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A Review (fwd)



This was posted on Scifraud.
                               Alan

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Approved-By:  Al Higgins <ach13@LOUISE.CSBS.ALBANY.EDU>
Message-ID:  <MAILQUEUE-101.961003122902.480@louise.csbs.albany.edu>
Date:         Thu, 3 Oct 1996 12:29:02 -0400
From:         Al Higgins <ach13@louise.csbs.albany.edu>
Organization: Sociology Department  UAlbany
Subject:      A Review
To:           Multiple recipients of list SCIFRAUD <SCIFRAUD@CNSIBM.ALBANY.EDU>

                                            A Review

 \Officer, Charles and Page, Jake.  The Great Dinosaur
Controversy.  Reading, Massachusetts:  Helix Books,  1996.\

     Members of this board are well aware of the "dinosaur
controversy" as we have had, as a member, Professor Dewey McLean
who told us his side of the story.  We have, in a sense, heard of
the battles over the "Alvarez hypothesis" -- the meteoric
destruction of the dinosaurs at the K-T boundary, about 65
million years ago.  This book by Officer and Page offers another,
but complementary, view of that controversy and puts Professor
McLean's personal struggle in context.  Briefly, what McLean
experienced in his fights with Alvarez -- the campaign against
him personally, the backbiting and the pettiness, the
rumormongering and the backstabbing -- are not at all unique.
Dewey was not alone:  Alvarez could be a mean man and he had
friends in high places and could -- and did -- exert influence
far beyond his own field (physics) and his own university
(Berkeley).  In another sense, here is verification of McLean's
interpretations of what happened to him. The book is more,
however, in that this is a revealing "case study" of battles
royal in geology and paleontology.  And, reading it, one must
ask:  Whoever suggested that science was a gentleman's game?

     Quoting from Davis' Lawrence and Oppenheimer, Officer and
Page have it that:

     Alvarez most nearly carried the spirit of prewar
     Berkeley [where he had joined the faculty in 1938].
     Like Lawrence, Alvarez characteristically wanted to
     hurry and do big things, and he too tended to treat
     other scientists as servants.  But he showed much more
     positive readiness to cause pain...  Alvarez divided
     his talent between experiments and public relations...
     (p. 81)

     And, he was one of five scientists to testify against Robert
Oppenheimer who is regarded as the father of the atomic bomb.
Oppenheimer did not want to see the U.S. go ahead with the far
more dangerous hydrogen bomb and, because of that, Alvarez
concluded he was a "security risk."  Again, quoting from Davis'
book:

     One of the leaders in the atomic establishment says
     that he was appalled by an intimation he caught in 1954
     of the way anger and frustration and affected Alvarez'
     mind: "I remember a shocking conversation I had with
     Alvarez.  It was before the Hearings.  I want to make
     it clear that I am not giving his words but trying to
     reconstruct his reasoning.  What he seemed to be saying
     was Oppenheimer and I often have the same facts on a
     question and come to opposing decisions -- he to one, I
     to another.  Oppenheimer has high intelligence.  He
     can't be analyzing and interpreting the facts wrong.  I
     have high intelligence.  I can't be wrong.  So with
     Oppenheimer it must be insincerity, bad faith --
     perhaps treason?" (p. 82)

     Whoa!  A mind like that is bound to find opponents in the
sciences of geology and paleontology.  Alvarez's training was in
experimental physics where experimentation is sometimes possible.
In other sciences, consensus must frequently be sought to
substitute for experiments.  And Alvarez thought he could produce
consensus by blustering.  And he is not the first physicist to do
so -- one is reminded of Galileo's posturing regarding
Copenicanism where, if he couldn't convince opponents with proof
(he didn't have any) he would destroy them with his deft tongue.
Arguments in science which rely on ad hominem arguments are, of
course, not "science" at all.  Or are they?

     In 1980, at the birth of the Alvarez impact hypothesis,
     a majority of scientists were profoundly skeptical of
     it.  The voices of these skeptics (most of them from
     paleontologists and geologists who had been working in
     these fields for years) tended not to be heard, and
     they complained, often bitterly, among themselves and
     to any science editor or journalist whose ear that
     could catch.  They went unheeded outside the confines
     of their own disciplines and the technical journals
     devoted to those disciplines.
          (Officer and Page) have always inclined to the
     notion that Mother Earth -- impresario of a long-running
     evolutionary play in an ever-changing
     ecological theater -- has plenty of her own techniques
     for colluding in the extinction of whole species, even
     dinosaurs.
          In this book we look at the meteorite impact
     theory as it "evolved" over its short life, and at the
     scientific efforts, both good and bad, that followed
     its announcement.  And we given an alternative
     explanation, one that existed before 1980 and has been
     further enriched in the course of the fracas.  We
     conclude that the Earth is the major heroine here, a
     heroine that may not be as dramatically sexy as the
     meteorite theory but one that is also without need for
     that rather weak and desperate play of playwrights, the
     dues ex machina.
          In a sense, this is a shame.  For both of us like
     a bit of drama with our breakfast cereal as much as the
     next person.  But the impact theory has not stood up at
     all to expert scrutiny.  Actually, many theories do
     not.  In the history of science, theories and
     hypotheses are just that -- interesting possible
     explanations of observed facts that can be tested,
     either in their own right or by weighing them against
     others.  Among the many hypotheses that prove false,
     some have eventually been useful in furthering
     scientific understanding.  But the impact theory has
     not been helpful even in this regard.
          Indeed, most of the "science" performed by the
     Alvarez camp has been so inexplicable weak, and the
     response to it to eagerly accepting by important
     segments of the scientific press (never mind the
     popular press and the tabloids), that some skeptics
     have wondered if the entire affair was not, on the
     impact side, some kind of scam.  Such an allegation
     would have to be backed up by the kind of investigative
     reporting that exposed the Watergate scandal, and we
     are not qualified to do that...
          The demise of the dinosaurs (along with a host of
     other more or less contemporaneous life-forms) clearly
     occurred for other and more complicated reasons than
     impacts from space.  These reasons are wholly plausible
     and well understood...

          The hypothesis was initially advanced in Science in 1980
and it was immediately picked up by the popular press.  Simply
 put, there were many who became enthusiasts for the Alvarez
hypothesis:

     Indeed, practically the whole world did (become
     enthusiasts).  Not only did the theory make the cover
     of Time, but wonderfully lurid illustrations of doomed
     dinosaurs staring dumbly in a sky lit by a vast
     fireball appeared on the cover of virtually every
     supermarket tabloid and kids' comic book and in every
     magazine rack.  Popular magazines devoted to science --
     such as Omni and Discover -- took it up.  Within a mere
     historical instant, the notion was in the lay mind as a
     fait accompli, an unquestioned given, and not merely a
     hypothesis awaiting that normal fate of all scientific
     hypotheses -- that is to say, skeptical and reasoned
     criticism from other scientists, by which it could be
     proven, refined, or dismissed.  Even within the realm
     of scientific debate, the Alvarez hypothesis did not
     follow the normal procedures of science.  Dissent was
     immediate -- but it went largely unreported, even in
     much of the scientific press.  Dissenters were in fact
     publicly excoriated, even ridiculed, by the
     hypothesis's proponents.  Rancor seethed in scientific
     halls and meetings.  This was not the gentlemanly and
     collegial debate that usually lies at the heart of
     scientific discourse.  In the process, a great deal of
     very bad scientific thought and procedure occurred --
     not just bad behavior.  The Alvarez proponents simply
     ignored a vast amount of data that other scientists had
     patiently collected over the decades and continued to
     collect -- evidence that increasingly clearly gainsaid
     the new hypothesis.
     (p. 4-5)

     Face it, the Alvarez hype was popular!  As an Australian
journalist, Ian Warden, in the Canberra Times has it:

     To connect the dinosaurs, creatures of interest to but
     the veriest dullard, with a spectacular event like the
     deluge of meteors ... seems a little like one of those
     clever plots a publisher might concoct to guarantee
     enormous sales.  All [the theories] lack is some sex
     and the involvement of the Royal Family and the whole
     world would be paying attention to them. (p. 4)

          But it was only the public mind that was open to the
hypotheses: those who had studied the issue of the K-T extinction
were aware that the theory did not fit the facts. But, even among
scientists, there were those who remained enthusiastic: "Science
magazine became the publication medium of choice for those whose
work supported the Alvarez hypothesis -- although its editors
insist otherwise." (p. 96-97) Koshland, the editor through much
of this period, insisted, in the Chronicle of Higher Education
that: " We've been very careful.  We've published arguments from
both sides, and we've published criticism from both sides.
There's no bias.'" Yet, the published record of articles which
appeared in Science belie that claim.  As these authors have it:

     ...(There was a) schism between the public's view of
     what was going on and the actual opinions within the
     Earth science community.  That Science played a role in
     creating this schism is unarguable.  (p. 103)

          The authors, unfortunately, identify the Alvarez hypothesis
with the views of Irving Langmuir regarding pathological science.
This is to say, they see the events of 1980-1996 as "sick"
science, and containing the characteristics of some sort of
aberration in science.  To me, the Alvarez hypothesis is not
pathological; it is wrong and it does no good at all to call it
"sick."

     I would argue:  here is nothing unusual about this sort of
thing.  Consider just the parallels mentioned in this book: the
Wegener hypothesis of continental drift (1915-1965) and the
bizarre story of polywater (1966-1974). Here is another case of
"wrong science and its dates are 1980-1995.  There is much to
learn from the story: it is a story about science which ain't so
nice.   And this is all to the good because the storybook image
of science needs replacing.

 A. C. Higgins
  SS 359  SUNYA  Albany, New York 12222
  ACH13@CNSVAX.Albany.edu
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  SCIFRAUD@CNSIBM.Albany.edu