Dark matter plus dinosaurs? Delicious! RUN with it!

Facepalm moment – sometimes scientists use $10 words and the message just gets warped. Headline writers will just destroy the meaning of a story. Subtlety is NOT the media’s strong point.

Did dark matter kill the dinosaurs? : Nature News & Comment.

A thin disk of dark matter running through the Galaxy might be behind the large meteorite strikes that are thought to be responsible for some of Earth’s mass extinctions, including that of the dinosaurs, two theoretical physicists have proposed.

The model is based on a hypothetical form of dark matter described by the authors and their collaborators last year as a means to solve a separate cosmic conundrum. The existence of such a ‘dark disk’ could be tested soon by astronomical observations.

Mario Livio, an astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, who was not involved in the research, says that the latest idea, which brings together two speculative and very different theories, is “very interesting”, even if the evidence supporting it is far from compelling.

There are a few VERY IMPORTANT details to notice in that quote: “have proposed”, “hypothetical form of dark matter”, “evidence supporting it is far from compelling”. Neat and far-out hypotheses are fun but maybe they should be kept at a strictly speculative level until they are more concrete. From experience, I know that enthusiastic readers only see some keywords like “dinosaurs,” “meteorites” and “dark matter” and jump to conclusions that this is a new and valid idea. The headline here doesn’t help, it creates misinformation.

The authors suggest that as the Sun oscillates up and down, it crosses a denser layer of dark matter — like the ham in the middle — causing a gravitational push and pull that disturbs comets in the Oort cloud.

Previous models could not account for a gravitational force strong enough to cause the effect. But Randall and Reece show that a thin disk of dark matter at the centre of the Galaxy could do exactly that, causing comet storms with a periodicity of about 35 million years.

See, that’s not absurd and it can be tested. But I am concerned that it was put out there TOO soon. And since it included the sexy words “dark matter“, it makes for a juicy story.

Despite its speculative basis, Randall says that the exercise is valuable. “This is trying to turn this somewhat crazy idea into science, by saying we will make predictions based on it,” she says. “We’re not saying we think it’s 100% going to be true.”

Oh, too late. The Daily Mail has it…

Were dinosaurs wiped out by DARK MATTER? Force sends comets hurtling towards Earth every 35 million years, claims theory

As solar system orbits centre of galaxy, it moves around in 70m year cycle
Means it would move through a dark matter disc every 35 million years
This corresponds to increase in pattern of comet impacts on Earth
Researchers conclude this could have led to impact that has been linked to the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago

And IBT/Yahoo news has this headline (which is probably as far as people are going to read): Were Dinosaurs Killed by Disc of Dark Matter?

NO, DINOSAURS WERE NOT WIPED OUT BY DARK MATTER. This is a proposed idea, it has not been shown to be true in any sense.

Sometimes, I really think scientists have to learn and REMEMBER how media works. They HATE qualifiers and only key on the dramatic words you use. So, we have this muddled mess. Good going.

See also: ‘Planet X’: Still not there after all these years | Doubtful News.

  5 comments for “Dark matter plus dinosaurs? Delicious! RUN with it!

  1. RandyRandy
    March 9, 2014 at 8:01 PM

    What killed the dinosaurs?
    I always wondered if the CIA was secretly involved. Jurassic Grassy Knoll and all that. Seems legit.
    Let’s get the Daily Mail on the phone!

  2. Graham
    March 9, 2014 at 9:33 PM

    This ‘Disk of Dark’ matter scenario sounds vaguely like the nonsense being spread by one Brent Miller back in the days before the 21st of December, 2012.

    His version had the earth tipping over and did not happen. He disappeared after the ‘apocalypse’ didn’t happen. This could cause him to reappear and claim ‘vindication’.

    Stuart Robbins covered him in the 21st episode of the Exposing PsudeoAstronomy podcast. The shownotes are well worth reading:

    http://podcast.sjrdesign.net/shownotes_021.php

  3. Michael
    March 10, 2014 at 2:29 AM

    The hypothesis that earth’s oscillation through the galactic plane is somehow related to periodic extinction events is many decades old. I think this new hypothesis that clusters of dark matter played a role is cool. If it’s true then dark matter did play role. I understand the frustration of science lovers when the press butchers stories, but I can get behind a little hyperbole if it gets readers excited about science. I certainly didn’t see anything in this story that should generate anger. I thought it was fun and I can’t imagine how it hurts if some people read it and believe dinosaurs were killed by dark matter. It’s not like it’s selling creationism or something.

    • Halidom
      March 11, 2014 at 7:11 AM

      Dark matter is called that because it can’t be found. There are no clusters of dark matter. It’s really a random term to try and explain gravity anomalies in space. It was first postulated by Jan Oort in 1932 to explain velocities of stars in the Milky Way. Saying it had an effect on Earth is very much like creationist thinking science is on their side.

  4. March 10, 2014 at 5:46 AM

    The asteroid explanation has always been good enough for me, but does it really matter why the large ones became extinct (smaller ones evolved into birds). They are no longer here but their departure allowed the mammals to take over the land and, by chance, we arrived. I’m not sure how long we will be here.

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