Looking at the example of Sir Fred Hoyle, it appears that astrophysicists should stick to astrophysics, and leave the paleontology to the paleontologists. I refer to Hoyle’s infamous claims in 1985 about archaeopteryx. Over the course of the year, Hoyle and a group of associates made the rather extraordinary claim that Archaeopteryx was a fake, the feathers having been imprinted on a thin layer of cement around a real reptile fossil. According to Hoyle, this was done to raise the value of the several feathered specimens.
This caused a huge uproar. Hoyle, the famous astrophysicist, was suggesting that paleontologists had been wrong for more than a century. Anti-evolutionists were quick to point out his scientific credentials, and accepted without question the idea that archaeopteryx, the famous transitional fossil, was a fraud. While paleontologists fired back at Hoyle, dismissing his claims as unscientific and demonstrably false, Hoyle et al. claimed that the Museum was refusing access to the London specimen.
In a series of papers in the British Journal of Photography, Hoyle et al. outlined a bizarre conspiracy involving Darwin and his (supposed) arch-enemy at the Museum of Natural History, Richard Owen. Owen, according to Hoyle et al., arranged the fake to attempt to embarrass Darwin and Huxley, who apparently didn’t take the bait. This is unlikely, considering Owen’s own detailed description of the specimen. Revealing archaeopteryx to be a fake would have hurt Owen as much as it would Darwin or Huxley.
Meanwhile, the British Museum of Natural History actually had decided to re-test the London specimen. Still perhaps mindful of the Piltdown Man fiasco, the Museum of Natural History wasn’t taking any chances. Alan J. Charig and his team published the results of the Museum’s tests in a 1986 paper, Archaeopteryx is not a forgery. Hairline cracks matched exactly on both slabs of the fossil, proving that no layer of cement had been added.
So, archaeopteryx is not a fake. The skeleton is genuine, as are the feather impressions. One of my major motivations for writing this article was that the overwhelming majority of websites online seem to still be making the claim that Hoyle et al. were correct, and that this disproved evolution entirely. It was actually quite hard to dig out the true details of the story, amid the masses of websites with obvious anti-evolution agendas. So I figured I’d put one more link online for people to find, about the science behind the archaeopteryx debate. Science that is ignored by people with anti-science agendas.
For more information, this is a great website:
Recent Debate Over Archaeopteryx