[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]
The science of Col Barnett, or the Dinosaur Tracks at James Price Point, Western Australia
Here's Tony's original message to the DML, rescued from truncation (my mail box
showed it as truncated, so presuming the same for others).
----- Forwarded Message -----
From: Tony Thulborn <email@example.com>
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 shifti
evelopment 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
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:
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 lot
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
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
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 researc
ce. 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
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
ssils 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, impart
retation 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
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?]
Thulborn T (2012) Impact of Sauropod Dinosaurs on Lagoonal Substrates in the
Broome Sandstone (Lower Cretaceous), Western Australia. PLoS ONE 7(5): e36208.