[Taxacom] mass extinction how science works

John Grehan calabar.john at gmail.com
Sat Aug 11 08:44:01 CDT 2018

For a little irony, biogeography is not the only field where opponents (as
opposed to to the ideas which are fair game) are targeted. Below some quote
from a recent article in

For the record, I have long wondered about the intensity and consequences
of any asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous given the biogeographic
evidence for the massive amount of correlation between modern distributions
and Mesozoic tectonics. If an asteroid hit were responsible for the mass
extinctions it was not massive enough to obliterate the biological
structure of the ecosystems within which the extant groups existed,
particularly right next to the Chicxulub crater.

John Grehan

When Keller examined the El Kef samples, she did not see a “bad weekend,”
but a bad era: Three hundred thousand years before Alvarez’s asteroid
struck, some foram populations had already started to decline. Keller found
that they had become less and less robust until, very rapidly, about a
third of them vanished. “My takeaway was that you could not have a single
instantaneous event causing this pattern,” she told me. “That was my
message at that meeting, and it caused an enormous turmoil.” Keller said
she barely got through her introduction before members of the audience tore
into her: “Stupid.” “You don’t know what you’re doing.” “Totally wrong.”

Ad hominem attacks had by then long characterized the mass-extinction
controversy, which came to be known as the “dinosaur wars.” Alvarez had set
the tone. His numerous scientific exploits—winning the Nobel Prize in
Physics, flying alongside the crew that bombed Hiroshima, “X-raying”
Egypt’s pyramids in search of secret chambers—had earned him renown far
beyond academia, and he had wielded his star power to mock, malign, and
discredit opponents who dared to contradict him. In *The **New York Times*,
Alvarez branded one skeptic “not a very good scientist,” chided dissenters
for “publishing scientific nonsense,” suggested ignoring another
scientist’s work because of his “general incompetence,” and wrote off the
entire discipline of paleontology when specialists protested that the
fossil record contradicted his theory. “I don’t like to say bad things
about paleontologists, but they’re really not very good scientists,” Alvarez
told *The**Times*
“They’re more like stamp collectors.”

The greatest area of consensus between the volcanists and the impacters
seems to be on what insults to sling. Both sides accuse the other of
ignoring data. Keller says that her pro-impact colleagues “will not listen
or discuss evidence that is contrary to what they believe”; Alan
Hildebrand, a prominent impacter, says Keller “doesn’t look at all the
evidence.” Each side dismisses the other as unscientific: “It’s not
science. It sometimes seems to border on religious fervor, basically,” says
Keller, whose work Smit calls “barely scientific.” Both sides contend that
the other is so stubborn, the debate will be resolved only when the
opposition croaks. “You don’t convince the old people about a new idea. You
wait for them to die,” jokes Courtillot, the volcanism advocate,
paraphrasing Max Planck. Smit agrees: “You just have to let them get

All the squabbling raises a question: How will the public know when
scientists have determined which scenario is right? It is tempting, but
unreliable, to trust what appears to be the majority opinion. Forty-one
co-authors signed on to a 2010 *Science* paper asserting that Chicxulub
was, after all the evidence had been evaluated, conclusively to blame for
the dinosaurs’ death. Case closed, *again*. Although some might consider
this proof of consensus, dozens of geologists, paleontologists, and
biologists wrote in to the journal
<http://science.sciencemag.org/content/328/5981/973.1> contesting the
paper’s methods and conclusions
Science is not done by vote.

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