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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 <paswamp@y7mail.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 
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: 

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 
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 di
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?]

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