Bad science reporting at WaPo: Reporter gets Ken Ham’s dino “theory” completely wrong

UPDATE:  Ken Ham is steamed that the Washington Post misrepresented the views of his organization, and has issued this tw**t:

HuffPo has a brief piece on the Twitter fight, which isn’t notable except for this reader’s comment:

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On December 30, the Washington Post‘s “Health and Science” section (can we please stop mixing those two topics?) published a piece about dinosaurs and Ken Ham’s Ark Park by Vicky Hallett, “Now there’s a theory that dinosaurs were wiped out in Noah’s flood.” While not endorsing that “theory,” Hallett, described as “a freelancer and former MisFits columnist,” says that the dinosaur/flood idea is both new and presented at the “Ark Encounter” theme park (my emphasis in the excerpt from Hallett’s piece below):

Folks who identify as “creation scientists” have no problem with the notion that dinosaurs once roamed the Earth. They just think the beasts lived alongside humans on a planet that’s only about 6,000 years old.

Their extinction theory? The dinos were wiped out 4,000 years ago in the worldwide flood described in Genesis.

This is the version of history on display at the Ark Encounter, a $100 million theme park in Williamstown, Ky., that features a reproduction of Noah’s boat. And it’s the subject of “We Believe in Dinosaurs,” an upcoming documentary that is fundraising through Indiegogo.

It goes on to describe the documentary movie (you might want to contribute to it, as it’s nearing its funding goal), as well as some of the creationist responses to dinosaur fossils.  But this very short article makes four errors:

1.) The Ark Park’s dino notion (which Hallett misrepresents; see below) isn’t a “theory”: it’s a wild speculation completely unsupported by evidence. Hallett’s title reinforces the view that an idea as stupid as dinos being wiped out by the Flood can be considered a “theory.” It isn’t, and that plays into the public view that evolution is “only a theory.” It would be better if she’d used “notion” or “idea” rather than “theory.”

2). Ken Ham’s view has never been that all the dinosaurs were wiped out by the Flood. The “version of history on display” at the Ark Encounter that Hallett mentions is not true. In fact, the Ark Park claims that some dinosaurs were actually taken onto the Ark and survived, later to live alongside humans. A PuffHo article says this:

Ham, a “young Earth” creationist, explained in a 2000 blog post exactly how massive dinosaurs could fit on the ship:

“Although there are about 668 names of dinosaurs, there are perhaps only 55 different ‘kinds’ of dinosaurs. Furthermore, not all dinosaurs were huge like the brachiosaurus, and even those dinosaurs on the Ark were probably ‘teenagers’ or young adults.”

Ham said the ark had 8,000 “animal genera” or about 16,000 in total, including some that are now extinct, like those dinosaurs.

“Without getting into all the math, the 16,000-plus animals would have occupied much less than half the space in the Ark (even allowing them some moving-around space),” he wrote.

Along with dinosaurs, NPR reported that there were other eyebrow-raising “animals” on display, including unicorns.

That piece even shows several pictures of dinos on the Ark, including these two—pictures that completely invalidate Hallett’s claim:

A visitor looks into a cage containing a model dinosaur inside a replica Noah's Ark at the Ark Encounter theme park during a media preview day, Tuesday, July 5, 2016, in Williamstown, Ky. The long-awaited theme park based on the story of a man who got a warning from God about a worldwide flood will debut in central Kentucky this Thursday. The Christian group behind the 510 foot-long wooden ark says it will demonstrate that the stories of the Bible are true. Its construction has rankled opponents who say the attraction will be detrimental to science education. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Children look into a cage containing model baby dinosaurs inside a replica Noah's Ark at the Ark Encounter theme park during a media preview day, Tuesday, July 5, 2016, in Williamstown, Ky. The long-awaited theme park based on the story of a man who got a warning from God about a worldwide flood will debut in central Kentucky this Thursday. The Christian group behind the 510 foot-long wooden ark says it will demonstrate that the stories of the Bible are true. Its construction has rankled opponents who say the attraction will be detrimental to science education. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

And it’s been the consistent position of Answers in Genesis (AIG), Ham’s Organization, that some but not all dinosaurs (like all non-dino species, represented on the Ark only by “kinds”) were drowned in the Flood, but others survived (see this AIG post from 2007 and this one from 2013).  The latter says this:

Or can the disappearance of dinosaurs be explained by some other catastrophe? Many dinosaurs died in the global Flood, but not all of them! Two of every kind of air-breathing, land-dwelling animal—and that includes dinosaurs—were on board Noah’s Ark to ride out the Flood, so there were still dinosaurs on the earth after the Flood.

Ham then claims that the factors that drove the dinosaurs extinct after they left the Ark are those things that drive all species extinct, and that some dinosaurs lived until a few centuries ago. (Of course, in reality they’re still with us in the form of birds!):

The global Flood not only changed earth’s surface but also created conditions that produced the Ice Age and ultimately long term changes in climate patterns. All animals had to adjust to new conditions as they reproduced and repopulated the world. Historical accounts and artistic depictions produced in the four thousand plus years since the global Flood have shown that many people around the world have long been familiar with animals that looked like dinosaurs. Therefore it is probable that some kinds of dinosaurs, though rare, were still alive until several centuries ago.

Dinosaurs faced the same sorts of challenges in the post-Flood world that endangered animals do today. In addition to adjusting to habitat changes, alterations in food availability, and competition from other animals, post-Flood dinosaur populations may have gradually succumbed to diseases or been hunted until their populations dwindled. So how did dinosaurs die? The same sorts of problems that drive today’s animals to extinction took their toll on earth’s remaining dinosaurs. But just as we don’t need a cosmic culprit like a giant asteroid to explain the extinction of other animals, we don’t need it to explain why we don’t find dinosaurs in our zoos either.

“Wiped out” means “completely extinct,” “singing with the choir invisible,” or “bereft of life, they rested in peace.” Author Hallett errs in claiming that dinos differed from any other group of animals in their Flood and post-Flood fate.

3.) Other creationist organizations have said that dinos were driven extinct by the Flood, but that theory has been around for a long time (see here, here, and here, for instance). So the “theory” (rather, dumb hypothesis) that the dinos were “wiped out” is neither new nor Ken Ham’s.

4.) Why was this article published given that it was both wrong and not newsworthy?  The idea that dinos were either on the Ark or drowned in the Flood is bogus, and every thinking person knows that. There is no evidence for a worldwide flood in the last 10,000 years. Hallett doesn’t really go after the idea very much, either, although statements by others in her article implies that it’s scientifically questionable.

Yes, it’s pretty bad journalism (and I’ll put the link to this post in the 400+ comments after her piece). If you look at some of those comments, you’ll either be heartened by those who defended evolution and criticized the religious claims (most comments), or disheartened by remarks like these:

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30 Comments

  1. sponge bob
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Wooden cages? What kind of drugs did Noah give these animals to keep them at bay? Maybe he told them not to lean against the cages or eat the bars.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 2, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      And look how clean those floors are! Still, with no food or water apparently being provided for a year, I guess there was nothing to evacuate. Maybe God taught Noah how to build wooden stasis chambers – a skill lost to time. If that was in the Bible, it might be useful for something after all.

      • Dominic
        Posted January 3, 2017 at 6:21 am | Permalink

        🙂
        I assume all the freshwater fish were in tanks on the ark as well?!

    • Michael
      Posted January 2, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      I was wondering why the need for cages at all? If God called upon every animal, no matter where their location, to behave and march peacefully in single file, or rather two by two, lining up into the ark, then surely none of them would attack one another anyway, right?

      We can have carnivores next to herbivores, and all will be swell, like how Ken Ham says it was in the early days in the Garden of Eden….Lions, T-Rex, wolves, even though they had sharp teeth, were still plant eaters….up until the fall. Sounds legit.

      • sponge bob
        Posted January 2, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        And of course the old standard: Why even need a boat at all? Just float everything you want to save in space and flood the rest out.

        Or just make everything disappear and start from scratch. Or was it too much effort to build/create/invent Noah’s genetics the first time so doing a do-over is out of the question?

        Oh, don’t question God. He confuses the wise. He knew what he was doing… yada yada yada.

        • Michael
          Posted January 2, 2017 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

          Nope, obliterating everything instantly would not test humanity. This was God’s way of seeing if Noah was truly worthy; by putting him to work and seeing if he would actually see the massive ship through, or if he was weak and deserved drowning too. Like Job. Lol.

  2. Kevin
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    The commenters would do well to look genocide up in a dictionary. Ken forgot to place models of heathens drowning in pools of water outside the wooden cages filled with gender neutral dinos.

    • Walt Jones
      Posted January 2, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      There was an effort to put up a billboard near the park to illustrate the genocidal aspect of the story. For a large donation, donors could have their faces among the people being drowned. Unfortunately, no billboard company would accept the ad.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Journalism, courtesy of the Flintstones. Another reality TV show for creationists. The idea of time is so illusive.

  4. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    What inquiring minds wanna know is where is all the poop? Caged dinos on clean, wooden floors? Anyone who has cleaned out barns holding cows and horses will know that alone is totally delusional.

    • Linda Calhoun
      Posted January 2, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      Don’t forget the flies. L

      • Derek Freyberg
        Posted January 2, 2017 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        But Linda there were only two flies – remember “two of each kind”.

        • Christopher
          Posted January 2, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

          or seven flies, depending on whether you prefer Genesis 6 or Genesis 7. and what about animal life that does not require sex to reproduce? Still take 2 (or 7) parthenogenic species or those that reproduce asexually, just for consistency’s sake? And of course there would have been lots of parasites, or did gawd magic them all off or out of the animals so that there were only two (or 7) on the host species?

          • Dominic
            Posted January 3, 2017 at 6:23 am | Permalink

            What about plants? What about bacteria?

            Why are we even discussing this – it is such a load of old tripe! 😦

  5. colnago80
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    As Judge Jones might say, the naivete of the author is breathtaking in its inanity.

  6. Claudia Baker
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I am mostly disheartened. No wonder the Orange One was elected. F’n idiots.

  7. Posted January 2, 2017 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    It is not a wild speculation. It is a wild falsity. A speculation has a chance of being right.

  8. rickflick
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    The incompetent journalism and the ignorant reader is like Bruegel’s, “Blind leading the Blind”.

    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Pieter_Bruegel_(I)#/media/File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Parable_of_the_Blind_Leading_the_Blind_-_WGA3511.jpg

  9. Sastra
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    And on a related note, David Icke does not believe in the Loch Ness Monster: he believes in shape-shifting reptoid aliens from outer space.

    There goes the media, trying to make respected leaders of the fringe look stupid again.

  10. Historian
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Ken Ham and his Ark Park illustrate that conservatives, whether in religion, science, or politics, are relentless in their efforts to foist their delusions on society in general. Those who oppose such views must be equally relentless. This is a war without quarter and those who support truth, science, and reason must realize this. It will be difficult or impossible to win over those people who have already swallowed the poison pill of religion and accept it without question. This is why it is paramount to keep religion out of the public schools. If young students are introduced to valid science then they may be able to resist the nonsense foisted on them by their parents and churches.

  11. Posted January 2, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    “The same procedure as last year, Ms Sophie?” // “The same procedure as every year, James”.

    As in Dinner for One, it is with the creationists, only all year ’round. As time goes by, I hope more of their seats go vacant until such bad ideas have died out, like the dinosaurs (or Ms Sophie’s party). I now need to weave in that Max Planck quotation, and point out that dinosaurs didn’t really die out, and nobody knows how feathered ideas of creationist look like. 😉

  12. Robin
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    The Washington Post generally represents excellent journalism (let us not forget Watergate). It is shocking that such a piece was published. If anything should have been written about Ken Ham’s ‘theory’, it should have been ridicule. By publishing such journalistic tripe, it gives this stupidity a tinge of validity. Shame on the Post for moving so far from its journalistic heritage.

    • Rita
      Posted January 2, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Yes, Robin, that is the most disturbing part of this post. We all know Ken Ham is an idiot, and the author of the Post article is just one person. But for a mainstream news organization to publish this is shameful.

    • John Nunes
      Posted January 2, 2017 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Watergate is getting to be a long time ago. Things change.

  13. The Rational Yogini
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    This bit is also really lame: “The secular team behind the film — including Morgan Spurlock of “Super Size Me” fame — believes in evolution…”

    No. No. No. Spurlock ACCEPTS the fact of evolution.

    This may seem like linguistic nit-picking, but a few years ago, I started making sure that anytime I talked about accepting evolution as fact, I stopped referencing belief. I found myself using the word “believe” out of habit I think, as it is common to hear people say they believe in things like climate change, the effectiveness of vaccines, and evolution, but really, they accept the evidence for these things. Not about belief at all.

    A case in which words very much matter. Just like the misuse of the word “theory.”

    What a terrible article this is. I too don’t even understand why it was worth publishing at all.

    • Rita
      Posted January 2, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      Excellent point! I too, have felt uncomfortable with saying I “believe” in evolution, but hadn’t yet found a better why to phrase it. Now I’ll start saying I “accept the fact of _____ [evolution, climate change, etc.]”

      • Posted January 2, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        I see nothing wrong with saying “I believe all life on earth evolved from a common ancestor.” After all there is voluminous evidence to support that belief. But I wouldn’t say “I believe in evolution” any more than I would say “I believe in gravity.”

  14. Posted January 2, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Is anyone really surprised? The author is a “freelancer and a fitness columnist” who has little idea about science and the facts. This is what happens if you let anyone with a blog and right connections write “articles”.

  15. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    It is an odd notion to take cryptozoological myths as ‘science’, compounding the ham of Ham in the first place.

    But it is also odd to:
    – Have a religion where *every* species survive up to some point, even after moving out from the stasis of the religious “Eden”.
    – Then having every other species die quickly.
    – Having a religion where this – nature red in tooth and claw and sundry extinction – is considered a moral upright ‘plan’ for Earth’s history.

  16. Historian
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Even Ken Ham is angry at Ms. Hallett. Some people come to regret opining on topics they know little about. Many couldn’t care less if they are wrong as little as they continue to get paid to write. These people are often referred to as pundits.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ken-ham-noahs-ark-dinosaurs-twitter-fight_us_5869e405e4b0de3a08f8f4a5


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