Re: Extinction Controversey


Are the volcanoes (Deccan Traps, right?) and asteroid necessarily mutually exclusive? I haven't read the article but I thought there was some idea that they both contributed.

Posted by: Lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 8:48 AM
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I read that the comet smashed a hole into the ground, releasing lava starting the volcano.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 8:54 AM
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I think Lk and Moby are roughly right about the current conventional wisdom. That is, the volcanic mayhem contributed to the extinction event, but it was set off by the impact which also did a lot of damage on its own account. IANAGeologist, but it makes sense to me. If you're looking for causes that lead to the extinction of something like 60% of macroscopic life on earth, the more violence you can plausibly add, the better.

Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 9:12 AM
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I blame the pivot to video.

Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 9:19 AM
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I blame dinosaur-on-dinosaur crime.

Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 9:24 AM
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Echoing 1. All the documentaries I've watched recently (ie last five years at least) have emphasised both, while acknowledging there was uncertainty about timing and relative impact.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 9:39 AM
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I skimmed the article, but I'll bet the bit about "other bizarre explanations" is not a good description of pre-Chicxulub consensus, just highlighting miscellaneous funny-sounding ones over the century since scientists discovered dinosaurs.

William Ewart Gladstone wrote about color in Homeric Greek which lots of authorities writing about the issue since have unfairly summarized as "he thought Greeks were mostly colorblind then" - in fact it was pretty nuanced work, bringing up a lot of theories still in play, including what we would now call cultural construction.

Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 9:52 AM
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I blame satanic preschools and video nasties.

Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 10:02 AM
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Articles like this feel the need to portray their hero as a lone iconoclast who is at long last being proven right. When it's always more like "there are two schools of thought, and this one is smaller, and a few assholes in the bigger school of thought wish it would go away."

Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 10:16 AM
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It is a good article. You can tell how big the eruptions were because they had to change units from Waleses to France-es.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 10:19 AM
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9 is right. Still, you'll never understand science without understanding huge assholes.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 10:21 AM
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11: There's another theory that dinosaurs died out due from constipation due to insufficiently huge assholes.

Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 10:33 AM
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12: If only they'd hung on long enough to see the rise of the internet, they'd have been home free.

Posted by: Swope FM | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 11:13 AM
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The dinosaurs died due to academic in-fighting? Makes sense.

Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 11:17 AM
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Birds are merely dinosaurs emeriti.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 11:22 AM
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Old news - i learned about both explanations in 1995 and consensus was that both contributed. The Atlantic is pointlessly stirring shit.

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 11:24 AM
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Pointed tools don't stir shit well. You need a broader, blade-like stirring tool.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 11:26 AM
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16 Pointlessly because we're already drowning in it. No need to bring the dinosaurs into it.

Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 11:28 AM
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9 is exactly right.

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 11:54 AM
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But I still loved this article. How can you not love this scientist, with her upbringing as a Swiss peasant and now doing science by driving around India looking for rock cuts that expose strata.

Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 12:04 PM
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There were some big surprises. I never knew there were only 18 children born to Swiss woodworkers.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 12:20 PM
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It helps to remember that the guy who came up with the asteroid theory was dying of a brain tumor. According to his son, this was why he divorced his wife of many decades and ran off with a younger woman while hypothesizing about dinosaur extinctions.

I think it was a shoot out with iridium bullets.

Posted by: Kaleberg | Link to this comment | 10- 4-18 9:00 PM
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Several years ago I read some literature trying to link the Deccan traps to the meteorite impact, as the first few comments suggest, and I vaguely remember that the people who tried to be more quantitative about whether it made sense were not convinced. But it's been a while and I wasn't very thorough about it, so don't trust me.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 10- 5-18 2:59 PM
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I have a balloon filled with pudding and a BB gun to prove it my example.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 5-18 3:21 PM
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The balloon was left over from my concussion research project.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 5-18 3:43 PM
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The BB gun from my project on "Does putting a 'Trump' sign in your yard increase the strength of your window glass?"

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 5-18 3:45 PM
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20. ... doing science by driving around India looking for rock cuts that expose strata.

Substitute a different place name that's basically what geologists do. Moving big piles of rock is hard and expensive, so geologists lurk around road construction projects, looking for cool stuff. John McPhee's "Basin and Range" begins with one such road cut near the George Washington Bridge.

Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 10- 5-18 4:21 PM
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23. I think the majority view is that if the vulcanism wasn't caused by the impact it was close enough in time to give a double whammy to an ecosystem that was already in deep shit because of the impact. I'm not sure you can actually prove cause and effect at this remove.

Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10- 6-18 3:15 AM
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28: yes, or vice versa - volcanism was killing stuff already and the impact was the final blow.

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10- 6-18 5:42 AM
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I'm going to need more balloons.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 6-18 6:58 AM
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Before 40 but I don't want to step on the latest SCOTUS thread.

Weirdness at work, my job was posted on my org's website. For reasons too numerous to get into now this is obviously a fuck up (the director of my section had no clue what was up and will find out tomorrow), but still very disconcerting. Perhaps I have an enemy in HR (and don't we all?).

So what do I do? I go out and buy a car.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 10- 6-18 9:41 AM
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You should get a small, Jeep SUV with only 2-wheel drive. The Fair-Weather Patriot.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 6-18 11:44 AM
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Patriot is a great name for a car because it implies that it never hits anything.

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10- 6-18 11:52 AM
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Didn't the missiles explode?

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 6-18 12:04 PM
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That is, even if the Patriot missiles missed, they exploded while trying to hit.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 6-18 12:05 PM
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I bought a Mini Cooper S

Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 10- 6-18 12:20 PM
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Or just a Cooper S.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 6-18 12:23 PM
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OT: If somebody asks you to count how many times a basketball is passed, they're trying to hide a gorilla.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 6-18 1:15 PM
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The Cooper looks fun to drive, but I doubt very many of 'em get sold to actual barrel makers.

Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 10- 6-18 1:19 PM
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Either I'm old or Monty Python's actual episodes are not very good in retrospect. On topic because I switched to Jurassic Park III.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 6-18 5:14 PM
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You know, if you only watch Webster, you really don't get the full range of Alex Karras's acting skills.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 6-18 7:43 PM
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Re Minivet's query above about the "pre-Chicxulub consensus" upthread.

I looked into this a while back in Another Place (see also final footnote). Here follow my conclusions (do not read if you hate tierce's lengthy amateur musings about extinction events):

Digging out the (excellent) 1961 picture book I mainly learned abt dinosaurs from -- The Story of Prehistoric Animals by William Elgin Swinton, 27 paintings by Maurice Wilson -- and remembering what was in the similar books my dad had (30s and 40s, currently all in storage), I am of the opinion that, prior to the Alvarez thesis (1980), WHAT KILLED THE DINOS is mostly not something scholars in the field spent much time thinking about. Concluding the chapter before 'Mammals Rule the Earth', Swinton basically just says er oh climate and plants changed, and possibly the sun's brightness, -- and "the dinosaurs began to lose their command". But why? "Difficult to know..."

The rise of Darwin tamped down catastrophism. Dinosaurs were only so named ("terrible lizards"!) a couple of decades before Darwin became salient. Mary Anning and others had been gathering fossils, but the proto-dinosaur science largely still had a Biblical cast, that these were prelapsarian or antediluvian relics, swept to their doom by (for example) Noah's flood, plus various other possible great physical upheavals that put fossil shells high on dry land etc. Darwin was insistent that evolution was slow: a patient mechanism taking thousands of generations. As Darwinism seized hold of biology, the notion of the one big disaster became unfashionable, then kind of unsayable -- seen as silly religious superstition instead of proper science.

(Stephen Jay Gould is good on this: to much resistance, he favoured a process called 'punctuated equilibrium', with sped-up evolutionary spurts alongside the gradualism).

Right by the "difficult to know" passage in the Swinton book, there's a Maurice Wilson painting of tiny mammals next to dinosaur eggs. "Compare their size" the caption says, but I think you're meant also to be thinking "Those proto-possums are totally going to eat those huge delicious eggs." And LITTLE MAMMALS ATE THE EGGS was an answer to the question sometimes, except never put forward via a workable scientific theory to be investigated, just a handwavey guess embedded in a memorable illustration.

Also there was "what if farting, but too much?" -- but this doesn't feature in Swinton.

I feel that Darwinists didn't think it was a big question because -- whatever the specifics -- dinosaurs failed to survive because they weren't the fittest. Sometimes you see phrases like "racial senility" = they died because they were around too long! Bring on mammaltime!

Crank's counterpoint: dinosaurs were totally fit and ruled the earth for way longer than we have and (unlike us) were likely ended by (farting excepted) something that wasn't at all their fault -- plus of course lots of them are still here they are called BIRDS they are pretty. Whenever someone uses "dinosaur" to mean "lumbering and clumsy and needs sweeping away" this is worse than the alt-right and creationism combined and can bug right off.

Anyway, along came Alvarez, arrogant hard-science outsider arriving to slap a whole discipline about: despite the arguably dodgy dating (which the Deccan Traps argument iirc gloms onto) his proposal was just stiff with actual measurable data. Also (social construction klaxon, waves at Thomas Kuhn), the Alvarez thesis got caught up in the early 80s politics of the "nuclear winter". Could vast clouds of post-blast dust blot out sunlight for decades? By the 70s we all were definitely worried we were fucking things up planet-wide. What if mammaltime is also over? Who's fittest now?

In the late 18th century, the very idea of the existence of meteorites was widely scorned by scientists (see e.g. the response to Chladni's 1794 paper "On the Origin of the Iron Masses Found by Pallas" ). By the late 19th century, the routine explanation of mass extinctions was all slow all the time -- this family of theory remained in place (at a low level of science but a pervasive level of assumption) for roughly a century. For the last 50 years, it's all been rival (or sometimes aggregate) catastrophe theories: slow and steady is out again (and considered laughable). Personally I don't think the grounding of slow vs quick is all that deep: but we're in a (fully justified) panic about ourselves and our future, so catastrophes it will be for the foreseeable.

1: Here's an essay in the rise of interest in why dinosaurs became extinct (turning point,, the early 1970s)
2: Here's a passage from Peter Brannen's The Ends of the World describing the speed of meteorite, to make you gasp and stretch your eyes...
3: Here's an academic description of the effect of the Chicxulub impact
4: Note quote from 3: "This was stressful enough to kill all individual nonmarine macroscopic organisms"
5: Megatherium-in-the-room IMO: "Why didn't everything die, instantly?" Asteroid as total wipeout is not the same as asteroid tipping the balance between two ecological orders. It was a Big Die-Off yes, if a slow one: it was also a Big Survive-Off, with hadrosaurs walking around half a million years later. (3) notes some exceptions, but are they robust enough?
6: MORE GORGEOUS PROPAGANDISTIC PICTURES!! Here is the best picture thread I ever started in Another Place, titled "itt: pictures of dinosaurs gazing haplessly at the arriving meteor". Go look at it if you like the sound of that; if not, don't. (itt = "in the thread")

Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 10- 7-18 8:31 AM
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tierce comes back with a bang!


Update to 31: So we're getting a new position that deals with something entirely different only HR didn't have the job description so they put mine up instead. On the public website. The only thing they did was change the title on the page listing all the available jobs (removing my specific job title) and kept the generic part, but the link goes to my exact and very specific job description. HR's excuse, that's not my job because my job is #235078 and this is #25829. It's still up there. I mean wtf?


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 10- 7-18 11:05 AM
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On topic because death:

Something like this seems like a good idea. Obvious, there was a lot going on at the time, but when my dad died I was surprised that nobody ever called up to say, "Based on our calculations there's a fuckton of morphine in your house and we'd like to pick it up. Is Tuesday morning good?"

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-18 1:45 PM
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43. I'm sure that they'll get so many well-targeted applications for this other job. Sheesh! That's not fair to applicants and counterproductive for HR. Seems fishy still. And the job number thing is BS.

Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 10- 7-18 6:13 PM
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40: Don't talk nonsense, old man. Monty Python is lit.

Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 10- 7-18 7:49 PM
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42 is excellent! If you read Gould (and others) the shift from catastrophism (floods! pestilence! God's judgement!) to gradualism (classic Darwinism, etc.) was in a lot of ways a political/social war. Showing that there had indeed been enough time for evolution to happen was a big deal, and one part of it was showing that geology takes a long time to work. Previously all the hard-to-explain stuff was waved away by the Biblical Flood as having caused it. Lyell (IIRC) showed this didn't work (details left as an exercise).

The bottom line was the almost total abandonment of catastrophism for nearly a century. I'm not sure if anyone in between the late 1800s and Alvarez et al. suggested "Maybe a little of both? Floor wax and dessert topping, right?" It's fairly amazing how one scientific explanation can become so dominant that alternatives (or in the case of the dinos, possible addtional causes) that are perfectly plausible are either ignored or vilified.

As another example of how weird this can get is that a lot of astronomers and physicists believe there could have been major planet-shuffling early in the solar system's history, with the outer planets playing do-si-do for a few hundred million years until things settled down. This is uncomfortably close to /V/e/l/i/k/o/v/s/k/y/'s nutso theories, if you look at it from a crackpot perspective.

46 is also true.

Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 10- 8-18 5:48 AM
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People forget how much of an episode was pointless padding. Really better to just watch a "best of "

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 8-18 5:51 AM
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Exactly. Like, who cares where Jupiter used to be?

Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 10- 8-18 5:57 AM
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the first rule of chicxulub is don't talk about the farting

Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 10- 8-18 7:19 AM
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42 is great! Thanks for writing all that out!

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10- 8-18 7:33 AM
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Mammaltime sounds vaguely like Ovaltine.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10- 8-18 7:33 AM
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Now I'm getting shit because I made myself available for a student here in a US branch campus specializing in journalism who wanted to do a profile of someone interesting working in my section. I responded immediately because I know her professor (who is director of the journalism program here) and her prof told me the assignment was due by the end of the week. So after I ascertained that this was for an in-class assignment that wouldn't be published so communications wouldn't (or shouldn't) come into it, I said sure, i have a weekend shift so come then because the rest of my week was full up and there was little chance I would be able to give her 2 hours during the regular work week. This is so fucked up. We're supposed to be a fucking library and there for the students at the many branch campuses. I think I may write a very stern email in reply in the morning (when I'm no longer drunk) and actually request escalation if this remain an issue because I don't want to fucking work at a place like that.

Great time to buy a nice ride.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 10- 8-18 10:59 AM
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Oh, and we're getting a new director for our section soon. It's hard not to see this and some other shit as posturing for when that director comes in. Fuck this shit.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 10- 8-18 11:00 AM
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53 And the student was cc'd in that email. I'm thinking I'm going to push back because fuck that shit and cc the student's prof in the morning (after emailing the prof directly and clueing her in to the ensuing bs).

Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 10- 8-18 12:50 PM
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Sorry your work continues to treat you poorly, Barry.

I'm not getting direct shit at work, but it's clear support is lacking for some major things I work on/would like to work on, and I've started job searching. I can't tell if I'm overreacting to the situation but all I see ahead is career stagnation at a high cost of living. I also got a car recently, which may have been a questionable decision, though the old one needed thousands in repairs to go more than a year or so.

Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 10- 8-18 1:32 PM
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response to 47: thank you!

Also, Lyell is mentioned in my 1961 book, as having "finally disproved" Cuvier's theories of catastrophe -- which seems a big (and a wrong?) claim. I think actually bigger than Lyell made.

Also I just noticed that while continent formations like Gondwanaland are mentioned in the book, alongside various rather speculative maps, there is no mention of continental drift or plate tectonics. Wegener had proposed the former in c.1912, but was widely scoffed at. The latter was only proposed in the 50s and 60s -- a consequence of the undersea mapping made possible by the leaps in submarine technology after WW2. This is what my dad told me, anyway: there was a big conference in the mid-60s where everyone arrived thinking they were the only ones who'd recognised tectonics meant drift was feasible*: that conference was a classic overnight epistemic shift, which made and destroyed reputations. Some bitter old geologists lived out the professional days railing against it, to no effect.

*Prior to continental drift the explanation of similar fossil remains in e.g. West Africa and the bit of South America that so obviously jigsaws into it was VEGETABLE MATS (a theory that made my dad hoot with laughter). Basically dinosaurs clambered aboard random floating rafts of rotting vegetation and crossed entire oceans: Kon Tiki for sauropods.

Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 10- 9-18 3:03 AM
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