April 18, 2024


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The comet strike theory that won't die

The comet strike theory that won't die

Some of Firestone and West's co-authors have distanced themselves from the effort, but other scientists have taken their place. In 2016, West and several colleagues founded Comet Research Group Inc., which, according to its website, “collaborates and provides funding to a select group of impact research scientists around the world.” The organization is a division of Rising Light Group, an Arizona-based nonprofit that works to “promote public awareness and tolerance in a variety of fields, including religion, philosophy, and science.” For skeptics of the effect hypothesis, this association was another sign that something was wrong. But West, who is listed as a director of the Rising Light Group, rejects any suggestion that religion or mysticism has seeped into scientific research on the Younger Dryas effect hypothesis. “We have scholars of all kinds of religious beliefs in our group, and to my knowledge, none of their beliefs have been included in our research,” he says. “Any scientist who judges the beliefs of a scientist outside of that paper, to me, is not good science.”

Joined by a growing group of collaborators, the Comet research group has released new research, presenting evidence such as shock-mounted hexagonal nanodiamonds from Santa Rosa Island, California; Siliceous scoria-like organisms from Melrose, Pennsylvania, Blackville, South Carolina, and Abu Hurairah, Syria, as well as corundum, mullite, sessile, and lichatellerite; Elevated levels of chromium, iridium, copper, nickel and ruthenium in sediments of Lake Medvedskoye in western Russia; Planar deformation features, orthoclase and monazite in the northwestern Venezuelan Andes; and suggestive patterns in the chronology of bacteria and paleosols in the Mount Viso watershed in the Côté Alps. What Topping and Firestone first discovered at a single archaeological site in Michigan has expanded into, in the words of one researcher, “a global cosmic catastrophe.”

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These elements, minerals and geological forms are real. What many outside scholars continue to dispute are the supposed interpretations of what these things mean. For non-scientists, this decline is impenetrable. “It is very difficult for ordinary people to evaluate whether something is true or not,” says Tiffany Morisseau, a social cognition scientist at Paris City University. She was part of a multidisciplinary team of experts commissioned by the European Union in the wake of the pandemic to investigate declining trust in experts. The group believed that in a complex world, there was no choice but to rely on experts. After all, everyone is a normal person in some aspect of their existence. The plumber must sometimes put his trust in the veterinarian, who sometimes relies on the engineer.

Seeking out experts is one way people use what psychologists call “cognitive alertness” — a kind of immune system to our individual notions of reality, allowing us to parse truth and falsehood. But this defense can be confused with cases of contested expertise, where ranks of PhDs cluster on each side, offering conflicting accounts. In such a case, Morisseau says, a person may be inclined toward understanding another by how well they agree with previous beliefs, political or cultural affiliations. A compelling story can make the difference.

In recent research, two psychologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Spencer Mermelstein and Tamsin German have argued that pseudoscientific beliefs, Which range from the relatively innocuous (astrology and dowsing) to the extremely virulent (eugenics and Holocaust denial), they tend to find cultural success when they hit a sweet spot of strangeness: so strange, the cognitive immune system will reject it; Very normal, and no one passes it. What's most likely to take hold, Mermelstein says, is something that adds an interesting twist to a person's existing sense of the world. He says the idea that a comet's impact has shaped many details of the modern world is not only surprising and interesting; It also roughly fits most people's understanding of the Earth's geological past. It is simpler and more satisfying than the alternative explanations for the events of Young Dryas. “It's like one big issue and one big consequence,” Mermelstein says. “We can move on, right?”

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