Geology by Consensus

Published in The Australian Geologist, Newsletter #167, June 2013, pp11-12

It was only in 1963 that US geologist Gene Shoemaker noted the surficial similarities between underground nuclear detonation sites at Yucca Flats, Nevada and the Barringer Crater in neighboring Arizona. From there, the plausibility of extraterrestrial impacts was established and a concept once overwhelmingly rejected by geologists became accepted as fact. The arrival at this consensus was not smooth: starting with Galileo Galilei it followed almost four centuries of long and tortuous argument characterized by a distinctly unscientific rancor fueled by religious zeal.

But if ever there was a ‘closer’ to this argument, it came in the form of the asteroidal impact over Chelyabinsk, Russia on 15 February 2013. Tellingly, this fascinating event was not captured on myriad cameras choreographed by prescient prize-winning scientists, august professors or Nobel laureates. Alas, even the boffins let the side down. No, the evidence was inadvertedly collected by bunch of amateurs armed with dash-cams, doing something else viz., going about their daily lives. The cognoscenti and paid help didn’t even see it coming because they were singularly focused on asteroid 2012 DA14.

Perhaps the brouhaha that doubles as discourse in your Letters section regarding the GSA statement on “Climate Change” should be viewed with the above history in mind. This statement is in keeping with the spirit of Albert Einstein’s remark that … ‘the important thing is not to stop questioning.’

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