The asteroid didn’t do it all

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The uncertainty of science: A new study adds weight to the theory that the dinosaurs were already in decline when the asteroid hit 65 million years ago.

While some have argued that dinosaurs began petering out some 5 million or 10 million years before their final doom, the new paper suggests it started happening much earlier, maybe 50 million years before the asteroid catastrophe. In terms of species, “they were going extinct faster than they could replace themselves,” said paleontologist Manabu Sakamoto of the University of Reading in England. He led a team of British scientists who analyzed three large dinosaur family trees, looking for evidence of when extinctions began to outnumber the appearances of new species.

They found that starting to happen about 50 million years before the asteroid for most groups of dinosaurs. Two other groups showed increases rather than declines; if their results are included, the overall time for the start of dinosaur decline shrinks to 24 million years before the final demise.

I wrote a science article on this subject back in 1999, and even then the science was far from settled, with most paleontologists strongly arguing that the asteroid was only the final blow and that many other factors, including the big volcano eruption in India about that time, also contributed to the dinosaur’s extinction. That journalists and the planetary science community have pushed the asteroid as the sole factor in that extinction has been a disservice to science. The science has never been that certain.

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