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Kerr on Limb: Science writer misleads peeps in public post

Restored from the library fire 1/11/20

Distinguished Science writer Dr. Richard Kerr walked the plank this afternoon in response to this morning’s Knight Science Journalism Tracker inquiry of science writers.

Charles Petit’s casual post brought quick attention from the old-school dean of science writing. Kerr implored his press colleagues to, in effect: Move on, move on…There is nothing to see here.

See here:

I hope the rest of the science media is ignoring the mammoth-killer impact for the same reason I am, because it has been shown there is no science to support it. My September 3, 2010 story in Science, Mammoth-Killer Impact Flunks Out, reported that 3 years after the idea was introduced at the AGU in Acapulco, just about every outside expert who had put their time, money, and energy into checking the evidence in their specialty was thoroughly disgusted with the whole thing. Nothing was checking out. Ordinary materials had been interpreted as evidence of impact. They were washing their hands of it. True, advocates have gotten a couple more papers in PNAS, but a paper by other outsiders recently in PNAS came up with the same years-old conclusion–there is no evidence for impact. End of story, at least for me.

— Richard Kerr, KSJT, June 13, 2012


Richard Kerr of Science


The best that I can say for Dr. Kerr is that he may be trapped in an echo chamber without access to scientific publications.

Precisely to Kerr’s point here is an excerpt from the YDB hypothesis authors themselves in the Lake Cuitzeo paper, published last month in PNAS (and un-reported by Kerr). Note they cite Kerr’s News Focus piece itself, demonstrating that truth must necessarily reference fiction when attacked.

Below is a less formal but informative riff prepared by Mr. Dennis Cox, who was forced by lightly informed geeks to publish his writing in Wiki’s “Talk” section, where you are welcomed to argue it with lightly informed geeks.

It is untrue to assert that there is no supportive evidence. It is also untrue to state that no evidence has been found in Europe, or on other continents. In fact, studies have revealed similar blast materials in YDB aged sediments on three continents. Replication has been achieved, interpretation is still subjective. In Europe: Tian et al, 2010 went searching for diamonds in the YDB (In Europe it is also referred to as the Usselo Horizon) in Belgium. They wrote that “our findings confirm, and in fact reveal more direct proof than the earlier studies, the existence of diamond nanoparticles also in this European YDB layer No such particles are found in the overlying silt and clay or in the underlying fine sands.” Van Hoesel A, Hoek W, Braadbaart F, van der Plicht H, Drury MR. (2011) Nanodiamonds and the Usselo layer. Paper #1556, XVIII INQUA-Congress, 21-27 July 2011 in Bern, Switzerland, reported finding “carbon aggregates [consistent with] nanodiamond” in YD-aged sediments In the Netherlands. Abstract from Marshall W, Head K, Clough R, Fisher A. (2011) Exceptional iridium concentrations found at the Allerød-Younger Dryas transition in sediments from Bodmin Moor in southwest England. Paper #2641, XVIII INQUA-Congress, 21-27 July 2011 in Bern, Switzerland. Elevated iridium values, dated to start of the Younger Dryas cooling event, have been found in sediments deposited at a number of Late Glacial sites in North America and one in Europe. It has been proposed (e.g., Firestone et al., 2007, PNAS 104: 16016-16021) that this widespread iridium enrichment signal is the result of an explosive disintegration of a large extraterrestrial object over North America around 12,900 cal. yr BP, and it is contended that it was this event which instigated the Younger Dryas cooling. This scenario is controversial, and the ‘ET’ explanation of these geochemical signals is not universally accepted. This notwithstanding, we report here the finding of an iridium anomaly in the Allerød-Younger Dryas boundary sediments at Hawks Tor in the southwest of England. The concentration of iridium and other elements is determined in peat monoliths using ICP-MS, operated in collision-cell mode, and ICP-OES instruments. We find an increase of over 300 % in the iridium concentration measured in the bulk sediment immediately above the Younger Dryas boundary compared with the values found below the transition. The iridium-titanium ratio is used to confirm a lag between the start of the iridium enrichment and the timing of abrupt environmental disruption at the site signalled by decreases in the organic carbon content, and changes the concentrations of potassium, iron and manganese. These geochemical changes coincide with a shift from a humified peat to a minerogenic lithology. By using a new calibration of existing 14C ages, integrated with new AMS dates and optically stimulated luminescence ages, we show that the timing of this iridium enrichment found in southwest England is in agreement with the dates proposed for the iridium enrichment signals previously found in North America and Belgium. In Germany: Wolfgang Roesler et al., Carbon Spherules With Diamonds In Soils In South America: Mahaney WC, et al. (2010a) Evidence from the northwestern Venezuelan Andes for extraterrestrial impact: The black mat enigma. Geomorphology, v. 116, iss. 1-2, p. 48-57. Mahaney WC, Krinsley D, Kalm V (2010b) Evidence for a cosmogenic origin of fired glaciofluvial beds in the northwestern Andes: Correlation with experimentally heated quartz and feldspar. Sedimentary Geology, v. 231, iss. 1-2, p. 31-40. Mahaney WC, David Krinsley, Kurt Langworthy, Kris Hart, Volli Kalm, Pierre Tricart and Stephane Schwartz. (2011a) Fired glaciofluvial sediment in the northwestern Andes: Biotic aspects of the Black Mat. Sedimentary Geology. 237, (1-2), pp73-83 Mahaney, WC, Dave Krinsley, James Dohm, Volli Kalm, Kurt Langworthy and J. Ditto. (2011b) Notes on the black mat sediment, Mucunuque Catchment, northern Mérida Andes, Venezuela.. Journal of Advanced Microscopic Research, vol. 6, no. 3. And on the North American Continent Firestone RB, et al. (2007) Evidence for an extraterrestrial impact 12,900 years ago that contributed to the megafaunal extinctions and the Younger Dryas cooling. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:16016–16021. Baker DW, Miranda PJ, Gibbs KE. (2008) Montana Evidence for Extra-Terrestrial Impact Event That Caused Ice-Age Mammal Die-Off. American Geophysical Union, Spring Meeting 2008, abstract #P41A-05. Fayek, M.; Hull, S.; Anovitz, L.; Haynes, V.; Bergen, L. (2008) Evidence of impact material and the extinction of the mega-fauna 12,900 years ago. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2008, abstract #PP13C-1469. Tankersley K. (2009) “Evidence of the Clovis Age Comet at Sheriden Cave, Ohio.” Midwest Chapter of the Friends of Mineralogy Symposium and Field Conference (Geology Department of Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, USA), 5 September 2009. Firestone RB. (2009) The Case for the Younger Dryas Extraterrestrial Impact Event: Mammoth, Megafauna, and Clovis Extinction, 12,900 years Ago. Journal of Cosmology (journalofcosmology.com) Kennett DJ, et al. (2009a) Shock-synthesized hexagonal diamonds in Younger Dryas boundary Sediments, Proc Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 106 (31): 12623-12628. Kennett DJ, et al. (2009b) Nanodiamonds in the Younger Dryas boundary sediment layer. Science 323:94. Sharma M, Chen C, Jackson BP, Abouchami W. (2009) High resolution Osmium isotopes in deep-sea ferromanganese crusts reveal a large meteorite impact in the Central Pacific at 12 ± 4 ka. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2009, abstract #PP33B-06. LeCompte MA, Goodyear AC, Demitroff M, Batchelor D, Mooney C. (2010) An Independent Review of the Younger Dryas Extraterrestrial Impact Hypothesis and its Recent Re-Evaluation by Surovell et al. 21st Biennial Meeting of the American Quaternary Association (AMQUA). Laramie, Wyoming. (this was the rebuttal of Surovell et al that is cited in the Lake Cuitzeo paper) Andrei V. Kurbatov et al. (Journal of Glaciology, Vol. 56, No. 199, 2010) reported the ‘Discovery of a nanodiamond-rich layer in the Greenland ice sheet’ Scruggs, MA, Raab LM, Murowchick JS, Stone MW, Niemi TM. (2010) Investigation of Sediment Containing Evidence of the Younger Dryas Boundary (YPB) Impact Event, El Carrizal, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 42, No. 2, p. 101. Wu Y. (2011) Origin and Provenance of Magnetic Spherules at the Younger Dryas Boundary. Thesis, Dartmouth College. Isabel Israde-Alcántara et al. (2012) Evidence from central Mexico supporting the Younger Dryas extraterrestrial impact hypothesis And it’s not just the Earth sciences that are reporting evidence of cosmic catastrophe at the time of the Pleistocene/Holocene transition. But the astronomers as well. W.M. Napier (2010), Palaeolithic extinctions and the Taurid Complex

Quite a few of your refs are preprints / conferences (e.g. XVIII INQUA-Congress). Those don’t really count – anyone can say anything at a conference. You need to strip those (and any other grey lit) out of your list William M. Connolley(talk) 16:27, 19 April 2012 (UTC)

I will be editing the list over the next couple of days. But on the subject of anyone being able to say anything, it should be noted that every one of those people on that list are multiple PhD scientists who are doing real science, working and speaking from their own actual experience, and knowledge. And since SkepticalRaptor set the bar for providing reliable reference in this particular debate in his appeal to authority of some anonymous people he only describes as “some people smarter than me” I’m thinking that list is looking pretty darn good for the time being.–CometHunter (talk) 17:21, 19 April 2012 (UTC)CometHunter

8 Responses

  1. I’m thinkin’ that ‘denial bias’ must be a harmonic of ‘confirmation bais’. Mr. Kerr appears to have a nasty dose of it.

    I’m afraid no matter how well the science is done he’ll be shouting “It ain’t so!” from the grave.

  2. Personal note: I am getting just about sick of this “Mammoth Killer” meme. The press created it in Acapulco, and now Kerr writes as though it is the central claim. No co-author I have have read, heard or spoken to claims mammoths were thriving before, and no mammoths existed afterwards. Many, many, many died and fewer suffered. But they were hurtin’ before and hung on for a long while afterward….such self serving silliness from Dr. Kerr.

  3. I love it when scientific cranks (re : journalists) use the terms ‘no evidence’, ‘no science’ and ‘nothing’, especially with a straight face. Engaging them only results in amusement. What is especially piquant is his bio:

    “My education in science started when my sixth-grade teacher”

    Kinda late to get into science, dontcha think?

    He couldn’t handle calculus either. Epic fail.

    On the subject of this newest paper and the Younger Dryas I have no comment at this time.

    Sorry. Thanks for keeping me informed.

  4. Kerr is a dinosaur of the type typical in the history of science, one who proves out the dictum that:

    New paradigms don’t replace old one because they convince everyone; they succeed because the old guard dies out.

    The old guard tend refuse to look at things in a new way that undercuts their entire careers. It is the rare old guard who allows himself to see that his paradigms aren’t correct, after all. You can’t blame them – but they are basically big obstacles in the road that just slow down the progress of science.

    IOW, Kerr’s editors should make him step down and put in someone with an open mind.

  5. TLE –

    When people say, “There is no evidence,” when there are peer reviewed papers in existence, what they mean is they don’t accept them as proof. But proof and evidence are two different things.

    At the climate skeptic bog WattsUpWithThat.com there is frequent talk of “confirmation bias,” which had two main features:

    1.) Giving an easy pass for evidence that agrees with one’s point of view, and

    2.) Raising the bar for evidence that is not agreeable with one’s point of view. This often takes the form of ignoring counter evidence completely or making the counter evidence jump through hoops that agreeable evidence is not subject to.

    Kerr is a great example of confirmation bias.

    There seems to be a significant amount of literature on confirmation bias, which is one of quite a few ‘cognitive biases’ out there.

  6. Dennis – I didn’t see your mention of confirmation bias. Sorry! But good get, too!

  7. Connolly is full of it. If a presenter spiels out erroneous crap at a conference, the audience will eat him alive – and the presenter KNOWS he would start losing speaker invitations – so they don’t at all play fast and loose with evidence and interpretations of evidence. That is hogwash. Those people sweat over and vet their own stuff at least as much for conferences as they do for papers, because no scientist wants to give anyone a chance to make them look foolish up on the dais. They are invited to present because they are either moving up the career ladder or they have already arrived. They aren’t going to risk that by throwing out ideas and evidence that don’t stand up to scrutiny. Connolly pulled that argument out of his rear end.

    SkepticalRaptor’s nebulous “some people smarter than me” shows how weak his position is, as CometHunter pointed out. “Some people” versus named PhDs – hmm, who do we think is doing due diligence here? Thanks, George, for putting that all in the post.

  8. You know, guys, I don’t think anyone here is saying that the YDIH happened for sure or that if it happened it happened in a certain way. Everyone here is taking the position that something APPEARS to have happened, and here is the evidence for saying that, so shouldn’t people be inuiring into it with open minds and see what the evidence means?

    For strutting science journalists to block the public’s access to ALL the info coming down the poike – why that is just WRONG.

    What the hell status do they have, anyway? It is mostly a case of “Those who can’t, (try to) teach.”

    A journalist is only one step up from a blogger. In times past, there was nothing lower in the writing hierarchy than journalists. And now that bloggers and the internet exist, journalists will soon be as extinct as the mammoths. Kerr is lucky he is able to finish out his career before his employer shuttered its door. Maybe he is identifying with the dire wolves a bit too much…

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