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Letters to Luis Alvarez

Letter to Luis Alvarez

June 1, 1988

Dr. Luis W. Alvarez
Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory
University of California
Berkeley, VA 94720

Dear Dr. Alvarez:

I read your comments in Malcolm Browne's New York Times article. Now that passage of time permits reflective contemplation, I respond.

For your reference to my promotion: After one of my VPI colleagues had attended a meeting with you on the Stanford campus in 1982, he informed our department head and Executive Committee on comments you had made about me. In conjunction with recommendations from some "prominent" highly political paleontologists that my K-T work was "not going anywhere," and that I had spent my career puttering in a "little square mile," the department head became distressed with me. I found out about these activities when he informed me that, because my "work was not going anywhere," I could "never be promoted at VPI," that I had "no future here," and should "look elsewhere."

That situation devastated me. By my own originality, I was a principal in a great scientific debate with one of the world's most creative living geniuses, himself working in an environment predicated upon creativity, and I had been undermined, and nearly destroyed, in my own! The stresses over the damage to my career here at VPI did its work. Throughout 1984, nearly every joint in my body was so inflamed, and swollen, that any movement was excruciating; medication kept me nauseated. Finally, by the grace of some objective and fair-minded scientists who informed the head that my work was original, and forefront, I was promoted.

For "knocked out of the ball game..." and "nobody invites...": For the past decade, I have worked to show that earth's thermal evolution, and orbital dynamics, are the primordial sources of evolution of the biosphere. By now, I have unified the K-T via the carbon cycle to my satisfaction, and am subsuming it into the bigger picture of thermal evolution of the earth. Last year, I gave four invited talks (Phoenix National GSA meeting, Rocky Mountain GSA meeting, NASA Langley, and the University of Colorado).

My work is going somewhere: consensus is emerging that there was a K-T carbon cycle perturbation as I originated in Science (1978), etc.

I enclose an "open letter" that I had written in response to your New York Times comments. I did not send it to the news media.

Sincerely yours,


Dewey M. McLean
Professor of Geology



Open Letter to Luis Alvarez

February 1, 1988

An Open Letter to Luis Alvarez:

Bronowski (Science and Human Values, 1956) noted that "scholars...are oddly virtuous. They do not make wild claims, they do not cheat, they do not try to persuade at any cost, they appeal neither to prejudice not to authority, they are often frank about their ignorance, their disputes are faily decorous, they do not confuse what is being argued with race, politics, sex or age...These are the general virtues of scholarship, and they are peculiarly the virtues of science."

In 1980, you proposed asteroid impact as cause of the K-T biological extinctions. Quickly, you moved to shut down opposition to your theory declaring: "1) that the asteroid hit, and 2) that the impact triggered the extinction of much of the life in the sea, are no longer debatable points" (talk, Nat. Acad. Sci., 4/18/82; pub. Proc., 1983: 80, 627-642). Many times, and recently in the New York Times (1/19/88), you have stated "There isn't any debate." In Physics Today (1988: 41, 118-120), you stated "it is no longer appropriate to say, 'Whether this impact was the primary cause for the extinction of the dinosaurs is still an open question'...that question has been thoroughly closed off in the past several years." Your public media blitz has been rich in "everybody believes..."

Operating in a science you do not comprehend, you publicly insult paleontologists. In the New York Times (1/19/88) you abased paleontologists as "not very good scientists...more like stamp collectors," and attacked opponents by name as "weak sister," "incompetent," and "publishing scientific nonsense." In your own field, you have stated "There is no democracy in physics. We can't say that some second-rate guy has as much right to opinion as Fermi" (in Greenberg, The Politics of Pure Science, 1967, p. 43). Now, you would deny paleontologists the right to opinion in their own field. Some tell of threats to silence them.

Your activities in the K-T debate do not locate you among Bronowski's "virtues of science." Your own created a K-T debate scenario as pathogenic as was polywater.

Sincerely yours,


Dewey M. McLean
Professor of Geology


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Copyright © 1996 Dewey M. McLean