The latest papers that support the Younger Dryas Boundary impact event hypothesis (YDB) give us an object lesson in science, as we have followed all the YDB developments since 2007 and even before.
On one hand it is very cool (like I’ve said before) to be this close to a revolutionary concept that has taken more and more form as time has gone on (irrespective of how much more work there is to be done by the YDB Team and the independents). As solid as the work has been, season after season it’s been a privilege to see it all come in, one paper at a time.
On the other hand, it has also been educational about how resistance to new ideas by some groups/teams/cliques are possibly causing them to almost defraud science with sloppy work that is so slanted it is hard to see it as anything but intentional.
But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt for the moment; perhaps they are in areas they don’t know well enough.
After all, it is NEW, and new means new ground, new associations, and new interpretations of past studies. And it is not just a little bit new. It is a LOT new. Since that scientific past was gradualistic and the new hypothesis is non-gradualistic, the underlying foundation shifts to an entirely different framework, and some existing evidence will need different interpretations and existing ideas may need different approaches.
There may be a LOT that needs rethinking. It’s not just that gradualists might fight tooth and nail. Evidence that has been interpreted as climate-caused may have to concede that the climate ITSELF was not a cause but an effect. Bond events and possibly Heinrich and Dansgaard-Oeschger events may have to be rethought. The emptying of Lake Agassiz may have a different history. The Great Lakes may become the region of great searches for one or more impact sites (albeit shielded by ice sheets). (That might be much easier – or harder – than the search for Alvarez’s impact site 30 years ago.)
What are NOT new are the physical laws governing the chemistry, geology, impacts, atmosphere, ice ages, botany, climatology, and NEOs – though even those may need to be looked into as regarding corollaries and assumptions arising from the laws (as understood before and after). In addition, it will likely require broadening inch-by-inch what is accepted about impactors and impacts: First it was nothing that could fall from the sky; then it was small rocks, then it was meteors only, then it was comets hitting planets, and soon it will be objects hitting Earth.
What’s next? To find out how differently composed objects have impacted in different ways? I would hope so. We can’t fall back to one of those earlier understandings. New times are afoot!
It has not even been 200 years since rocks from the sky/space have been accepted as being other than wild tales. And it’s only been since Gene Shoemaker and Luis Alvarez in the 1980s that impactors have been recognized as solid science. So all of this is only in its gestation period now. In such a period – going off in a new direction – it should be expected that new evidence will arise and widen our perspective. The old fuddy-duddy thinking that only what has already been proven is allowed may be, in the long run, pretty dumb and mind-bogglingly limiting and short-sighted.
It seems more and more likely that all of this – that a body or bodies hit the Earth well into in homo sapiens sapiens times – will someday before long be an accepted part of the panoply of science. It will not be a defeat for gradualism, but show that the natural history of our planet and solar system is more complicated than had been thought and needs an adjustment or two. But it may put gradualism on notice that it doesn’t own the podium anymore. Some such adjustment should have been fairly obvious after the SL-9 impacts on Jupiter in ’94. Knowing that comets do hit planets IN OUR TIME, it is not a far stretch to consider that comets and meteors may also be capable of hitting the Earth NEAR our time. It doesn’t make it TRUE, but it makes it worthy of consideration, if it can only be looked at without blatant bias in either direction.
The one thing that seems to be true is that IF something actually happened, then diligent research should at some point begin to turn up evidence of it. Rick Firestone didn’t set out to find an impact event; that makes the find even more appealing (though still not necessarily true). Serendipity in science does occur and does help the scientists with open minds and their ears to the ground to run up against – and RECOGNIZE – the something unexpected that might be “out there.” One might argue that “might be” is not science, but one need only point at such astronomical things as dark matter, dark energy and the Oort cloud – none of which has had to find anything as prosaic as an impact site. And the Higgs-Boson is now thought to have been found, but it was a long time in the “might be” stage.
Acceptance of this impact will, when it comes (apparently not “if it comes”), change the lay of the land. If comets or meteors can smack us within the time of man, only a hiccup in the past, it shines light on not only astronomy and geology, but also on our history, as the indigenous accounts suggest. If we’ve gotten whacked hard enough to kill the mammoths in both hemispheres, sabre-toothed tigers and Clovis man, we need to ask for one thing if human history is the long, contnuous, slow ascent we’ve accepted as real for many decades now.
Could man’s development have been set back at some point like the YDB? Just looking at Clovis man and his bifacials, which Dennis Stanford asserts was mile ahead of developments elsewhere: Where would man be today if those Clovis people had not been wiped out? It took what? 2,000 or 3,000 years to come back up to that level – nearly half the history of man since Poverty Point and Sumeria. If we had those few thousands of years under our belts in science and technology, how much farther might we be along our developmental path? Give high-tech a 2,000 year head start and what kind of computers would we have by now? How good would our space program be? How long ago would The Pill have been developed, allowing man for the first time to control his numbers – but perhaps before we numbered 7 billion? How far along would medicine be? Energy technology? Transportation?
Literally – would we by now have reached another star system? Don’t laugh. We are only 110 years into the sky at all. Most thought us getting there was impossible, until some unknowns saw a path by which to get off the ground. And now we all take flying 7 miles up for granted, as we also take the magic of electricity as a given – using both everyday as easily as we breathe or walk (sometimes more so).
If there are sentients on other planets, one wonders if they, too, have meteors and comets roaming around their home worlds that occasionally send THEM back to the Stone Age. Or, perhaps, did they get lucky and have a true void around them, so that their development didn’t get shut down (once, twice,several times?). And if so, how far would they have developed by being given an uninterrupted path of development for, say, 500,000 years? And how far back into the earlier billions of years of the universe might they have begun (or ended)? Will we be that lucky some day, to not get a mega-Tunguska, on a steeper trajectory?
Our NEO searches can only look so far into the future, with something like 1400 possible “threateners” out there nearby, not counting the comets that come from farther out in the solar system. We now have – apparently – just under 13 millennia of development since Clovis man and his tools were wiped out, setting us back those 2,000 or 3,000 years. We certainly can’t see if any NEO is going to T-Bone us in 5,000 years or 13,000 years. Are we destined to do it all over again, in 1,000, 5,000 or 20,000 years? We all know that it is just a matter of chance whether we get hit by a 1-km object or a 3-km one or a series of 100 meter ones. And each of those portends setting us back maybe 10 years, maybe 200, maybe 20,000.
The lesson of the Younger Dryas impact event is the full breadth of our history and our civilization. Not to mention the adjusting of our scientific foundation. Much may need to be re-written.