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Developing story: Young Earth creationist microscopist, fired in wake of finding soft tissue from dinosaurs, sues


At California State University.

From I09 (“Observation Deck”):

Mr. [Mark] Armitage applied/interviewed/etc. for a position at CSUN in late 2009. During the interview process he informed the interview panel (two professors and Mr. Krohmer) that he had published positively about young-earth creationism. CSUN and/or the Biology Department and/or his interview panel and/or the Electron Microscopy/Confocal Committee apparently were okay with this, they offered him a two-day-per-week technician position deemed “permanent part-time” and he accepted. It sounds like things were going okay until some stuff started to happen in 2012.

In March of 2012, Dr. Oppenheimer, the Chair of the Electron Microscopy/Confocal Committee, sent an email to the Biology Department stating that Mr. Armitage was doing a good job. Mr. Armitage mentions in his lawsuit that, as of that time, his young-earth creationist beliefs were “generally unknown to students, faculty, and staff”.

In middle May of 2012, Mr. Armitage went to a dinosaur dig in the Hell Creek Formation of Montana. This dig was conducted with Dr. Kevin Anderson (fellow young-earth creationist) and guided by Mr. Otis Kline (also a young-earth creationist). The dig was being done expressly to find dinosaur bones to break them apart to find soft tissue. Pieces of horn, rib, and vertebrae, presumably from Triceratops, were discovered on this dig, and the specimens were studied at CSUN.

So YECs found soft tissue, and the one who worked at the State U was fired.

“Artiofab”’s account is reasonably fair, but, puzzlingly for these times, he writes as if it were unusual for people to be fired when they are discovered to have non-standard beliefs.

On the contrary, usually, such firings are accompanied by tortuous bafflegab about supporting a diversity of opinion. It is the natural accompaniment to the censorship of thought that philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci was recently heard complaining about. Perhaps Artiofab doesn’t get out much?

The story has hit the legacy media (CBS):

Upon examination of the horn under a high-powered microscope back at CSUN, Dacus says Armitage was “fascinated” to find soft tissue on the sample – a discovery Bacus said stunned members of the school’s biology department and even some students “because it indicates that dinosaurs roamed the earth only thousands of years in the past rather than going extinct 60 million years ago.”

Maybe, but what’s really interesting to some of us is that finding soft dinosaur tissue doesn’t seem nearly as important at I09 as the question of Armitage’s religious beliefs. Just think of the long-running questions the find, if it holds up, would settle.

A paper on the subject was published in Elsevier peer-reviewed science journal, Acta Histochemica (Latin for “Cell Chemistry News”):

Soft sheets of fibrillar bone from a fossil of the supraorbital horn of the dinosaur Triceratops horridus

Mark Hollis Armitage, Kevin Lee Anderson

Abstract Soft fibrillar bone tissues were obtained from a supraorbital horn of Triceratops horridus collected at the Hell Creek Formation in Montana, USA. Soft material was present in pre and post-decalcified bone. Horn material yielded numerous small sheets of lamellar bone matrix. This matrix possessed visible microstructures consistent with lamellar bone osteocytes. Some sheets of soft tissue had multiple layers of intact tissues with osteocyte-like structures featuring filipodial-like interconnections and secondary branching. Both oblate and stellate types of osteocyte-like cells were present in sheets of soft tissues and exhibited organelle-like microstructures. SEM analysis yielded osteocyte-like cells featuring filipodial extensions of 18–20 μm in length. Filipodial extensions were delicate and showed no evidence of any permineralization or crystallization artifact and therefore were interpreted to be soft. This is the first report of sheets of soft tissues from Triceratops horn bearing layers of osteocytes, and extends the range and type of dinosaur specimens known to contain non-fossilized material in bone matrix.

You can buy the paper here from Elsevier. If you join ResearchGate you can apparently read the paper for free.

I don’t currently have any information that the findings are doubted or have been retracted. It’ll be suspicious if they suddenly are. (If it happened on a science basis, it should have happened before.) The way things are now, however, no one wants to talk about the science if they can express religious bigotry instead.

See also: Expelled Professor and Microscopist Mark Armitage Responds to his Critics (August 2013)

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Reminds me of the Coppedge case.
Exactly and I don't have high hopes for him being justified even if it goes to court. The Coppedge case showed how hard it is to prove discrimination. That kind of a thing is too easy to hide. He claims he was told that "his religion would not be tolerated", but who in the world thinks the employer will honestly admit that in court? It's simply his word against their word. I don't think he has much hope for justice unless he has some real strong evidence to support his claims. tjguy
franklin opined,
I don’t know many employers who would tolerate a hired hand spending time on their own pet project when they were hired to do a different job as well as the question of who payed for all the costs of this type of imagining and sample prep.
Spoken like an administrator, often true, and really stupid. Companies that do this inevitably go out of business (while maximizing investor profits all the way down). - When telephones first were developed, were they funded and promoted by telegraph companies? Gee, why not? - GE Corporate Research and Development definitely encourages employee-originated projects (or at least did when they showed me some of their projects many years ago). - In the early days of HP, they encouraged engineers to borrow and take home test equipment for use on their own projects according to a personal friend. - Google allows employees to spend a significant amount of time on their own projects (Google gets first dibs on any patents etc.) - An executive at 3M Corp claimed that *every* one of their successful products started out as an unsanctioned, unfunded "skunk works" project implemented by the wrong people at the wrong time. Doesn't anyone remember the politics involved in the race to discover the shape of the DNA molecule? Where did Watson and Crick finally publish their research and why? Funny isn't it how this crucial part of science never makes it to the science textbooks. Imagine that! The fierce, political battles in science would actually be interesting and instructive to high school and college students. Of course, Eugenie Scott as well as many administrators feel that we should stick to the curriculum and not risk students actually thinking for themselves. Horrors! ;-) -Q Querius
I think he can publish whatever he wants, but he shouldn’t be able to use the university’s resources and reputation to get published without permission.
As a 2-day per week technician his use of University resources is the first thing that anyone would look at rather than any publication he participated in. SEM work costs money and someone had to foot the bill for the University overhead charges, the expensive reagents necessary for SEM sample prep and imagining, as well as the costs of the staff time involved in sample prep and analysis. If his manuscript does not include an acknowledgment/citation for the source of funding to cover all the incurred costs someone should ask him why this information is lacking. I don't know many employers who would tolerate a hired hand spending time on their own pet project when they were hired to do a different job as well as the question of who payed for all the costs of this type of imagining and sample prep. franklin
I think he can publish whatever he wants, but he shouldn't be able to use the university's resources and reputation to get published without permission. But he may feel justified by a perceived (and maybe real) bias against YEC. Collin
A-B in 16 sez:
Do you even understand what academic freedom means? It is something that is earned, not something that is given when you are offered employment.
LOL! Did I hit the nail on the head in @15 or what when I wrote:
We need to keep those ignorant, low-class, uppity people in their place until they fully *earn* their rights. Right, A-B?
Wow! Truly mindboggling! -Q Querius
Joe: I think even janitors at universities should have academic freedom. Really? Do you even understand what academic freedom means? It is something that is earned, not something that is given when you are offered employment. He was a temporary employee who participated in a dig and published a paper as the lead author under the auspices of the university. Did he obtain permission to do so? Did he do it contrary to instructions from his employer? This is the information that I would like to know before I jump to a conclusion. He worked two days a week. I was employed as a permanent five day per week technician at a university for several years. I instructed labs every day and published a few papers. But I did this with permission of the Dean, I never considered myself part of faculty and I never pretended that I had academic freedom within the university. Why is this so hard for you to understand. Acartia_bogart
No, I absolutely agree with A-B!! People should only be granted rights on a sliding scale that depends on how valuable they are. For example, the janitor that JoeCoder mentions above, should only speak when spoken to and never look her superiors in their eyes. Furthermore, should someone like a *Full Professor* require releasing some tension, or perhaps a kidney transplant, the janitor should be obligated to oblige (o2o). Post graduate students rank even lower on this scale, and their function is now termed, "indentured student." We need to keep those ignorant, low-class, uppity people in their place until they fully *earn* their rights. Right, A-B? ;-) -Q Querius
He was a technician.
I think even janitors at universities should have academic freedom. JoeCoder
Reminds me of the Coppedge case. It seems unlikely he was laid off purely because of the published paper, which appeared sober, scientific and pretty interesting really. There must be another agenda - and it may be legitimate (e.g. layoff because they ran out of money) or illegitimate (e.g. discrimination). He'll have his day in court. One of the main things the court will want to hear evidence on is whether the employer's reasons for termination are genuine, or just a sham to cover for an illegitimate motivation. CLAVDIVS
RDW, temporary microscope technicians do not have "academic freedom". They are staff, not assistant professors or full professors. If all you can land is a two day a week job, you are not high in the faculty. In fact, you wouldn't even be allowed in the faculty lounge. He was a technician. Acartia_bogart
Acartia_bogart @ 4 and Dr JDD @ 7 "Was the publication approved by his supervisor?" Here's some information for you. In my second career I published around 20 papers at three different universities, including some as an adjunct faculty member before getting a full-time position which eventually led to tenure. No one ever indicated that I needed to get approval from my academic institutions to publish anything. As a matter of fact, the very idea of requiring approval would be considered a serious violation of academic freedom. See AAUP 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure and Academic freedom. On the other hand, I once did see a faculty member in a different department inject some completely off-topic political issues into a lecture. RalphDavidWestfall
All we have is the claim from one person. It just seems far too convenient to pull the religious freedom card when he gets canned. We haven't even been told whether he was fired for cause or was laid off. Acartia_bogart
I'm skeptical that Mr. Armitage's finding soft-tissue was the reason for his firing. The Smithsonian reported on the T-Rex soft tissue discovery back in 2006; Dinosaur Shocker. rhampton7
Not the same case, but the same claim (soft tissue): Controversial T. Rex Soft Tissue Find Finally Explained rhampton7
A_B @ #4: I do actually agree with you to a certain degree. I cannot quite see the reason given by the employers for the dismissal. As you say, it could be officially due to publishing without consent/proper channels of the university he is a member of and showing affiliation with on the paper. It could be due to going on this dig in an unauthorised manner as a representative of the university. Those could be technical grounds for dismissal, for sure.   However let us do what most scientists would claim to want to do with all things – take a logical approach to this issue. Therefore, logically ask yourself a question: if this had been a ground-breaking study in support of a scientific hypothesis that is not linked to an issue subject to one’s worldview, do you honestly think a university would fire someone over bringing credit to their name/department for a publication? When academic institutions seek out the most publications as possible to attribute to their names (especially of high impact), I think you would be fooling yourself if you said that in a different case, the university would dismiss someone for publishing when they might have skipped over a few non-serious regulations (note – regulations that do not change the result of the paper or affect the results in any way).   Therefore, the most logical conclusion given the information is that in fact, this dismissal is likely to do with this scientist’s worldviews and anything else (such as the hypothetical reasons listed above) are simply agents used to justify a separate agenda. That is far more believable than the alternative. Dr JDD
Perhaps, since the publication gave him more recognition and/or credibility, he needed to be cut off to avoid associating the credibility with his then known driving belief. Perhaps, a pre-emptive move on his employers part. JGuy
Acartia_bogart @ 4 How in the world does it sound MORE like a disgruntled employee than a freedom of religion issue? From the given informarion it seems the opposite to me simply because of the timing, and NOT assuming that the employee a liar. Note also that, even if you only hear one side of the story, you can't make an assessment that it is just the employee complaining because in every similar or legitimate case you will hear the employee's side of the story. And besides, there is no 'whining' obvious in the article. BTW: Did you read the source linked at the top of the page? ... But the one point you are right about, that I recognize, is that more information would be helpful. JGuy
We are only hearing one side of this issue. It sounds more like a disgruntled ex-employee than a freedom of religion issue. I would like to see more information. For example, was his participation in the dig approved by his supervisor? Was the publication approved by his supervisor? If not, that could be grounds for dismissal alone because the paper gives the University's Biology Department as his address. Acartia_bogart
Sadly most people will reject such findings on the a priori commitment to disregard anything a YEC says as being true or trustworthy. Dr JDD
Here's an episode of Ian Juby's show that contains an interview with Armitage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abhgreIBKZ0&index=19&list=UU23yiJV4Bkagj5dkH-UyHFA George E.
The Paper can be downloaded here: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/235646829_Soft_sheets_of_fibrillar_bone_from_a_fossil_of_the_supraorbital_horn_of_the_dinosaur_Triceratops_horridus Kay

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