Dinosaur demise theory, version #451
15 November 2002
The New York Times has announced the latest variant on the ‘dinosaur demise’ theory. ‘New Theory on Dinosaurs: Multiple Meteorites Did Them In.’1
It’s known as the NTDE headline (or the ‘New Theory of Dinosaur Extinction’ headline, for inexperienced journalists).
John Leo listed this among the most common science headlines, in a US News editorial last summer, called ‘Off with their headlines!’2 Old-time favorites include ‘Mankind Older Than Previously Believed,’ ‘Universe Older Than Previously Believed’ and the perennial favorite, ‘New Theory of Dinosaur Extinction.’ (Leo wryly observes, ‘Many observers insist that science sections are reluctant to use any headline that is less than 40 years old, but that is surely an exaggeration.’)
So what is an NTDE headline story? The US News editorialist explains, ‘No matter how you think the tiresome giant reptiles died off, it always turns out that they probably perished some other way.’
In case you’re considering becoming a science writer for a secular evolutionary propaganda machine, such as the New York Times, here are five helpful hints about writing an NTDE story. The Times story serves as a good object lesson.
- Look for revised data.
- Impress readers with the accuracy of some dating technique.
- Impress readers with the ‘struggle’ to overthrow old ideas.
- Question the reigning scientific orthodoxy, but not the underlying assumptions.
- Leave wiggle room for the next version of ‘the truth.’
1. Look for revised data
It’s easy to find examples of revised dates in geology. Geologists revise all the time. They give one date with conviction, and most geologists eventually accept it as correct, but then a scientist who wants to publish a new paper hunts around for problems with the dating methodology and finds a way to revise the standard date.
In the case of the New York Times article, two scientists found a ‘dating error’ for a 15-mile-wide (24-km-wide) crater in Ukraine. The crater was originally thought to be between 88 million and 105 million years old, but new studies using ‘the highly accurate’ argon-argon dating method yielded an average of 65.2 million years, give or take 600,000 years. Meanwhile, another team of geologists found another ‘crater’ under the North Sea, about 12 miles (19 km) in diameter, which they dated to between 60 million and 65 million years.
These revised ‘dates’ put the craters in the ballpark of the massive Chicxulub crater (estimated diameter, 110–180 miles or 180–300 km), discovered on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula in the 1990s, which popularized the theory that a ‘nuclear winter’ from an asteroid led to the dinosaur’s demise (first proposed in 1980).
So there you have it. Evidence that ‘comets can travel in packs’ and may have knocked out the dinosaurs with a one-two-three blow. Of course, these other craters don’t come close to matching the size of the Chicxulub crater; and the margin for error could still put the craters millions of years apart (in the long-age interpretation framework). But don’t emphasize this discrepancy in an NTDE story. (Leave it for another headline later, when someone else debunks this dinosaur demise theory.) Instead, quote someone like Dr Gerta Keller, a Princeton geologist who has long advocated a multiple collision view, who said, ‘It’s so clear. A tremendous amount of new data has been accumulated over the past few years that points in the direction of multiple impacts.’
2. Impress readers with the accuracy of some new dating technique
Most readers (along with the journalists themselves) won’t realize that it’s not really accurate. Argon dating requires all sorts of assumptions about starting amounts of argon, rates of change and limits on outside factors. See Q&A: Radiometric Dating.
3. Impress readers with the ‘struggle’ to overthrow old views because old ideas ‘die hard’
This angle makes it sound like scientists are on a noble quest for the truth without any preconceptions or philosophical bias. It whitewashes the fact that all studies of historical geology must make a lot of assumptions about Earth history, which nobody ever witnessed and which is impossible to reconstruct using the scientific method. The assumptions that long-age geologists begin with are based on their materialist worldview that they accept based on their faith and philosophy, not science.
In this way, it is possible to put a positive spin on the ‘old ideas die hard’ problem. Rather than making evolutionary scientists look like a bunch of narrow-minded old fogies who refuse to bend to the obvious evidence against their blindly held theories, this approach makes it appear that they’re fighting for elusive ‘truth’ against seemingly insurmountable odds. So quote Dr Keller, again. (This is the crusader for multiple collisions.) New York Times quotes her lamenting, ‘Old ideas die hard.’
Don’t ever let your readers see the irony of this whole approach. During the Scopes Trial (1925), for example, the scientists and humanists humiliated the Christians who believed in a young Earth by pulling out a laundry list of ‘unassailable science’ that directly contradicted the Bible’s account of a six-day creation. While this desire to humiliate Bible believers has not died down, the specific arguments have shifted. In fact, most of the ‘unassailable’ scientific arguments that appeared in the transcripts of the Scopes Trial are no longer accepted today. It would be impossible to tally how many times evolutionary scientists have mocked belief in a catastrophe theory of extinction, but now that they’ve change the rules, it’s okay to explain extinction by catastrophes (as long as those catastrophes occurred millions of years ago).
4. Question the reigning scientific orthodoxy, but not the underlying assumptions
In this case, the latest ‘orthodox’ view of dinosaur extinction (at least in the popular science press) is a single catastrophe that messed up the climate and rendered it impossible for these lumbering beasts to cope. The New York Times article hints that the new orthodoxy may move towards ‘multiple catastrophism.’
‘Multiple catastrophism’ may sound exciting to evolutionists’ ears, but it’s just a slight variation on an old theme. Multiple impacts have been proposed before.
The New York Times article ignores another problem: the ongoing debate over the validity of the whole impact theory and the nature of the Chicxulub ‘impact crater’ itself. (Some respected Earth scientists do not even believe it was a crater impact, as explained in the 1996 secular book The Great Dinosaur Extinction Controversy). Several difficulties remain unanswered:
- Why are there so many craters all over the Earth, with all sorts of different ‘dates’ that don’t correlate with the fossil record?
- How did light-sensitive organisms that live in shallow water survive, while the dinosaurs died?
- Wouldn’t the dust from an asteroid impact create deadly acid rain that would wipe out amphibians and fish, but not necessarily large animals?
5. Leave wiggle room for the next version of ‘the truth’
Of course, you don’t want to be caught in the trap of appearing too overconfident about the latest orthodoxy, in case you are caught believing in a foolish theory. While the general thrust of your article should leave readers with the assumption that these new evolutionary ideas are fact, you need to add a little ‘out clause’ at the end, just in case.
The New York Times article gives a good example. It closes: ‘While geologists hunt for other craters and impact events, they say the most compelling evidence of all may have vanished.’ Wow, now that’s a safe way to protect the reputation of evolutionists.
Make sure to save a copy of this ‘cheat sheet’ for the next time that you get in a pinch for a new article. Or if you’re looking for some suggestions on how to review the next NTDE article that comes along, this article might also be a good starting point. But don’t let your teacher (or boss) know that you are aware of the other side of the story. It might cost you your job.
For the real (Biblical) history of the dinosaurs and a summary of the problems with the ‘great impact’ theory, see Dr Jonathan Sarfati’s ‘Did a meteor wipe out the dinosaurs?’ For a fuller commentary, see Dr Carl Wieland’s review of The Great Dinosaur Extinction Controversy.
- Broad, W.J., New York Times <http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/05/science/life/05CRAT.html?ex=1037640439>, 5 November 2002. Return to text.
- Leo, J. Off with their heads! US News, 29 July 2002, reprinted by Jewish World Review <http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/leo072202.asp>, 22 July 2002. Return to text.