Schweitzer Redux

Mary Higby Schweitzer has a name that is commonly tossed around in creationism-related discussions of preserved ancient soft tissue. She is most famous for her various impressive – though highly controversial – discoveries of soft tissues in Cretaceous dinosaur bones. Young Earth creationists like her because to them the things she found could not have survived tens of millions of years, and are therefore evidence in favour of a young Earth. Schweitzer, for her part, is not at all fond of the creationists and spends much of her efforts countering criticism of the reality of the tissue finds, as well as determining how they could have survived the ages.

One of the most famous criticisms is the claim that the discoveries consist of some sort of bacterial “biofilm.” As we already know from a couple of weeks ago Schweitzer has recently published another paper on this subject, which claims:

Multiple lines of evidence support endogeneity of osteocyte-like microstructures in two dinosaurs. We show the first binding of bone-specific monoclonal antibody to ‘cells’ of these dinosaurs. Four independent lines of evidence support the presence of a component chemically consistent with DNA. We propose a novel mechanism for the preservation of these materials over geological time.

Unfortunately the paper is not open-access, so I can’t tell you what the “novel mechanism” is at this point (I’ll see about getting my hands on it). Brian Thomas’ article – Dinosaur Bone Tissue Study Refutes Critics – opens:

Original dinosaur tissues in fossil bones are probably the most controversial finds in all of paleontology. Secular scientists have difficulty interpreting them. They debate whether the tissues are real, based on laboratory-measured tissue decay rates, or whether the tissue decay rates are real, based on plainly observed tissues.

I’ll tell you now: whether or not Schweitzer is correct the “laboratory-measured tissue decay rates” are wrong. In another post about a fortnight ago we looked at DNA decay rates. You may remember the following quote from the abstract of the paper discussed there:

With an effective burial temperature of 13.1°C, the rate is almost 400 times slower than predicted from published kinetic data of in vitro DNA depurination at pH 5.

In this case – which Brian not only failed to dispute but actually ran with as more evidence for a young Earth – the laboratory-measured decay rates turned out to have overestimated the rate of decay by more than two orders of magnitude, and it can still be argued that this does not portray the full variability of DNA decay rates. The question is not “are the test-tube models wrong?”, it’s “just how wrong are they?”

For an explanation of what Shweitzer et al did to achieve the results in this new paper I suggest you read the ScienceDaily press release. One of the more important experiments involved an antibody – PHEX – that will “will only recognize and bind to one specific site only found in mature bone cells from birds.” This evidence is used to rule out bacterial contamination, but the bird aspect is also important to us. Shweitzer says:

Because so many other lines of evidence support the dinosaur/bird relationship, finding these proteins helps make the case that these structures are dinosaurian in origin.

The fact that this finding is at least in part tied to the “dinosaur/bird relationship” is, of course, mentioned nowhere in Brian’s article. That’s quite predictable – Thomas has no interest in critically (or accurately) reporting this story, not wishing to cast any doubt over his narrative. He concludes:

So, the problem with finding soft tissues in dinosaur and other fossils only remains a controversy for secular scientists who will not yield, no matter what the evidence says, on their insistence that these artifacts are millions of years old. After all, without that unscientific assumption, all the actual science makes sense.

Riiight. Schweitzer, for one, believes that the fossils are ancient – that’s not the controversy here. The soft-tissues-prove-young-Earth claim relies on the tissues in question not being able to survive millions of years. Lacking any reliable evidence to show this Brian really has to fall back on his own incredulity that such a survival is possible. It might be, it might not be – right now we can’t actually say that they could not, and so this is no evidence for a young Earth.

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3 thoughts on “Schweitzer Redux

  1. “Original dinosaur tissues in fossil bones are probably the most controversial finds in all of paleontology”

    These people forget that bone is a tissue as well, just more likely to preserve under normal fossilization circumstances (but not as likely as the tissue of enamel).

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