#769: God’s Edmontosaurus

March 27th, 2017

Years ago, I visited a creationist dinosaur dig. 

I was volunteering on a for-profit dig a few miles to the south, in the middle of a rancher’s land in Wyoming. But I hopped on the ATV, rode past prairie dogs and mud slicks and ended up in the dead-on sun of a Wyoming summer chatting with a lovely young woman who was gently dusting, chipping and dental-tooling away at one of North America’s richest deposits of duckbilled Edmontosaurus fossils.

“I can’t believe I’m touching something that has been here since the Flood,” the lovely-eyed woman said, ever intent on her work.

My dig was no purer. I was there on a lark, helping out a company that dug out and polished up triceratopses, pterodactyls and ammonites to sell to Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicolas Cage and other dino-mad millionaires. She was there for God. I was there for a week of free camping and a story to tell.

I kept my mouth shut.

I stayed and talked and mingled — it was an open house for the creationist dig, so they wanted us there to hear about how some fools thought the Edmontosaurus deposit was because bodies washed away in an ancient river got caught over centuries in the crook of some long-dead oxbow. Clearly, they were all washed to one spot at one moment when Noah braved the stormy waters above.

Some people laughed along at the foolishness about ancient rivers and gradual accumulation. I kept my mouth shut.

Back home a few weeks later, I made some calls based on names and gossip I heard at God’s dig. I ended up getting connected to a paleontology professor at a university in New Orleans. I could hear him tense when I said the name of the site.

A bit of prodding and poking. I can’t remember my exact charms used — eight years dulls the memory — but he opened up and told me the tale.

He had worked with the rancher whose land now hosted God digs. He had located the site in the early 1990s, one of the richest lodes of Edmontosaurus bones in the continent. And they worked hand in hand, side by side getting permits and agreements and transferring land in the pursuit of science until the morning they went to the local land office to transfer a deed and the rancher took the scientist aside and said the deal was off unless a portion of the dig’s research was dedicated solely to creationist pursuits.

The paleontologist laughed at first, then stopped. He tried to talk sense, reason, honesty or just the basic decency that they had worked together for years to procure the land for students and pen-in-hand at the land office was a lousy time to pull this switch.

The rancher was adamant. You can be proud of your lies when they’re for God. You can be proud when you’re just deceiving a scientist.

The paleontologist walked. Better to lose a site than lose all credibility. He was sad when he talked to me on the phone eight years ago, though. He was sad he didn’t get that golden chance to know the world better.

He took the high road. He kept his mouth shut. The creationist dig at Hanson Ranch still runs to this day, taking a lode of fossils that could educate us on truth and forcing, cobbling them into fake correlation of ancient lies.

I tell you this now because we can’t keep out mouths shut. Not if you care about the world. Not if you care about science.

I’ve mentioned this before, but since it’s three days to the deadline we set and we received exactly one didn’t quite-work submission, it might be time to mention it again: I’m co-organizing a fundraiser in support of science.

Science is under attack by an administration that thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax, that life-saving vaccines cause autism, that facts and data are things to be stripped from government websites and silenced from federal agencies if they’re inconvenient. They put oil shills at the head of the EPA and State Department, a dataless dilettante in charge of our schools.

They’re taking our facts. They’re taking our evidence and reason. And we can’t keep our mouths shut.

The fundraiser will have several local scientists — once  you share this with your scientist friends and they say “What a great idea!” — telling personal stories about the need to support a particular group. The crowd at a local bar then donates to the teller with the most moving tale.

Talk about water conservation to say why to support the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Share your research and tell the audience why the Natural Resources Defense Council needs the audience’s time and energy. Talk about Doctors Without Borders, Planned Parenthood, 314 Action — any group using science to improve the world.

A similar fundraiser I helped run earlier this year raised nearly $1,200 for local groups. It’s a drop in the bucket, but a single drop is how a flood starts.

A real flood, I mean.

Send your 900-1,200 word story (no longer than 10 minutes) and the charity you want to collect donations for to 1001chicago@gmail.com (questions go there too) no later than midnight April 15, 2017.

The reading will be the first week of May. Location will be posted once finalized.

Read here for more information.

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