What Asteroid?

The review this month looks at the other side of the dinosaur extinction story - the side without an asteroid impact. The Great Dinosaur Extinction Controversy by Charles Officer and Jake Page was published in June, 1996 by Addison - Wesley Publishing. The 209 page book retails for $25.00.

If you have listened to the news or seen many television documentaries on the causes of the dinosaur extinction at the end of the Cretaceous, you might be prone to ask, "what controversy"? Isn't it accepted fact that the dinosaurs were snuffed out by a giant asteroid hitting the earth 65 million years ago? Didn't this event trigger the equivalent of a nuclear winter causing plants to die with the subsequent collapse of the dinosaurian food chain? Maybe.

Charles Officer has been one of the few persistent paleontologists who disagree entirely with the impact theory as it relates to dinosaurian extinction. He had proposed other worldly explanations for this mass extinction event since the mid 1980's. Why hadn't we heard more about his ideas? Officer and Page question that as well and consequently wrote this popular book. They contend, and seem to present believable proof, that media bias, from the prestigious journals Science and Nature down through the popular media which uses these journals as sources, is why we are unfamiliar with their theories.

The Great Dinosaur Extinction Controversy is well written and very interesting. Officer and Page begin with the history of the impact theory as a review. They discuss meteorites and comets and probabilities of earthly impact. Troublesome data, not easily explained by the impact theory, indicating a prolonged and gradual decline in dinosaur families as well as the problem explaining survival of crocodiles and turtles is discussed at length.

Officer and Page tackle the geologic evidence with vigor: the iridium anomaly, shocked quartz, impact craters. Much research has been done by scientists in diverse fields to check out the impact theory. According to the authors, much of this research has not made it to the public (the aforementioned media bias). For example, the iridium peak at the Cretaceous Tertiary boundary does not appear to be an instantaneous deposit, occurring over 100,000 to 400,000 years. It is also interesting to note that iridium concentrations don't seem to be found around known impact craters. They are however found as a result of volcanism. Shocked quartz as evidence of impact is similarly handled with newer research results. An interesting side light to the shocked quartz evidence is that this material could only be produced from a continental impact, not an oceanic impact, and no confirmed continental crater of appropriate age or size has been confirmed. What about Chixalub in the Yucatan? Newer evidence shows this to have been produced by a series of volcanic events of late Cretaceous age.

After refuting all arguments which support the impact theory from paleontological to geological and astronomical, Officer and Page present a comprehensive and certainly believable earthbound explanation for the dinosaurian extinction. Massive volcanism occurred in late Cretaceous times in North America and in a huge area in India known as the Deccan Traps; this activity endured over 500,000 years and was intense enough to cause major ecological problems with atmospheric ozone loss and acid rain. Plate tectonics and sea level drop produced the other telling effects. The result was loss of the dinosaurian habitat and their ultimate doom.

Officer and Page conclude with an explanation for why the impact theory (which they do not accept) became so widely accepted. They refer to this phenomena as "pathological science [which] arises from self-delusion." No, they don't mince words here or anywhere else in this book. Pathological science, according to the authors, stems from: "hurried, careless, or incomplete work"; "invention of a new science to fit the observations"; and "ignoring facts that do not agree with preconceived notions."

Does the publication of this work and the related scientific publications which precede and support it mean that the impact theory is officially dead? I don't know for certain but I think not. In a new 1996 book by Stephen Jay Gould, Full House, he states more than once words which indicate his acceptance of the impact theory as cause for dinosaurian extinction. I encourage you to read The Great Dinosaur Extinction Controversy and form your own opinion. Officer and Page have done an excellent job laying out the facts and supporting evidence and are indeed very convincing.

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