Yesterday in one of the opening sessions, and today in a press conference, the row over the Chicxulub crater and the K/T extinction rolls on, just as it did on the first day of last year's meeting. The orthodox side, of which Jan Smit is the main spokesman, says that the dirty great Chicxulub crater buried in the Yucatan marks the site of an asteroid impact that killed off the world's dinosaurs and showered most of the planet with iridium. The other side says that that the impact took place 300,000 years before the real K/T boundary, which is where the iridium is, and that the extinctions are due to other factors, including both another impact (at a site not yet found) and the volcanism associated with the Decca Traps in India. The main protagonist on this side is Gerta Keller of Princeton.
If you want more, Keller's papers are here, and a discussion between the two sides is available here. For what it's worth, at today's press conference I thought Smit made the more convincing case by quite a long way (the Keller position was taken, in her absence, by Thierry Adatte and Wolfgang Stinnesbeck). But who won was slightly beside the point. The guilty joy of the thing lay in watching a scientific debate in which people -- well, Jan, mainly -- were prepared to be really quite rude. "There are serious mistakes [in the PNAS paper] and they should not have been published"; "a failure of the review system"; "if a student of mine had presented this I would have failed him"; "This data is crap and you know it". Smit feels aggrieved to be having this argument again and again, and it shows. The fact that it shows may not help his case -- it allowed Stinnesbeck to take a neatly detached "We know that you have to say that" approach geared to making the anger look defensive -- but it's nice to see the passion.
Not that there's a great deal of real needle (or not that much -- it might have been different had Keller been here). They were for the most part capable of debating quite properly, and even from time to time amicably. They agreed to look at each other's samples, and said how good it would be to go into the field together and look at some of the disputed deposits together, which is the time-honoured way of settling such things. Alas, they don't have the money to do so. At this I found myself wondering whether such an expedition could be mounted just for its entertainment value. I started to imagine a reality TV show geared towards people like Ross Geller (and me, obviously) in which there were long arguments about facies changes and sedimentation rates and whether the smectite was actually a glauconite or not. So I was moderately excited when they went on to say that the BBC Horizon series had recently filmed them out in Mexico. Unfortunately, it filmed them one side at a time, rather than actually show them interacting with each other and getting into the nitty gritty. Where's the fun in that?