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Shrill and Hysterical: NASA official seeks personal apology from citizen Catastrophist

When I worked in politics, we won a primary — and knew we would beforehand — when the opponent became, as was noted in the newspaper, “Shrill and Hysterical.”  To us, that meant we were doing something right because the opponent was losing her grip as the evidence of the pending loss mounted.

We see much the same dynamic today in the email chatter of Leroy Ellenberger, a long time Catastrophist gadfly and a supporter of the Younger Dryas Boundary Hypothesis, with NASA’s perennial point man for tamping down talk of anything wicked this way coming — Dr. David Morrison.

Dr. Morrison’s catty defense of the NASA party line is astonishing.  See his first email to Ellenberger here:


I have been following with some interest the convoluted paths that your YD event discussions have taken. I realize that you are generally in support of the YD impact hypothesis, including the recent cosmic impact paper by Napier. I am sorry to rain on that parade, but the scientists whom I work with who have have followed the YD event story unanimously reject the hypothesis of an impact triggering the YD. Indeed, there is considerable skepticism that there was a a YD “event” at all. I enclose a proof copy of the article on this subject that will be published in a few days in Skeptical Inquirer (May-June 2010 issue). I guess that you and some of your correspondents will find it to be of interest, although probably not to your liking.


David Morrison and George Howard at AGU Fall Meeting, 2009

I respect Morrison’s willingness to engage someone who disagrees with him.  He is a consistent interlocuter with those with which he disagrees, for which I commend him.

But Morrison’s tone here is an insult to the peer-reviewed research of the YDB team.  Theirs is serious science, following all the highest protocols — and deserves a government with open-minded officials.  Morrison’s claim to be “raining on your parade” is silly.  And put in context when one considers he is touting his forthcoming publication in the Skeptical Enquirer (giggle), when his antagonist are being heard by the Royal Astronomical Society (ahem).

But then……things got really crazy.  Leroy, Rick Firestone, and Hermann Buchard emailed out some well reasoned retorts to Morrison:

Tuesday, April 06, 2010 1:51 PM


David Morrison’s response to the YD Impact hypothesis is an embarrassment to NASA and the pursuit of scientific inquiry everywhere.  Extensive data supporting the YD impact including a thin layer extraordinarily enriched in nanodiamonds, magnetic and carbon microspherules, with an extraordinary chemical composition cannot be dismissed by a vote of one’s comrades.  This is coupled with the near simultaneous disappearance of the megafauna, the failure of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, and the appearance of the black mat, which has never been adequately explained by other theories.  Sloppy, unprofessional research involving unrealistically large, diluted samples refuting the evidence should not be taken too seriously.  The existence of the second deepest place on the terrestrial Earth near the proposed impact site with three other holes deeper than Death Valley nearby goes investigated.  The truth can only be uncovered by years of painstaking investigative research, not pontification.  Rejection of research papers on the basis of belief by David’s “crew” is abhorrent to reasonable researchers everywhere.  Morrison’s arguments ring familiar because these were the same arguments hurled against the proponents Continental drift, the impact origin of craters on the moon, and the K-T impact proponents.  Controversy about these findings is fine but belief based arguments like David’s and his purported cronies have no place in this discussion.


Rick Firestone

Leroy Ellenberger [[email protected]
Sent: Tuesday, April 06, 2010 1:35 PM

Dave,  Thank you very much for your consideration in forwarding a copy of your forthcoming article on YD event for Skep. Inq.  It is a shame you were not able to deal with Napier’s MNRAS paper which, it seems to me, conflicts with you confidence in the absence of a feasible dynamical model for the impact event.  It is NOT fanstasy or pseudoscience. The Taurid-Encke Complex exists as the most signficant source for fireballs in the past 2000 years and after adjusting for depletion effects was certainly more prominent in earlier millennia. When Paul Weissman reviewed Clube and Napier’s The Cosmic Serpent for Sky & Tel in 1984 or thereabouts one of his major dynamical criticisms was that the range of arguments of perihelia for the asteroids in the Taurid-Encke Complex was too great to have originated from a break-up event as postulated by the authors.  Since then, members of  the Clube & Napier group have shown Weissman to have been wrong on this point (I regret I do not have ready access to the citation). My point is that criticisms of Clube-Napier model have been countered, but seldom credited by the original critics.  I agree Firestone’s 2006 book has some problems, but they are not part of the 2007 Acapulco presentation and, in any event, he does have a good case for the resetting of the C-14 clock by a recent supernova event (as I understand it). With the Carolina Bays, they exist in *unconsolidated* coastal terrain (i.e., sand and sandy soils for the most part) which is a lot more easily displaced by shock waves than the ground at Tunguska.

Leroy Ellenberger

Richard, Leroy, Dave, etc,
quoting from Dave Morrison’s email:  “almost as unreasonable as the
original Firestone et al. impact hypothesis.”

Here, the use of the adjective “unreasonable” jumped out at me, it stands
out as odd, inappropriate, even weird, and gives away, prima facie, the
work by Morrison et al as being prejudiced and fake.

If their effort to discredit YDR impact, and even YDR itself, was based on
creditable scientific evidence, their adjective or attribute of 1st choice
would be something along the lines of “contradicted by all available
evidence,” or “counter-factual,” etc, not “unreasonable.”

Similar to body language, a person’s word choice often is a give away of
his mental outlook and in scientific debates revelatory of truth or
falsehood.  This is something I have long observed, as a formal-linguistic
maths philosopher (“Symbolic Languages & Natural Structures, a
Mathematician’s Account of Empiricism,”  FOUNDATIONS OF SCIENCE 10(2),
153-245, June 2005 ABSTRACT:

Best wishes to all of you and to Dave especially for forgoing his
recalcitrant anti-ET-impact/ steadfast uniformitarian outlook.

Hermann G W Burchard
Prof Appl Maths Emer
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater OK

And Morrison goes shrill and hysterical.  No kidding.  See here:

I would gladly consider alternatives to “unreasonable”, such as implausible, unsupported, or maybe just wrong. I emphatically assert that none of these terms, if based on serious scientific analysis, in any way suggests that the research by myself and my colleagues is prejudiced and fake. That is an ugly accusation, much worse than just being wrong, and I resent it! An apology would be appreciated.


My view?  Let’s not start with the “apology” stuff, Dave.  You are a taxpayer funded and pensioned public employee and Hermann the retired Kansas mathematician is entitled to pass judgement on your wording.   When you retire — you can start asking for apologies.  Or making them.

5 Responses

  1. Surprise! surprise. What do you expect from the unimaginative science community? And please give me a break – the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER! SURELY DR. MORRISON YOU CAN DO BETTER TNAT THAT!

  2. I also exclaim, the SKEPTICAL ENQUIRER, of all places!
    But the fact that it isn’t peer-reviewed is no argument against an article therein published.
    The problem is that they are never examining claims of the paranormal, but know beforehand that such claims are invalid.
    Only once, one of them started to examine (Marcello Truzzi in the 1970s) and he was immediately dismissed.
    These so-called skeptic committees form the Holy Inquisition of the materialists/reductionists.
    So, when somebody publishes an article in their journal, he/she degrades him/herself. And if that amounts to an ad-hominem argument, it demonstrates that such arguments, once-in-a-while, are valid.

    Han Kloosterman

  3. I don’t intend to make too much fun of Skeptical Enquirer either, Han, if I get your drift. In fact, I very much enjoy the printed edition of that journal and Pam can attest to their persistence in our home. That said, no one reads Their Journals now — and thousands read the Tusk 😉 Take care, George

  4. Anyone here know exactly what Rick Firestone is referring to here? The holes in the Great Lakes?

    The existence of the second deepest place on the terrestrial Earth near the proposed impact site with three other holes deeper than Death Valley nearby goes investigated.

    If so, does anyone know the latest on those?

    If not, what is he talking about?

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