s paper, the Mongolarachne chaoyangensis spider no longer exists as a taxonomic classification. The specimen has been reclassified as a common crayfish. No decision has been made about what to do with the fossil.[16] The best idea is to put it on display in a museum as another example of a forgery along with the Piltdown man, Nebraska Man, the fairly recent Archaeoraptor, and scores of others.[17]

Who is to Blame?

Some have attempted to excuse the papers’ authors of making a unintended mistake, but the original paper claimed a careful study was undertaken in order to evaluate the fossil. For example, the papers’ authors state that it was examined under a $12,000 Olympus SZX12 fluorescence dissecting microscope, one of the finest scopes made today.[18] Furthermore, the technical language used indicated that the scientists had a good understanding of spider anatomy. These facts make it very unlikely that the forgery was a unintended mistake.

Conclusions

In retrospect, the forgery was very poorly done, and easily exposed by the simple technique of fluorescence microscopy. This example is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. How many papers now accepted are forgeries or distort the evidence in order to support evolution or make money? From the results of my half-century research on evolution, I have found that a large number of peer reviewed papers have major problems, especially those related to human evolution, as illustrated by the many papers I have posted on this website.

References

Eye-opening true accounts of recent frauds that were accepted by scientists, sometimes for decades.

[1] Robinson, Phil. 2020. Fake spider fossil passes peer review! https://creation.com/fake-spider-fossil.

[2] Bergman, Jerry. 1980. “Peer Evaluation of University Faculty: A Monograph.”  College Student Journal Monograph, 14(3), Part 2, pp. 1-21, Fall, https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ233849

[3] https://retractionwatch.com.

[4] Brainard, Jeffrey  and Jia You. 2018. What a massive database of retracted papers reveals about science publishing’s ‘death penalty’. October 25, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/10/what-massive-database-retracted-papers-reveals-about-science-publishing-s-death-penalty.

[5] Bergman, Jerry. 2018. Censoring the Darwin Skeptics: How Belief in Evolution is Enforced by Eliminating Dissidents. Southworth, WA: Leafcutter Press.

[6] Selden, P.A., et al., 2019. The supposed giant spider Mongolarachne chaoyangensis, from the Cretaceous Yixian Formation of China, is a crayfish. Palaeoentomology 002(5):515–522.

[7] Cheng, Xiaodong,  et al., 2019. A New Species of Mongolarachnidae from the Yixian Formation of Western Liaoning, China. Acta Geologica Sinica (English Edition), 93(1): 227–228. DOI: 10.1111/1755-6724.13780

[8] As documented in detail in Chapter 16, pages 261-272, of  Bergman. 2017. Evolution’s Blunders, Frauds and Forgeries. Atlanta, GA: CMI Publishing.

[9] Lynch, Brendan M. 2019. A ‘JACKALOPE’ OF AN ANCIENT SPIDER FOSSIL DEEMED A HOAX, UNMASKED AS A CRAYFISH. University of Kansas, KU News Service, December 19, https://today.ku.edu/2019/12/17/‘jackalope’-ancient-spider-fossils-deemed-hoax-unmasked-crayfish. “A ‘Jackalope’ of an ancient spider fossil deemed a hoax, unmasked as a crayfish.” ScienceDaily, 19 December 2019, <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191219122531.htm>.

[10] Zillmer, Hans. 1998. Darwin’s Mistake. Munich, Germany: Herbig Publishing House (Herbig Verlags GmbH), p. 52.

[11] Selden, P.A., et al., 2019, p. 520.

[12] Marshall, Justin and Sonke Johnsen. 2017. Fluorescence as a means of color signal enhancement. Philosophical Transactions of the  Royal Society of  London B Biological Sciences 372(1724), July 5.  https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rstb.2016.0335

[13] Marshall, J. and Johnsen, S., 2017.

[14] Selden, P.A., et al., 2019, p. 520.

[15] Starr, Michelle. 2019. A Fossil Spider Discovery Just Turned Out to Be a Crayfish With Some Legs Painted On, December 20, https://www.sciencealert.com/a-fossil-has-been-stripped-of-its-classification-because-its-legs-were-literally-painted-on.

[16] Starr, M.,2019.

[17] Bergman, J., 2017. (See Ref. 8.)

[18] Cheng, X., et al., 2019, (I used the Olympus Catalogue for microscope specifications. See https://www.spachoptics.com/SZX12-p/olympus-szx12-rfl.htm.)


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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