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Science Magazine Coverage of the K-T Debate

My Letter to the Editor of Science Magazine

Tables (Attachment to Letter to Editor of Science Magazine)


My Letter to Editor of Science Magazine
(Published in Science, 1993, v. 259, p. 877)

December 15, 1992

Dr. Daniel E. Koshland, Jr.
Science
1333 H. Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005

Dear Dr. Koshland:

In accordance with the finest ideals of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, the credo of Science magazine reads: "Published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Science serves its readers as a forum for the presentation and discussion of important issues related to the advancement of science, including the presentation of minority or conflicting points of view, rather than by publishing only material on which a consensus has been reached . . . ."

In the great K-T extinctions debate on whether the Alvarez asteroid impact, or volcanism, killed the dinosaurs--that in the past decade, has become one of the most exciting and controversial debates in the history of science--Science has served as a forum for the debate. However, has the editor of Science given both sides of the debate--the asteroid majority, and the volcanist minority--equal opportunity to be heard by the readers of Science? The record indicates not. The record seems to be one of flagrant, and indefensible favoritism toward the Alvarez asteroid--and virtual censorship of the volcano extinction theory.

My 11/15/89 letter to you included Tables I and II showing biased Science coverage of the asteroid impact versus volcano theories. These tables, updated, are appended to this letter.

Since 1980, Science has published forty-five pro-impact manuscripts and "Research News" reports-and four strictly non-impact items. Since my 11/15/89 letter to you, Science editorial has published eight pro-impact items, and zero pro-volcanism. In the same time period, Kerr's "Research News" reports are eight pro-impact, and one hinting at the possibility of volcanic influence in the K-T extinctions.

According to Richard Kerr, staff writer at Science, the editor of Science favors the Alvarez asteroid, and discriminates against non-asteroid manuscripts. Kerr's comments to some prominent scientists are:

(1) To Gerta Keller, "Don't bother sending anything to Science which argues for a gradual extinction scenario. If it does not support impact, it will not get past our editor's desk." (--- 11/9/92 letter to you), and

(2) To Alan Rice, "Kerr confirmed [confided] to me at the Geological Society of America meeting in Phoenix last year that dissenting views would not find airing in Science." (--- 11/5/92 letter to you).

That these comments reflect Science editorial attitude is reinforced by the fate of a K-T manuscript submitted by Gerta Keller to Science. The editor noted on Keller's manuscript, "No public interest"--and did not even send the manuscript out for review. Gerta Keller, a professor at Princeton, is one of the world's foremost K-T scientists. She has recently been invited to serve on a National Academy of Sciences Snowbird III conference organizing committee.

Science, because of its prestige and vast readership, has been perhaps the major force in shaping public and scientific perception of the K-T debate for the past decade. Science hurt the volcanists in the scientific marketplace.

The First Amendment was designed to prevent repression by the majority. One might argue that the editor of Science has helped an asteroid majority to repress a volcanist minority.

Sincerely,



Dewey M. McLean
Professor, and Director of Earth Systems and Biosphere Evolution Studies


Tables (Attachment to Letter to Editor of Science Magazine)

I. RICHARD KERR'S REPORTING ON THE K-T DEBATE

(Most updates after my 11/15/89 letter to the editor of Science occur below the starred line)

PRO-IMPACT (ASTEROID/COMET):

1. "Asteroid theory of extinctions strengthened," 1980, v. 210, pp. 514-517.
2. "Nonmarine iridium anomaly linked to extinctions," 1981, v. 212, p. 1376.
3. "Impact looks real, the catastrophe smaller," 1981, v. 214, pp. 896-898.
4. "K/T asteroid subducted to oblivion?," 1983, v. 220, p. 1140.
5. "Isotopes add support for asteroid impact," 1983, v. 222, pp. 603-604.
6. "Periodic impacts and extinctions reported," 1984, v. 223, pp. 1277-1279.
7. "An impact but no volcano," 1984, v. 224, p. 858.
8. "Periodic extinctions and impact challenged," 1985, v. 227, pp. 1451-1453.
9. "Asteroid impact gets more support," 1987, v. 236, p. 666-668.
10. "Searching land and sea for the dinosaur killer," 1987, v. 237, pp. 856-857.
11. "Was there a prelude to the dinosaur's demise?," 1988, v. 239, pp. 729-730.
12. "Huge impact is favored K-T boundary killer," 1988, v. 242, pp. 865-867.
13. "Snowbird II: clues to earth's impact history," 1988, v. 242, pp. 1380-1382.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
14. "Dinosaur's death blow in the Caribbean sea?," 1990, v. 248, p. 815.
15. "Commotion over Caribbean impacts," 1990, v. 250, p. 1081.
16. "Dinosaurs and friends snuffed out?," 1991, v. 251, pp. 160-162.
17. "Yucatan killer impact gaining support," 1991, v. 252, 1991, p. 377.
18. "Extinction potpourri: killers and victims" (Looks like the Yucatan holds a killer crater), 1991, v. 254, pp. 942-943.
19. "Extinction by a one-two comet punch?," 1992, v. 255, pp. 160-161.
20. "Did an asteroid leave its mark in Montana bones?," 1992, v. 256, pp. 1395-1396.
21. "Huge impact tied to mass extinction," 1992, v. 257, 878-880.


PRO-IMPACT + VOLCANISM:



* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
1. "Cows and climate; sundry catastrophes" (Did a volcano help kill off the dinosaurs?), 1991, v. 252, pp. 1496-1497.


II. SCIENCE EDITOR'S COVERAGE OF THE K-T DEBATE

(Updates after my 11/15/89 letter to the editor of Science occur below the starred line)

PRO-IMPACT (ASTEROID/COMET):

1. Alvarez, L. et al., 1980, v. 208, pp. 1095-1108.
2. Hsu, K. et al., 1982, v. 216, pp. 249-256.
3. Luck, J. & Turekian, K., 1983, v. 222 pp. 613-615.
4. Alvarez, W. et al., 1984, v. 223, pp. 1135-1141.
5. Surlyk, F. & Johansen, M., 1984, v. 223, pp. 1174-1177.
6. Smit, J., & van der Karrs, S., 1984, v. 223, pp. 1177-1179.
7. Alvarez, W. et al., 1984, v. 223, pp. 1183- 1186.
8. Bohor, B. et al., 1984, v. 224, pp. 867-868.
9. Kastner, M. et al., 1984, v. 226, pp. 137-143.
10. French, B., 1984, v. 226, p. 352.
11. Wolbach, W. et al., 1985, v. 230, pp. 167-170.
12. Bohor, B. et al., 1987, v. 236, pp. 705-709.
13. Macdougall, J., 1988, v. 239, pp. 485-487.
14. Bourgeois, J. et al., 1988, v. 241, pp. 567-570.
15. McHone, J. et al., 1989, v. 243, pp. 1182-1184.
16. Kunk, M. et al., 1989, v. 244, pp. 1565-1568.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
17. Hildebrand, A. & Boynton, W. , 1990, v. 248, pp. 843-847.
18. Alvarez, W. et al., 1990, v. 250, pp. 1700-1702.
19. Izett, G. et al., 1991, v. 252, pp. 1539-1542.
20. Maurrasse, F. & Sen, G., 1991, v. 252, pp.1690-1693.
21. Sheehan, P. et al., 1991, v. 254, pp. 835-839.
22. Swisher, C. et al., 1992, v. 257, pp. 954-958.
23. Blum, J. & Chamberlain, C., 1992, v. 257, pp.1104-1107.
24. Gilmour, I. et al., 1992, v. 258, pp. 1624-1626.


NON-IMPACT OR PRO-VOLCANISM:

1. Rampino, M., & Reynolds, R., 1983, v. 219, pp. 495-498.
2. Officer, C., & Drake, C., 1983, v. 219, pp. 1383-1390.
3. Officer, C., & Drake, C., 1985, v. 227, pp. 1161-1167.
4. Hallam, A., 1987, v. 238, pp. 1237-1242.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

NOTHING, SINCE 1987??



Copyright © 1996 Dewey M. McLean