Before publishing this website we thought we’d give Colin MacFadyen the opportunity to defend his actions. We wanted to be sure that he was either responsible for what happened in chapter 2, or that he otherwise had a reasonable explanation. To this end we sent him 10 questions about SNH’s decision to keep Birk Knowes closed, the NMS report, and the SNH investigation. The questions were designed in way that, if he was not accountable for chapter 2, there should be little difficulty in answering them.
However, Colin MacFadyen seemed to be evasive to our questions and it was not easy to get answers from him. He ignored us for more than two weeks, and it was only after we repeated our request for answers and copied the email to even more of his SNH colleagues that an SNH staff member said that we would receive a response by the end of the week.
How did Colin MacFadyen fare with our questions? What follows are our questions to him, followed by his answers, and our comments about his answers:
There are several problems with this answer:
1) Knowing the extent of the fossil bed (=how far it travels) is effectively the same as knowing the amount of fossil bed (=volume or weight).
2) While he is correct that the abstract of the NMS report states that assessing the extent of the fossil bed was the purpose of the survey, this was never carried out. None of the activities performed by the NMS could have found this out. This has been explained in part 2 of chapter 2.4.
3) “Establishing a volume, or tonnage, would be beyond most studies of this type”. We find this remarkable to read. Not only was the extent of the fossil bed not assessed, but finding out how much fossil bed was remaining and how much was removed by the Germans was seemingly not a priority. A few years prior Birk Knowes suffered damage at the hands of these German collectors, yet we are to believe that it was not relevant to assess this? This is a bit like a bank robbery having taken place and the bank then decides not to find out how much money was stolen, and how much is remaining.
Analysis. Colin MacFadyen does not provide a valid answer because he refers to something that the NMS should have carried out, but didn’t. To make matters worse, it was he who was responsible for ensuring that the NMS carried out this work.
This response is evasive and contradictory:
1) Colin MacFadyen does not answer why the 4km² area to the south was assessed instead of the extent/amount of fossil bed at Birk Knowes.
2) If the study had intended to focus on whether the Jamoytius Horizon occurs outside the SSSI area, then it should not have been called “Resource Assessment of the Jamoytius Horizon at the Birk Knowes SSSI“.
3) While Colin MacFadyen claims that it was not a goal to assess the damage caused by the German collectors, SNH documentation contains a fabrication which suggests otherwise. The SNH Site Management Statement for Birk Knowes claims that “…a National Museums of Scotland Fossil Resource Assessment has concluded that the fossil-bearing resource has been almost totally removed by unauthorised collectors“.
4) The BBC interview about the NMS report from the year 2002 mentioned that “She [=Suzanne Miller: lead author of the NMS report] has just completed an assessment of the damage caused by collectors at Birk Knowes”. This indicates that at least one of the purposes of the report was to assess the damage caused by the German collectors. (The reason we mention the BBC interview now is because Colin MacFadyen would assign a lot of value to it later on, in question 10.)
Analysis. Colin MacFadyen evades answering why the 4km² was prioritised because he has no answer for it. This activity should not have been prioritised as there was only a remote possibility to find the fossil bed, and it has nothing to do with the extent of the fossil bed at Birk Knowes. Concerning the second part of the question, Colin MacFadyen contradicts himself. He claims that assessing the damage caused by German collectors was not a purpose of the NMS survey, yet SNH documentation contains a fabrication as though it was.
This question points out that there is a disparity between the title of the NMS report and its contents. He evades this question by referring to his answer from question 2, which already evaded the question.
Analysis. Colin MacFadyen is unable to offer a reasonable explanation for this shortcoming of the NMS report.
This is not true. The area to the south and south-southwest are not generally along the strike. That area is not even remotely along the strike as it is up a hill, and the fossil bed already dips into the hill at Birk Knowes.
Analysis. Colin MacFadyen maintains that the surveyed area was the most sensible to survey, thereby ignoring data (and common sense) indicating that the fossil bed cannot reasonably be expected to be found there.
Not only is this untrue, but it shows that Colin MacFadyen is incompetent:
1) Colin MacFadyen’s interpretation of the logs differs from ours as he has no field work experience. For example, he believes that 2 meters of locality 1 (=north cliff face) is the Jamoytius Horizon, but we know that it is 8 meters. To arrive at the approximately 24.5m total, we regard finely laminated siltstone layers of the logs of localities 1 and 2 as fossil bed, as all these sections are fossiliferous. Furthermore, the unlaminated sections of small size (around 50 cm tops) in between the laminated parts are also regarded by us as fossil bed, as we have found fossils in those layers as well. What we did not count as fossil bed are the 2 meters of massive rocks at the top of locality 1, or the approximately 2 meters of massive rocks at the bottom of locality 2, as we have not found fossils there yet.
2) The area the NMS marked where they thought Jamoytius occurs is not an indicator of where the fossil bed is limited to. The logs even show that fossils were found outside the marked horizons, on both the north and south exposures.
Analysis. Underestimating the thickness of the fossil bed while having logged the site is a significant oversight by the NMS and SNH. Colin MacFadyen erroneously believes that the fossil bed is limited to the marked area that the Jamoytius specimens housed in the NMS originated from. However, fossils, including Jamoytius, occur outside this region. This shows that SNH’s geology advisor responsible for the restrictive collecting policy at Birk Knowes has no real understanding of the fossil bed.
The sentence from the NMS report he refers to is this one:
Does this say that the fossil resource at Birk Knowes is limited in a way that could justify blocking the foremost research party from accessing the site? Not at all. We have already treated this sentence in part 4 of chapter 2.4. The most important points raised there are copied below:
1) Strictly speaking, every fossil bed in existence is both vertically and laterally restricted.
2) The statement is unclear. No explanation is given where the fossil bed is vertically and laterally restricted, or how they arrived at it.
3) If this sentence was in any way relevant to the size or extent of the fossil bed at Birk Knowes, then why was it not clearly defined? Why was it not mentioned in the summary?
4) Perhaps most importantly, as the NMS did not dig exploratory trenches or drill cores to see how far the fossil bed continues, they had no means to verify that the fossil bed discontinues at any particular point.
These points make this sentence unusable for closing Birk Knowes.
Analysis. Colin MacFadyen’s response is fatal. We asked this question to give him the opportunity to justify the closure of Birk Knowes on the basis of the NMS report. However, in chosing this sentence he is once again misrepresenting the NMS report’s conclusions, as this sentence cannot be used to justify the closure of Birk Knowes. (It should be noted that there was never a correct answer to this question, as the NMS report contains nothing with which the closure of Birk Knowes could have been justified.)
Colin MacFadyen evades the question; he fails to explain why he took part in the SNH investigation where he had a conflict of interest. Instead, he refers to correspondence we had with Niall Corbet about one of the reviewers having a conflict of interest. This correspondence offers no explanation why both “independent” reviewers were sourced from his list of friends/colleagues/associates, and why he took part in the investigation himself. It only explains that Nick Fraser was chosen because apparently British geology is a ‘small world’. (It should be noted that this correspondence took place before we found out that Colin MacFadyen was responsible for fabricating and misrepresenting the NMS report’s conclusions.)
Analysis. Colin MacFadyen does not provide an answer because he knows he rigged the investigation. The only possible thing to do with this question was to avoid it and provide an unrelated answer.
Contradiction. Colin MacFadyen does not offer a reasonable explanation why our offer to provide a tour of Birk Knowes was ignored. To make an appeal to SNH being familiar with the site makes no sense because that is exactly the reason why the tour was offered by us. SNH is under the impression that the resource is very different from what people with Birk Knowes field work experience say. As seen in question 5, Colin MacFadyen thinks that the north cliff face exposure contains 2 meters of fossil bed, when it is actually 8 meters.
Analysis. A more plausible reason why our offer to provide a tour of the site was ignored is that Colin MacFadyen was afraid to be put in a compromising situation. If SNH and the reviewers would have been at Birk Knowes in person with us, it would have been impossible for Colin MacFadyen to maintain the “resource is almost depleted” narrative, or any of SNH’s other contradictory versions. We would have had the easiest time in the world to show how large the fossil bed is, which would have been fatal for Colin MacFadyen.
This question is also evaded. The aim of this question was drawing out how finite MacFadyen, Fraser, and Larwood regard the fossil bed to be, as every fossil bed known is finite. Colin MacFadyen does not answer the question because the NMS report contains no information about the amount of fossil bed, which means that the term “finite” can mean anything. Instead of telling us how much fossil bed is remaining, he then provides a dictionary definition of “finite” which is, ironically, as unclear as the original statement from the SNH investigation results. A continual removal of material would damage and eventually destroy all fossil beds in existence, no exceptions.
Analysis. Colin MacFadyen evades the question because he has no source to provide even the broadest estimation for the amount of fossil bed.
We asked this question because we know that this statement cannot be traced back to the NMS report, which means that it is a fabrication. When confronted with this, Colin MacFadyen tells us that this statement was made by an NMS staff member during a BBC interview. However, this is problematic for many, many reasons:
1) What he is effectively telling us is that SNH decides policy based on what an NMS staff member says during a BBC interview. Does this make sense?
2) If this was indeed one of the findings of the NMS survey, then why was it not written in the NMS report? If it was true then it would be far more significant than anything else written there.
3) The NMS cannot have concluded that the fossil bed has been “almost totally removed” because none of the activities carried out during their survey could have ascertained this. In fact, in question 2 Colin MacFadyen made clear that assessing the damage done by the German collectors was not the purpose of the report.
4) The NMS staff member he refers to is Suzanne Miller, who did not tell the BBC the truth during the interview when she said “there are no fossils remaining“, as explained in part 5 of chapter 2.4.
5) Suzanne Miller is currently facing fraud charges in Australia; not exactly a reliable source.
6) This statement does not match what Suzanne Miller told the BBC. She said “there are no fossils remaining“, while the Site Management Statement claims that the fossil bed has been “almost totally removed“.
7) Strictly speaking, if SNH really did decide policy based on this interview, Birk Knowes should no longer be a SSSI as there are no fossils left.
8) The BBC interview with Suzanne Miller is dated 2002, while the “almost totally removed” passage was already present in SNH documentation from the year 2000, two years earlier. This can be seen below:
Analysis. The statement in question was fabricated. When confronted with this, Colin MacFadyen needed to provide a source. He therefore said that it originated from the BBC interview, even though a plethora of reasons make this an impossible source. Colin MacFadyen has been caught lying…again.
Conclusions about the 10 questions
It is evident that Colin MacFadyen was unable to reasonably answer the questions as he either provided an invalid/false answer, evaded the question or contradicted himself. Most importantly, he was unable to justify the closure of Birk Knowes and he could not explain why he took part in the SNH investigation which was about him. This indicates that he is responsible for the loss of almost 20 years of scientific research at this site, and that he rigged the SNH investigation into the closure.
As a final note, this is stated at the end of the email:
He seems to be telling us that he will not discuss the matter any further. Does this sound like someone who has done nothing wrong, or someone who is cornered?
The next page contains the most important conclusions of chapter 2.