When National Public Radio’s Morning Edition broadcast an interview with Montana State University paleontologist Jack Horner for a May 11 story on movie marketing, the dino-digging superstar dragged his Museum of the Rockies into a muddy-water debate over the science of promotion, and vice versa.
As reporter Kim Masters had uncovered, and Horner seemed to confirm, the scientist had “fudged” the dates of his 2001 T-rex discovery by several weeks in a press release so that the news could be timed to coincide with the promotional push behind the release of Jurassic Park III in July of that year.
“Sitting on a little media hype for a short period of time was certainly within reason as far as I was concerned,” Horner, the museum’s curator of paleontology, told Masters.
NPR’s report focused on Horner’s discovery of the skeletal torso of what Horner then hyped as the largest T. rex skeleton ever found (though the find has subsequently gone unpublished in the scientific literature), excavated from Montana’s Hell Creek Formation in 2001. The shaggy-haired scientist describes the find in a brief documentary included among the bonus features on the Jurassic Park III DVD. A model for one of the movie’s characters, Horner served as science advisor on all three Jurassic Park films, and Universal Studios in return helped fund his digs.
Horner’s NPR interview gets more embarrassing as the report goes on. “You can go to the press with anything and they’ll publish it,” he said, dismissively.
An ensuing flap questioning Horner’s scientific integrity, including a May 12 Bozeman Chronicle article, comes on the eve of the much-anticipated June 18 opening of the museum’s new dinosaur wing, Hall of Horns and Teeth.
Horner responded to the Chronicle article with an op-ed piece in which he wrote, “I have timed the announcement of information about discoveries to coincide with the movie releases. This doesn’t change the discovery, only the date people find out about it.”
Horner did not return a call from the Independent seeking further comment.
“He timed the release. Did he alter something? No,” said the museum’s marketing director Jamie Cornish. “He used some unfortunate words, then they spliced it together to make it sound really horrible.”
Go to http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story. php?storyId=4647581 to hear for yourself.