Typical: Boslough ignores LeCompte


 [See comments: Boslough responds!]

Boslough et al’s recent paper gives no less than nine separate citations to Todd Surovell’s 2009 publication: An independent evaluation of the Younger Dryas extra-terrestrial hypothesis. The multiple references are not surprising given that the Surovell paper has become a totem of Boslough and other’s crusade to end research into the Younger Dryas Boundary Hypothesis.

What is surprising (if you are not already consumed by cynicism:) is that Boslough finds no space in his whitewash to provide a full and truthful review of Surovell’s work. Most disturbingly, he entirely ignores LeCompte et al’s 2012 PNAS publication: Independent evaluation of conflicting microspherule results from different investigations of the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis  In LeCompte’s paper — peer-reviewed and published in the one of the world’s top journals — Surovell’s 2009 work is left in tatters.

Making reference and citation to conclusions that present a challenge to your position is certainly a difficult and personal experience. Here at the Tusk, for instance, it always pains us a bit to post the work of YDB critics. But we do so because it maintains our intellectual integrity to present both sides of the story. To do less, like Boslough — a funded scientist publishing in the literature regarding a controversial subject — is simply detestable.

Mendacious presentations of his type are telling. Authors who do not have the courage to confront their critics with their critic’s words, but rather cherry pick (at best) what they care to share of the other side, are intellectually worthless — and particularly so in science. Unfortunately, once you have reached Action Figure status concern for the integrity of your argument must become secondary to the attention you can manage to bring to yourself.

From LeCompte et al, 2012:

Comparison of Protocols Used by Surovell et al. and Firestone et al.

Surovell et al. purportedly used the same protocol as Firestone et al. yet were unable to find a single spherule in YDB sediments at three previously reported sites. They concluded that the “discrepancy between the two studies is particularly troublesome.” Our investigation reveals the abundant presence of YDB spherules at all three widely separated sites, consistent with the results by Firestone et al. Because of this difference we now examine the methodology of Surovell et al. who reported their methods in detail. Comparing the methodology of each, we find Surovell et al. deviated substantially in several critical aspects, and we suggest that this departure resulted in their finding no YDB spherules at these three sites. A summary comparison of the three protocols is in SI Appendix, Table S4.


From Boslough, Surovell et al., 2013:


  • George Howard

    Please, Kim, stay just a moment. I’m curious, given your opinion that the Bos’ paper was a freight train which simply could not be delayed (even in the face of significant new information published months ahead of time), what if it were being written today? Do you feel LeCompete provided information that would\should result in a a more open-minded treatment of the subject than given in the Bos’ paper?

  • George Howard

    Not following you here, Kim. To which Bos paper do you refer? The Bos paper “Arguments” was published well after the LeCompte paper.

    PS. I believe one is “hoisted” on one’s own petard, rather than “skewered” by it. While both seem to be equally uncomfortable self-inflicted outcomes, skewering yourself with a bomb seems relatively unlikely.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Kim –

    B.’s positioning of the Chelyabinsk meteoroid was useless, as it had already entered the atmosphere. B.’s retrieval of samples at Chelyabinsk was a waste as well, as we already had samples.

    Given the extremely limited resources available, I do not like to see them wasted. What exactly justified B.’s trip to Chelyabinsk?

  • Probably because it was an extremely well documented and recorded large bolide entry and explosion, It doesn’t matter that the material was ordinary, it’s probably worth taking a look at.

    It looks like an inward orbiting outward looking wide area infrared telescope may be in the works. I’m not sure if they’re just going to funnel money to B612 and Sentinel or how it’s going to work out, but it would be great if they just fast tracked the observatory and held off on the retrieval, but I guess they want to appear to be prepared with the SEP (solar electric propulsion) and the capture and derotation work, which is also applicable to zombie satellite servicing and salvage.

  • Hermann Burchard

    Bad idea, capture. Could fail and crash into Earth. Also see recent comment by Barry Weathersbie.

  • Purposely crashing a meter sized asteroid might be a cheap and easy way to retrieve samples, certainly nothing much else will come of it. Bigger and heavier planes fly over you all the time, and an object that size isn’t going to connect with the surface intact unless it is made out of solid metal and moving at hypervelocity, which it won’t be if it is being dragged back from space. You could also presumably attach an inflatable heat shield and a parachute on the thing itself.

  • Steve Garcia

    Ed: “What exactly justified B.’s trip to Chelyabinsk?”

    Camera time! Time to powder up!

  • Steve Garcia

    TLE: “You could also presumably attach an inflatable heat shield and a parachute on the thing itself.”

    Or you could eject it out the back [I suggest a small rail gun(!) on board] with enough velocity that its geocentric angular velocity is low enough so that overheating doesn’t occur. It simply FALLS into the atmosphere. Its forward velocity is small. The ship/capsule gets all the reaction force/energy and jumps into a higher orbit.

    After it enters the atmosphere, deploy the parachute(s).

    But, really, take it to the ISS and examine it there – but carefully, with no irreversible hacking away at it. The moment it enters the atmosphere it is compromised/contaminated.

    IMHO, 99% of the “stuff” we ever find out there needs to be USED out there. Maybe not the first “stuff,” but outside of REEs and such, what is the point in bringing them down? But THIS ONE? This one needs to stay up there and be fully tested before it enters the atmosphere.

  • Steve Garcia

    Hermann –

    Two points. One is that there doesn’t seem to be a Barry comment recently – not on this post.

    Second, we do need to bring some back. If not now, then soon. But I disagree with bringing back a zygote-sized one. I think it would be a wasted opportunity re handling them “in the wild.” We are never going to bring/maneuver back one that small again. Bringing a microscopic one (metaphorically speaking) back again, so what do they expect to learn from this tiny little one? It’s constitution? One that small will NOT be representative of larger ones; its density will not be typical; its materials will not be agglomerated like a larger one; its chemistry will be useless, since the variations in chemistry will be all over the map. There are probably upwards of 75 different configurations of objects, just in the NEOs – and probably 5 times that in the main belt. There is little that they will learn from such a baby body, nothing they couldn’t learn by probes and sensors out there where it came from.

    Ergo, it is a publicity stunt – one so simple a child could do it. Or, perhaps NASA. Let us never forget the focus screw-up on the Hubble; such levels of incompetence have rarely, rarely been encountered in science. They need a success. And that means they can NOT try anything more complicated than 2 + 2 /= 5. Ergo, Morrison picked out the project most likely to succeed. Heck, the private guys are aiming at going more aggressive by several magnitudes.

    (It didn’t have to be like this. NASA has fallen so far from what it used to be. What happened? It can’t just be Morrison, even if he is Ed’s whipping boy of the present. Can it just be funding?)

  • Lamar Smith had a piece in a plastic bag that he took out and displayed at the committee hearing a few days ago, and he said it was given to him by the chief scientist of OSIRIS-Rex and was a gift from the Russian government.
    It would would even be cheaper to send another solar electric tug to Lunar Lagrange Point 2 to get a small piece of it from the larger spacecraft and return it to LEO for retrieval than it would be to send a bunch of astronauts out there to cut open the bag and start fooling around in a $20 billion dollar capsule launched by a $20 billion dollar expendable heavy lift launch vehicle. These missions are expensive enough already. The money should go directly to detection right now, ASAP. They’re just using this entire scenario to justify their 2017 and 2021 mission scenarios. Right now as it is they’re going to be hard pressed to launch a Sentinel mission by 2017.

  • Steve Garcia

    TLE –

    Compared to how many billions have been spent (and are intended to be spent) on global warming to prevent a 0.17°C warming by the year 2100, $40 billion is cheap, but I get your point.

    We need an advocate or two like James Hansen, who keeps claiming the oceans will boil by 2050. He’s bat shit crazy, but they keep listening to him.

    Personally, I think if any of this stuff needs being done NASA needs to step aside and let the ESA or China do it. NASA seems like a bunch of amateurs. 2017? 2021? for piddly little projects like that? Let’s DO hope that they don’t get the focus wrong again.

    I am reminded of the ramping up for WWII, when factories got new planes online and out the door in like 5 months. And warships were coming off the assembly line in nearly as short a time. Hell, the Manhattan Project was 3 years long up to Hiroshima. The can-do in America – where did it go?

    I do agree that NASA should be using the Russian object to get as much funding as they can. Get while the getting is good. But I also think NASA should have fully developed preliminary studies for scores of projects, ready to present to policymakers at the drop of a hat. If for no other reason than to show they’re on top of things, in spite of the lack of funds.

    But the Russian object went pretty near directly over Beijing, so the Chinese should be more hyper about this than we are. And the way they’ve built entire cities on top of old Mao-era ones tells me they are the ones to do this. Like Ed, I just have no faith in NASA at all, not with its current leadership.

  • E.P. Grondine

    While we know the density and friability of the components, we do not know the density and friability of their conglomerations.

    Hi TLE –

    Given the politics involved and the mess that Griffin left behind, this new plan is a complete winner.

    Steve –

    Morrison did not come up with this plan.

    While NASA’s earlier performance in response to the hazard was nauseating, there is more to NASA than NEOs.

    Bolden has been doing a great job given the mess he walked into, and I am delighted with this new plan.

    That this plan managed to make it through the bureaucracy is delightful. There is noting like a casualty free 540 kt air blast to clear things up real fast.

  • Steve Garcia

    Ed –

    I gotcha. What else NASA is doing besides NEOs and comet interventions should be second level stuff. At least as far as we are concerned.

    Hahaha – yeah, the Russian windows and lacerations were a nice kick forward.

    Does anyone know what is going forward in Russia and China and the ESA?

    (But I still maintain that the air blast seems to be calculated on the original size of the object, not what was left after ablating for 30 seconds. I’d be shocked if the big blast had half the original mass left to work with. It was probably losing close to mass equal to 5-10kt per second.)

  • Steve Garcia

    TLE –

    In looking at SEP info, it is clear that huge amounts of work is being done on energy needs and solar capture of energy.

    I am keeping an eye on Thorium LFTR nuclear reactors, which are scalable. They need to be engineered still and put into service. I see that happening by 2020-2025. When that happens, they can scrub the solar arrays and just put up LFTRs. Even back in the 1960s, LFTRs were looked at to power atomic planes, so the potential is there to take the reactors into space. And once there, they will produce huge energy densities and fuel for them (including Xenon for ionizing) will be easily shuttled to them. But when Thorium fuel the size of a racket ball is a human’s lifetime need (and that can literally be held in the palm of ones’ hand), Thorium fuel should be a minor problem. (Yes, it will be energy expensive putting the LFTRs into space, but if they were going to be used in atomic planes that would stay in the air for months and possibly years, that should not be an unsolvable problem.)

    I suppose the solar arrays can be used as back-up power, during LFTR maintenance periods. But more likely would be just to have simple storage batteries.

    Thorium is not a pipe dream. It’s a reality 40 years in retirement (thanks to that dick-head Nixon). It worked like a champ in the 1960s. It was invented by the same man who invented LW reactors, and he had a reactor run for six years. It wasn’t his fault they were in the middle of an arms race with the Soviets and rejected it because it couldn’t be used to produce plutonium for bombs. There are a few engineering-level bugs left at this time. There should be no reason that it doesn’t pan out in the next 10-15 years. Many people are working on it around the world. It will be a reality. And when it is, one of the really good applications will be to make massive energy densities available for long term in space – a place that NEEDS such power.

    We are then nearing an end to simply thrusting for a minute or so and then coasting for weeks. THAT will change the way we do and think about everything in space. Three day journeys to the Moon may be a relic of the past – and they should be.

    10-15 years will be about the time China puts a crew on the Moon. With China being the big player in LFTRs, I am sure someone there will connect the dots. Looking at their space programs, they are certainly behind us and ESA and the Russians right now, in terms of accomplishments, but they are aggressively coming up, with several times more projects in the works than NASA.

    EP should be FAR more effective with an energy dense source of power like LFTRs. LTFRs combined with EPs will enable them to move about at will, with little concern for energy requirements. it will also make it possible to scale UP EPs, perhaps by a magnitude or more in terms of thrust – and the thrust should be able to be maintained on a constant basis, thus allowing for thrust gravity in deep sapce.

    Solar is fine, if you like to run little stuff. But what is needed is readily available MOTIVE POWER. We are talking here of the difference between a tricycle and a muscle car.

    In the SEP info online someone explains about how much less energy it takes to move stuff, once it is away from Earth’s gravity well. Duh. I would hope someone realized that back in the 1960s. So the solution is, as they are working on now, to have a long-term energy source or a renewable one. Right now the only choice is fuel cells and/or solar arrays. But those are too feeble, too little energy density. Like I said, tricycles vs muscle cars. The watt density at Lagrange points or near the Moon are essentially what is available on Earth, and that is really not much. 276.5 watts / square meter. That is about what it takes to run a desktop computer. Try running a car on that, or a space vehicle. Yes, they’ve done some feeble maneuvering, like to save that one satellite. Good for them. But it is still peeing in a cup. We will need hundreds/thousands times more energy available. They are finessing our weaknesses and trying to convince us that they have something that turns those weaknesses into strengths. Nah. Everything they do is going to be on the edge. All the improvements in batteries and fuel cells will still limit us for now to how much solar energy can be captured in the first place. All the work is being done to raise our feebleness to some less feeble level.

    They need to take the “S” out of “SEP”, but that will take some time. 10-15-20 years. Then you watch what happens in space. Right now we are comparable to 1900, when the land speed record was 65 mph.

    Once LFTRs are engineered for power plants and then adapted and scaled to space use, the sky will be the (non) limit. Until LFTRs prove to be failures, someone should be looking long term and how to fit LFTRs into their plans. I am sure it is not being done – yet – but someone before long has to see the potential uses in space. And then do it. I DO know that thought has been put into LFTRs on the Moon; that is a no-brainer.

    And when THAT time comes, THEN we can look at how to REALLY deal with threats from impacts.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi Steve –

    Europe is supporting the Orion capsule, and will probably use it with their Ariane launchers. As near as I know, they are on board for the capture mission.

    Canada just launched their Neossat.

    I believe Russia was on board before Chelyabinsk, but they are certainly on board now, after Chelyabinsk.

    Japanese space leadership has long been aware of the impact hazard, as is seen from their asteroid probes.

    China’s earlier means of gathering technological information have left a bad taste in many nations’ mouths. In the US these have led to an explicit ban on visits to NASA facilities and to NASA sponsored conferences.

    I expect that in the future, everyone, not just the US, will have to loosen their restrictions on working with China as a matter of necessity, but I also expect future space engagements with them will be carefully watched by everyone involved.

    B612’s SENTINEL from Ball is designed for launch on SpaceX’s Falcon launch vehicle, and my current guess is that B612 may continue to raise funds from the private sector, so as to prevent SENTINEL from becoming a victim of the vagaries of the political process, a political football.

    As the US is not the only nation with very wealthy people, and given the personalities and events involved, it strikes me that B612’s fund raising effort may be a lot of fun.

  • Steve Garcia

    Ed –

    All really good stuff. Thanks. I am NOT surprised the Chinese have alienated many others. Politically adept they are not. It’s a wise choice at this time by NASA to be wary of them and keep them out of the loop for the time being. But, like you say, in the end people will find out they do have to work with them.

    For sociological reasons, I am not a big fan of private space companies. I see the same kind of Big Science effects as the Manhattan Project engendered – a few companies getting in on the ground floor and then monopolizing the tech from then on. I also see it as a means of “plantationizing” space. Not a good development – but maybe inevitable. I don’t know. It will depend on how power-hungry and greedy the principles are over time, I guess. But I can see a bad foundation being built. Put me down as wary.

  • Steve Garcia

    TLE –

    Wow. On the SEP front, it seems they use Xenon as the ionized gas for propulsion. I am just today finding out that Xenon is a problematic neutron absorber that is created within reactors. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenon-135.

    Of the Xenon-135 that is created, , test results have shown that either 90%, or “39%-91%, or “essentially all” of it absorbs a neutron and becomes stable Xenon-136 within the Xenon-135 half life of 9.2 hours.

    So, on first read, that does mean that the Thorium reactor creates EXACTLY the ionization fuel already being used in SEPs.

    Isn’t THAT interesting. The amount of Xenon carried on board a SEP will be significantly reduced, since it will be PRODUCED by the LFTR. I don’t know the numbers yet, but this suggests the possibility that as long as the Thorium supply lasts, the ship can go on and on and on. The numbers will tell, but this is a really cool coincidence. Almost a marriage made in heaven. No pun intended.

    It’s a bit like having a mini-gasoline-refinery right in your car. And with 6 kg of Thorium having the energy equivalence (96,000 MW-hrs electrical) of 440 million cubic feet of natural gas), that is a lot of oomph – bang for the buck.

    On the down side, I imagine that 6kg of Thorium could not have THAT much Xenon produced from it. Especially when it needs to be shot out the rear end to provide thrust. Still, the SEP isometric diagrams shown seem to show that the Xenon tanks are not all that big themselves. Like I said, the numbers will tell.