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Re: The science of Col Barnett, or the Dinosaur Tracks at James Price Point, Western Australia

Am 20.07.2012 um 12:15 schrieb Tony Thulborn:

Here it is; my (borrowed) laptop isn't complying, so perhaps you would be kind enough to forward it to DML on my behalf? Thank you!
Please forward the following message to everyone on the planet:
There are some unusual and very important dinosaur tracks at sites along the western coast of the Dampier Peninsula, near Broome, in Western Australia, and I've been pursuing research into them for more than 20 years. One of those sites happens to be James Price Point, which as you might know, is a place that's been earmarked for industrial development to exploit natural gas reserves of the offshore Browse Basin. The proposed development is a pet project of the WA premier, Col Barnett, and it's being defiantly rejected by the traditional land-owners who want to keep their country, and by conservationists intent on defending the integrity of the Kimberley, one of the few great wilderness areas remaining on the planet. The situation is potentially explosive, with profound social and economic consequences, and it just so happens that some dinosaur tracks lie at the very centre of this whole sordid affair. In 2009 I started supplying information about the dinosaur tracks to both the State and Federal governments, in the hope of securing some protection for all those truly important but sometimes endangered sites along the Dampier coast, including James Price Point. As an independent researcher, without affiliation to (or support from) any of the concerned parties, I tried as far as possible to remain completely impartial. In my estimation the track-sites are valuable scientific resources, and I feel that they should be preserved intact. Those views happen to coincide with those of the traditional land-owners and conservationists. We are all heading in roughly the same direction - preservation and conservation - but I'm occupying a different seat on a different bus, and I'm definitely not part of anyone else's campaign. Moreover I continue to insist that we could so easily have a win-win outcome, by shifting the proposed industrial development elsewhere, to existing facilities. But here I will leave aside my personal opinions and get back to the science of dinosaur tracks. The information I supplied proved to be of assistance to the Australian National Heritage Council, and National Heritage listing was approved in August 2010 for dinosaur track-sites along the entire Dampier coast, including James Price Point. Unfortunately heritage listing doesn't prohibit industrial development: it requires only that developers proceed with appropriate care (to "mitigate impact on the heritage values"). So, I've also been supplying information about the dinosaur tracks to the WA EPA (Environmental Protection Authority), which has been charged with assessing (and approving, modifying or rejecting) the measures that have been proposed to ensure protection of the dinosaur tracks and other heritage values. There's a lot of money at stake - something like $30 billion - and advancement of the Premier's pet project is being delayed by the need to protect a few old dinosaur tracks. You can imagine the scenario, which I described. in Nature News online in May last year, in response to a hopelessly inaccurate news report by J.M. Crow. In sifting through my backlog of information on dinosaur tracks - in order to provide information for the EPA - I discovered something truly surprising. The bits and pieces of information I'd gathered over the past 20 years suddenly clicked into place and released a pattern that had been scratching at the back of my mind for some time. The pattern was startling and unprecedented. So far as I'm aware, no one had ever seen anything like it. My findings have now been published in the open-access online journal PLoS ONE - doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036208 PLoS is open-access, which seemed very appropriate, as I'd discovered something that might affect a decision of national importance and to me it seemed only fair that everyone should have the opportunity to see the evidence for themselves. PLoS also offered the opportunity to use lots of colour images. So take a look. The whole rocky foreshore at James Price Point is an ancient Cretaceous landscape, about 130 million years old, which has been preserved more or less intact, much as the dinosaurs would have seen it in their life-time. In places (though not precisely at the point itself) there are even ancient soils, with stumps and roots of plants still in place, undisturbed for 130 million years. (The details have been destroyed by erosion, of course, but the overall picture is still there - for those with eyes to see it.) But, most important, the whole landscape has been remodelled by dinosaurs: it is marked with enormous troughs and basins where the ground collapsed and buckled beneath the incessant heavyweight traffic of sauropod dinosaurs ('brontosaurs'). It is literally unprecedented. I can't find anything like it elsewhere in the world, and since it is unprecedented, no other scientists noticed it - until I pointed it out to them. This information went to the EPA when they were preparing their report and recommendation, as did constant updates and, eventually, the published paper. I had my fingers crossed. If the rocky shore at James Price Point is all one big coherent site, the developers can't really start drilling, blasting and dredging for a deepwater port facility... can they? The EPA said thanks for the report. Oh, and by the way, they planned to import two dinosaur track specialists from the USA, just for a few days, to give them an independent assessment of the James Price Point site. Yes, of course, I said. No worries. I even helped with some advice about the persons best-qualified to do the job for them. The EPA Report came out on Monday, 16^th July. It's about 1,650 pages long, of arguable legality (as explained in the news media), and there are 14 days allowed for appeal (if you're sufficiently adept at speed-reading). Here's what it says about my paper in PLoS ONE: Section 3.7 Heritage. Description (p. 129)... "A recent publication illustrates the impact of dinosaurs on the form of present day rock surfaces in the area (Thulborn, 2012)." That's it. In total. It's not exactly what I would call a graphic description. The EPA report goes on to maintain that the dinosaur tracks are few, poor, patchy in distribution and cites (with approval) a few papers to that effect - papers which I had previously shown them to be incorrect, and even one which transpired to be a "desk-top study" (i.e. nobody actually visited the site). There was an even greater surprise: the two specialists who were going to provide an independent assessment for the EPA had suddenly evolved into four (with support from a fifth, incorporated locally). The "few days" of study had expanded into a few weeks. And instead of examining James Price Point, this research team was actually gathering data from dinosaur track-sites as far as 80 km (50 miles away)... and PUBLISHING their studies of the dinosaur tracks in the EPA Report, with the generous assistance and support of the WA Government. In short, masses of my research data (hundreds of slides and photos, aerial photos, charts and maps, lots of measurements, casts and replicas, even a complete manuscript which had been reviewed and accepted... but which I'd withdrawn temporarily to free up some more time), all accumulated over the past 20 years, had now been pre-empted and rendered next to worthless. I asked the EPA what the [bleep] was going on here, but I haven't yet received a reply. But I think you can see for yourself what's happened. The WA premier insisted repeatedly that any decisions about his pet project at James Price Point would be based on science, nothing but science. [As I write this, the Australian Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, is chanting the very same mantra for the benefit of the news media, just to reassure the public. But the federal decision-making process has yet come.] And, being sufficiently gullible to believe that a decision would be based on science, and only science, I spent an awful lot of time and effort feeding the best available information to the WA State Government, even at cost to my own research. Alas, it wasn't the /right/ science. It didn't fit with the premier's pet project. So it was put aside, and the WA Government imported some more compliant retailers of science, gave them all the facilities they required to produce the desired results... and there we go. And, of course, I have no legal redress. The gurgling noise you hear in the background is 20-odd years of my research dribbling down the plug-hole. No matter, we must take these things philosophically. I'm not into conspiracy theory, but I can't help wondering. It wasn't NECESSARY for the imported team to actually PUBLISH their findings in the EPA report. All they had to do was confirm or deny what I'd already told the EPA. In rushing ahead to publish their own study, they achieved nothing extra... beyond gaining a bit of credit for themselves (and incidentally pre-empting and destroying my work - just collateral damage). But, you know, there are some longstanding rumours about the premier of WA exacting retribution on those who obstructed his plans in the past... No. I can't be so uncharitable as to suspect... Couldn't be payback for daring to obstruct his pet project? No, surely not. Anyway, none of my colleagues would ever agree to participate in such an evil and dastardly plot. Of course, that's not quite the end. One perplexing fact had been troubling me ever since May 25^th , when my article appeared in PLoS ONE, but the answer arrived on Monday in the form of that EPA report. It suddenly became clear that my revelations in PLoS ONE were potentially dangerous to the WA Government: if my findings leaked out, God forbid, and the public got hold of that news... people might start wondering if there really IS no reason to worry about the destruction of James Price Point. But if you have determined politicians, lots of money and a bunch of heavyweight corporations (Woodside, Chevron, Shell, BP, Mitsubishi... it's a long list) all itching to get at all those lovely mineral resources, you can stifle any undesirable information and keep it out of the media. So my unprecedented discovery of enormous dinosaurian trace fossils at a site of national economic importance got a mention on local radio, then promptly died. No national broadcaster will touch it. One optimistic journalist interviewed me and wrote it up, only to see his story spiked by the editor of a national daily. It "didn't get a run". So nobody knows. The public is reputed to have an insatiable appetite for all things dinosaurian, but they are being kept in the dark about this story. I discovered the biggest dinosaurian trace fossils on Earth, and nobody wants to know about it. Let me make it clear that I am NOT grumbling and crying about some nasty people who made off with "my" research area, or about the less-than-forthright responses from the WA government. Nobody "owns" any areas or fields of science. There's a vast amount of research material out there along the Dampier coast, and I'm happy to work co-operatively with anyone, providing that they are competent and honest). I happen to work slowly and carefully, in the belief that one good trustworthy scientific paper is worth 20 quick-fire superficial ones strewn with error. Others may disagree. There is no such thing as "too slow" or "too fast" in research: all that matters is the result, however long it takes. No, my point is this: I have just witnessed (and described for you) the manufacture of science. And that is bad news for everyone on this planet. Instead of moulding the decision about James Price Point to fit the scientific evidence (as promised in public), the State Government of Western Australia has manipulated the science to fit a decision that was already settled. They stifled the science they didn't like (mine, in PLoS ONE), and spent a lot of money to obtain, and publish for themselves, the science they wanted. In other words, the decisions are made beforehand, and the science is manufactured to fit (and apparently "justify") the decisions. Both lots of science are presented to the public in the EPA report, so everyone can see for themselves that the WA Government is being open, honest, impartial and even-handed. My interpretation of James Price Point (PLoS ONE) is presented in less than 20 words about 'rock surfaces'. Their own (hastily purchased) version of the science is more than 120 pages long, in glorious technicolour. That presentation is, perhaps, a wee bit lop-sided. So let me redress the imbalance a little and amplify that remark about 'rock surfaces': my paper in PLoS ONE says "James Price Point may be the only site on Earth where one may gaze out over an Early Cretaceous landscape that has been extensively reshaped by the everyday comings and goings of sauropod dinosaurs." I'm not questioning the validity, veracity or quality of the science. And I have no doubts about the integrity of those who produced it. My concern is that the science has been manipulated and moulded to fit certain political requirements. And that means we are getting into trouble. Because once powerful political and business leaders begin to manipulate the science to fit their requirements, there are no limits.
We end up with Lysenko, or Auschwitz, or ... who knows?
Back to the swamp [or is it a gulag?]
Tony Thulborn
Thulborn T (2012) Impact of Sauropod Dinosaurs on Lagoonal Substrates in the Broome Sandstone (Lower Cretaceous), Western Australia. PLoS ONE 7(5): e36208.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036208