Exploring abrupt climate change induced by comets and asteroids during human history

Faye Flam?: Knight Science Journalism Tracker gets nearly everything wrong in a single blog

faye flam cosmic tuskFaye Flam

Flam responds in KSJT comments?

Below is a link to a very poorly written, intellectually depressing and kinda mean press blog out of MIT. Flam does not distinguish Dartmouth’s Markul Sharma et al. from the original Firestone authors despite the point of her lede. Later she updates her blog to correct another less significant — but also easily discoverable — mistake.

Flam’s premise is just plain wrong. Markul Sharma has not “touted” the YDB hypothesis, much less his “group.”

Can science journalism (about Science Journalism!) get any worse?

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19 Responses

  1. Hi George –

    Those inside the impact community have known for a long long time exactly how vicious this fight has been and is.

    It is amusing to watch you loose your naivite online.

  2. Hey E.P. Its amusing to watch you struggle with failure and false hubris, good luck.

  3. George H.

    Actually, this is blog post is still better than your average DC political reporter or Urban city newspaper crime reporter in terms of accuracy.

  4. Hi George –

    Yes, I am struggling with the effects of a stroke.

    But as far as hubris and failure go,
    ever hear of ARM?

    I think I did my job pretty well,
    given what I was up against.

    So far, you yourself are running a blog focused on one particular impact event, with a limited number of comments and readers.

    Atlas shrugged.

  5. GH, EPG,

    You both really ought to read the following article.

    It will give you some very good perspective regards the “barriers to acceptability” of impact research and particularly the YDB Impact Event(s?) are faceing.

    It rings very true to me from the military history side vis the examples of the barriers to acceptance of the tank and airplane plus early Nazi nuclear bomb research being sabotaged by the theory of relativity being labeled “Jewish science.”

    “Cognitive Processes and the Suppression of Sound Scientific Ideas”
    J. Sacherman 1997


    American and British history is riddled with examples of valid research and inventions which have been suppressed and derogated by the conventional science community. This has been of great cost to society and to individual scientists. Rather than furthering the pursuit of new scientific frontiers, the structure of British and American scientific institutions leads to conformity and furthers consensus-seeking. Scientists are generally like other people when it comes to the biases and self-justifications that cause them to make bad decisions and evade the truth. Some topics in science are ‘taboo’ subjects. Two examples are the field of psychic phenomenon and the field of new energy devices such as cold fusion. Journals, books and internet sites exist for those scientists who want an alternative to conformist scientific venues.

  6. From the PNAS editorial link, I thought it would be useful to post this:

    Prearranged Editors (PE).

    Prior to submission to PNAS, an author may ask an NAS member to oversee the review process of a Direct Submission. PEs should be used only when an article falls into an area without broad representation in the Academy, or for research that may be considered counter to a prevailing view or too far ahead of its time to receive a fair hearing, and in which the member is expert. If the NAS member agrees, the author should coordinate submission to ensure that the member is available, and should alert the member that he or she will be contacted by the PNAS Office within 3 days of submission to confirm his or her willingness to serve as a PE and to comment on the importance of the work. The submission will not be processed further until the PE has responded with substantive comments, or 3 days have transpired. The Board cannot guarantee that the member designated by the author will be assigned the manuscript or that it will be sent for review. If the Board decides to reject the paper without review or if the Board selects another member to handle the submission, the PE will be notified. Throughout the review process, all correspondence with an editor must be handled by the PNAS Office; authors are not permitted to contact an editor directly. Papers with a PE are published with a footnote to that effect. An NAS member may serve as a PE on as many as four papers per year. Note that the standard submission process does not require a PE.

    Reading especially the emphasize passages, it is clear that:

    1. The entire process is up front.
    2. The PE does not have final say on whether the paper is published; that decision is up to the NAS board.
    3. The NAS Board is the people who decide if a PE is acceptable for a paper.

    Thus, the focus on Sanders by the skeptics, including the woman at Nature, is bogus. If the BOARD wanted to block the YDB papers they are fully empowered to do so.

    I read into this that mot only SOME NAS Board members are in favor of this research, but ENOUGH Board members are.

    That sounds like GOOD NEWS. It means that there is some fairness at the NAS, some objectivity that science is supposed to be about.

    The skeptical comments at the MIT blog are all about shutting down debate – which is exactly what the Daulton Gang has been about since Day One. To me that reeks of cowardice and insecurity on their part: They don’t think they can win if all the cards are on the table. They do not want to play fair. That is, of course, obvious from their tactics all along. If they don’t get their way, they want to take their ball and go home. But they can’t, because journals keep on publishing YDB team papers – and not just PNAS, either.

  7. “PEs should be used only when an article falls into an area without broad representation in the Academy, or for research that may be considered counter to a prevailing view or too far ahead of its time to receive a fair hearing, and in which the member is expert.”

    I read this and I know that whoever created this part of this rule has seen new, ground breaking research shot down in the past. AND they got enough support to put this entire PE avenue into place. GOOD FOR THE NAS! They understand how politics can interfere in the process.

    Right or wrong, this hypothesis has enough evidence to give it a thorough hearing. It’s good to find that at the national level a thorough hearing is seen as desirable.

  8. Hi Trent –

    Those who work in the field of recent impact events know very well what the barriers are. In fact they often know them by name.

  9. agimarc –

    What? There is supposed to be something new about Libyan glass being a probable airburst comet?

    It claims proof of a comet core. No link to a paper.

    Don’t hold your breath on the “proof.” Funny how OUR proof is insect poop and theirs are comet cores.

    Oh? They ran “highly sophisticated chemical analyses”. As opposed to Wittke’s hammer and chisel technology. We will see.

    I DO love how they – like the Bos – claim that the “airburst” was almost right down on the ground. That is awfully convenient for it to not burst higher or to impact. It was RIGHT IN the Goldilocks zone for comets.

  10. Uhhh Steve –

    This paper is simply a statement of data.

    No larger fragment of the LDG impactor had been found before. The fragment was identified as coming from a comet, not an asteroid.

  11. Science Daily has an article up on the air-burst North African comet evidence —


    First Ever Evidence of a Comet Striking Earth
    Oct. 8, 2013 — The first ever evidence of a comet entering Earth’s atmosphere and exploding, raining down a shock wave of fire which obliterated every life form in its path, has been discovered by a team of South African scientists and international collaborators.

    The discovery has not only provided the first definitive proof of a comet striking Earth, millions of years ago, but it could also help us to unlock, in the future, the secrets of the formation of our solar system.

    “Comets always visit our skies — they’re these dirty snowballs of ice mixed with dust — but never before in history has material from a comet ever been found on Earth,” says Professor David Block of Wits University.

    The comet entered Earth’s atmosphere above Egypt about 28 million years ago. As it entered the atmosphere, it exploded, heating up the sand beneath it to a temperature of about 2,000 degrees Celsius, and resulting in the formation of a huge amount of yellow silica glass which lies scattered over a 6,000 square kilometre area in the Sahara. A magnificent specimen of the glass, polished by ancient jewellers, is found in Tutankhamun’s brooch with its striking yellow-brown scarab.

    The research, which will be published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, was conducted by a collaboration of geoscientists, physicists and astronomers including Block, lead author Professor Jan Kramers of the University of Johannesburg, Dr Marco Andreoli of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, and Chris Harris of the University of Cape Town.

    At the centre of the attention of this team was a mysterious black pebble found years earlier by an Egyptian geologist in the area of the silica glass. After conducting highly sophisticated chemical analyses on this pebble, the authors came to the conclusion that it represented the very first known hand specimen of a comet nucleus, rather than simply an unusual type of meteorite.

    Kramers describes this as a moment of career defining elation. “It’s a typical scientific euphoria when you eliminate all other options and come to the realisation of what it must be,” he said.

    The impact of the explosion also produced microscopic diamonds. “Diamonds are produced from carbon bearing material. Normally they form deep in the Earth, where the pressure is high, but you can also generate very high pressure with shock. Part of the comet impacted and the shock of the impact produced the diamonds,” says Kramers.

    The team have named the diamond-bearing pebble “Hypatia” in honour of the first well known female mathematician, astronomer and philosopher, Hypatia of Alexandria.

    Comet material is very elusive. Comet fragments have not been found on Earth before except as microscopic sized dust particles in the upper atmosphere and some carbon-rich dust in the Antarctic ice. Space agencies have spent billions to secure the smallest amounts of pristine comet matter.

    “NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) spend billions of dollars collecting a few micrograms of comet material and bringing it back to Earth, and now we’ve got a radical new approach of studying this material, without spending billions of dollars collecting it,” says Kramers.

    The study of Hypatia has grown into an international collaborative research programme, coordinated by Andreoli, which involves a growing number of scientists drawn from a variety of disciplines. Dr Mario di Martino of Turin’s Astrophysical Observatory has led several expeditions to the desert glass area.

    “Comets contain the very secrets to unlocking the formation of our solar system and this discovery gives us an unprecedented opportunity to study comet material first hand,” says Block.

  12. Also found linked to the above article:

    Comet Discovered Hiding in Plain Sight: Near-Earth Asteroid Is Really a Comet

    Sep. 10, 2013 — For 30 years, a large near-Earth asteroid wandered its lone, intrepid path, passing before the scrutinizing eyes of scientists while keeping something to itself: 3552 Don Quixote, whose journey stretches to the orbit of Jupiter, now appears to be a comet.


  13. Steve G –

    Agree for the most part with your frustrations as they are well earned.

    For my part, at least comets are starting to be discussed even though they were a long time ago (Chicxulub & Libya). Who knows, they may even start considering something a little (or a lot) more recent in the not so distant future. I think they are going to find a whole lot more cometary activity in the inner solar system (current and past) than they expect. And it will worry them, which it should.

    My first comet was Ikeya – Seki in 1965 early morning Dallas skies. Thought it was pretty cool at the time and for a long while afterwards. Today, they are a lot less cool and a lot more worrisome, but that’s just me. Cheers –

  14. Didn’t Dr. John S. Lewis suggest 20 years or so ago that half of the NEOs / Earth orbit crossers were comets? Cheers –

  15. Thank you, George, apology accepted, and congratulations.

    I am guilty as charged.

    Now if you can only figure out how to handle the pig manure problem, so we can all enjoy our bbq AND clean water, you’ll never have to work again.

    It would be preferable if your solution included a way to generate natural gas, as then T. Boone Pickens would finance it and you’d make even more money.

    It would probably be the greatest invention for the south since the cotton gin, and you’d end up with life size statues in several places.

  16. agimarc –

    I commented not long ago about some paper in the 1960s that looked at Apollos – the class that the Chelyabinsk object was said to come from – and it concluded that over half of them, though considered asteroids, had cometary qualities.

    The distinction between comets and asteroids/meteors is and always has been an arbitrary line. The “dirty snowball” thing has long since been shot down – but not every body got the message.

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