Wednesday, March 7, 2018

#1976: Mark McMenamin

A.k.a. Kraken Man

Mark A. S. McMenamin is a paleontologist, professor of geology at Mount Holyoke College, and crackpot. Now, McMenamin has done some serious workion paleontology – no denying that – but not all of his, uh, contributions have been considered to be of equally high scientific quality by his peers (and no, he’s not Galileo), which – yes – is a nicer way of saying that it’s gibberish.

McMenamin has rejected conventional Neodarwinian theory in favor of a Teilhardian approach as better for understanding the evolution of the enigmatic Ediacara biota. Indeed, McMenamin is sympathetic to Intelligent Design Creationism, and has praised e.g. the work of creationist Stephen Meyer. But then, McMenamin has a long story of being utterly and completely unable to distinguish science from lunatic, pseudoscientific ranting. Intelligent design is not science.

McMenamin is probably most famous, however, for claiming that a formation of multiple ichthyosaur fossils placed together at Berlin–Ichthyosaur State Park is evidence of a gigantic cephalopod or Triassic kraken that killed said ichthyosaurs and intentionally arranged their bones in the unusual pattern seen at the site – making art, as McMenamin sees it. The claim is profoundly silly, and the complete absence of evidence doesn’t help McMenamin’s claim. McMenamin bases his conclusion on not liking the simpler explanations that the rows of vertebral discs may be a result of the ichthyosaurs having fallen to one side or the other after death and rotting in that position, or that the bones may have been moved together by ocean currents, dismissing those alternative, simpler explanations as improbable and then jumping, by the power of the only-game-in-town fallacy, to the presence of an ultraintelligent Kraken for which not a shred of independent evidence exists.

Oh, but didn’t McMenamin come up with further evidence? Oh, yes: another row of vertebrae in a line (which is what you’d expect from a dead animal) and … a rock that McMenamin claimed was a kraken beak because he wanted the rock to look like a kraken beak. Complete nonsense, of course, but Huffington Post reported on it with great credulity, as you’d expect.

McMenamin is also an enthusiastic supporter of Stuart Pivar’s utterly pseudoscientific, inflatable donut model of development, since – again – he appears to be systematically unable to distinguish science from delusional musings. (McMenamin called Pivar’s idea “a seismic event in science” because it was totally new; the fact that it’s easily shown to be false never seemed to bother him, and McMenamin even published a paper with Pivar, non-biologist (anthropologist) David Edelmann and non-scientist (artist) Peter Sheesley in a pseudo-journal).

Oh, and McMenamin is also a promoter of the idea that Phoenicians reached America some 2000 years before Columbus, based on an indistinct map of some unidentifiable land mass.

Diagnosis: Raving pseudoscientist.

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