I am a senior in the university science program. By now, the scientific method has been hard-wired into every analytical aspect of my brain. So imagine my surprise when on the first day of Historical Geology, the professor presented a single powerpoint slide asking us if we were able to differentiate between a hypothesis and a theory. The exercise brought us back to the basics, and pointed out how easy it is to overlook the single aspect of science that allows us to separate it from a belief system: A theory is always falsifiable.

Just in time for April Fools, this reminded me of a somewhat hilarious case where scientists had to prove themselves wrong. Enter Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, 1999:


Not to be confused with Archaeopteryx (which was real), this fossil was found to be the missing link between dinosaurs and modern-day feathered birds. National Geographic threw a hey-we're-jumping-the-gun party and immediately ran the cutie as a feature story - only to shamefully release an admission of error less than a year later.

The fossil was acquired from Liaoning Province, China, an area known for having farmers and businessman that take "evolutionary liberties" in order to fetch a higher price for their artifacts. Although NG was fooled at first, further examination revealed it was an intense forgery - what with the tail being glued onto the body and all. The creature in the specimen was actually a mosaic of multiple animal bones (the two most prominent being a Microraptor zhaoianus and Yanornis martini) that someone had managed to make a pretty penny on.

Kudos to all people involved for admitting their mistake and reinforcing how important it is for scientists to think critically about their experiments. Unfortunately, this little gem of a prank is used by religious nerds everywhere to claim evolution as a fraudulent theory. What they don't realize is that this example is exactly what separates science from religion - those who quest for the truth bother looking for inconsistencies in the data.

Happy April, everyone!

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