Date sent: Tue, 03 Jun 1997 13:29:45 -0400 (EDT)
From: Benny J Peiser <B.J.PEISER@livjm.ac.uk>
Subject: Cambridge Conference Programme
Cambridge Conference Programme
I am pleased to inform list members that the organising committee
of the 2nd SIS Cambridge Conference has now received confirmation
of all moderators, listed below, who have agreed to chair the four
sessions of the meeting.
Saturday, 12 July
Morning Session: ASTRONOMY
Chair: Dr Jasper Wall (Royal Greenwich Observatory, Cambridge)
Afternoon Session: ARCHAEOLOGY, GEOLOGY & CLIMATOLOGY
Chair: Prof Bill McGuire (University College London)
Sunday, 13th July
Morning Session HISTORY & CULTURE
Chair: Brian Moore (SIS)
Afternoon Session ARCHAEOLOGY & HISTORY
Chair: Prof Trevor Palmer (Nottingham Trent & SIS Chairman)
Date sent: Tue, 03 Jun 1997 12:21:40 -0400 (EDT)
From: Benny J Peiser <B.J.PEISER@livjm.ac.uk>
Subject: LOVE THY (ELECTRONIC) NEIGHBOUR
LOVE THY (EMAIL) NEIGHBOUR
During the last couple of years, electronic mail and the internet
have revolutionised the way we communicate beyond recognition. Not
surprisingly, this new technology has brought to the surface the
very best and the worst in human thought and behaviour. E-mail, in
particular, has opened up a new world of immediate, global and
low-cost communication which most of us cherish. The
cambridge-conference network with is 90 odd members from more than
20 countries is a good example of the global village we are now
As with all new technologies, there have been obvious drawbacks.
In many cases, email communication has led to the emergence of
electronic impoliteness and verbal abuse. Very often, this lack of
courteousness can and does spoil our enjoyment. For many, it will
take some time to learn new forms of internet kindness. The
following article presents some of the detrimental effects the new
world of electronic communication has. This is particularly true
for scientific controversies which - as we have witnessed many times
- can quickly turn into verbal exchanges. In order to make
electronic communication more congenial and to prevent hurtful
behaviour on this network, some lessons might be learned from the
Benny J Peiser
from: THE TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPLEMENT, 30 June 1997
ABUSIVE EMAILS IGNITE WORK FURY
by Alison Utley
The decline of face-to-face contact in favour of electronic mail
has led to widespread digital aggression according to a survey to
be released at Staffordshire University next week.
More than half the 1,000 users surveyed claimed regularly to
receive abusive emails, known as flame mails, which irreparably
damaged working relationships. Almost one third of recipients said
they stopped communicating with a colleague for a significant time
because of a flame mail. Some recepients were so traumatised by
flame mails they left their jobs.
Many respondents said email had reduced face to face communication
(46 per cent) and reported less cooperation; greater internal
conflict among colleagues; more bullying; a loss of productivity
and an unpleasant working atmosphere as a result.
Psychologist David Lewis, who analysed the survey findings, said
email was completely devoid of the physical and tonal clues that
face-to-face communications provided to help interpret meaning. "It
lacks the consideration and thought usually afforded to other forms
of written communications", he said. "Instead email is immediate,
often impetuous, and wide open to abuse and misunderstanding."
The research found anti-social emails were usually sent by managers
to their subordinates (54 per cent) and one in six respondents
reported being oficially disciplined by a manager via email. Flame
mails were five times more likely to have been written by men than
The findings will be presented at a conference on workplace
bullying at Staffordshire University next week.
Date sent: Tue, 03 Jun 1997 10:51:08 -0400 (EDT)
From: Benny J Peiser <B.J.PEISER@livjm.ac.uk>
Subject: FURTHER REACTIONS REGARDING MINI-COMETS
A LESSON IN HOW SCIENCE WORKS
The attached NEO News [2/6/97] was compiled by David Morrison
<email@example.com> as a result of the controversy
generated by Louis Frank's mini-comet hypothesis. Most of the
comments show healthy and legitimate scepticism regarding Dr
Frank's claims - although some are so impudent that one wonders why
they were circulated in the first place.
These comments present a good picture of the way North-America's
leading astronomers have been reacting to the news of Louis Frank's
research. They also shed some light on the way science works.
While I - for the time being - fully share the scepticism presented
in these reactions, there are a number of issues which need to be
1) None of the critics appear to have read Dr Frank's latest
research findings since nobody refers to his latest paper. Most
commentators seem to have based their opinions on a rather brief
NASA press release which I circulated last week on this network.
2) It appears that only opponents and critics of Dr Frank's
hypothesis were asked to comment on this issue. The following list
of comments therefore lacks the balance of pro and con arguments
which one would expect from responsible scholars.
3) Some of the reactions were an insult to one's sense of fairness
and truth-loving. They also cast a shadow on Dr Frank's opponents
[see particularly Lindley Johnson's comment: "I saw this press
release in our local paper the other day and my reaction certainly
was "What has this guy been smoking?!?" I'm surprised to learn this
theory is being seriously discussed".
4) Unfortunately, David Morrison has started to play the
nationalist card in this debate and blames "the British press" for
inaccurate reporting science. I very much regret this
ungentlemanly and unhealthy tone. This is not the place to compare
the accuracy and quality (let alone responsibility) of British and
American science journalism, no matter how much fun that would
certainly be. But David's shot from the hip looks to me a wee bit
like shooting the messenger. I hope David will forgive me for
pointing out that his particular accusation is rather paradoxical
since Robert Matthews' article in last week's Sunday Telegraph is
based on a NASA press release. And NASA, David's own employer, is,
as far as I am aware, still a North American Space Agency.
5) An alternative to blaming "the British press" for inaccurate
reporting NASA press releases is presented below by
another astrophysicist, Dr Jeff Bell (University of Hawaii): "I no
longer believe official NASA press releases. Neither do most of my
5) I'm afraid, David Morrison is also wrong in claiming that the
Sunday Telegraph is a British tabloid paper. In fact, it is
Britain's biggest and bestselling 'broadsheet' (i.e. quality press)
Sunday paper. To set the record straight, I should add that Robert
Matthews is one of Britain's most respected science correspondents
and an expert in the field of astrophysics himself.
6) The most important aspect of this mini-comet controversy, as far
as I understand the whole tohuwabohu, is not whether Louis Frank
will be verified or falsified at the end of the day. What is at
stake is the entire agenda of the current Spacewatch programme
which hasn't detected any of Dr Frank's mini-comets. In fact, these
programmes have hardly detected a n y comets whatsoever. This,
then, is the major issue which has become clear as a result of this
debate: Since most of the leading NEO experts and American
astronomers believe that the cosmic threat is mainly limited to
giant asteroids, the automated detection programmes of Spacewatch
and LONEOS are deliberately constructed in such a way that they can
only look for and detect large asteroids and meteorites. Mike
A'Hearn has rightly emphasised the consequences of this blinkered
view through the telescope: "There is therefore a bias against
seeing active comets [...] The point is that we are not looking for
faint comets systematically".
7) David Morrison is right in one point: An increasing number of
British astronomers have a different "agenda" to the one currently
employed by North-American astrophysicists. Whilst the latter have
limited their risk assessment and corresponding spacewatch
programmes to the detection of large asteroids, many of their
British colleagues appear to have a much broader view of the cosmic
environment: in their view comets pose just as much - if not a
bigger - threat to civilisation. It is this fundamentally
different perception of the solar system and the cosmic hazard
which lies at the heart of the latest controversy.
Benny J Peiser
NEO News 2/6/97
Dear friends and students of NEOs:
Following are edited comments that I have received from a variety
of colleagues concerning the Lou Frank mini-comet hypothesis, for
those who want more details. Also, at the end, I include a story
from the British tabloid press showing how this story can be
distorted to serve other agendas. It is increasingly my impression
that the British press is less accurate and less responsible than
the American, at least in reporting science!
From Yvonne Pendleton (NASA Ames):
The water level in the stratosphere is well accounted for and the
influx from these "comets" would be greatly noticed. We fly the KAO
and SOFIA there to enjoy the benefit of the dryness!
The IDP (interplanetary dust) count rate would be increased
dramatically if these were comets in any true sense of the word,
therefore, whatever they are they must be nearly pure water.
Otherwise the release of the water would liberate the dust and the
IDP count would be much higher.
I don't see how these things can be so fluffy that they disperse at
600 miles up, but stay intact until them. And what could their
point of origin be?
The Moon would show the accumulation of a thin atmosphere over 4.5
billion years' of bombardment by these pure water snowballs, I
beleive. There would also be Moon quakes generated by the kinetic
energy of the objects, even if they are this fluffy stuff.
How does one get a gentle rain at our surface when the molecules
dissociated up high -- and how did these molecules completely
by-pass the stratosphere.
From Don Teomans (JPL):
Frank is talking about objects the size of "small houses" or 10-20
m sized objects. At the rates he's talking about, the lunar
surface should be COVERED with very fresh 150 m sized craters and
the Apollo astronauts would have certainly noticed a flux of this
magnitude. If I'm not mistaken, Apollo also left seismometers on
the lunar surface that should have detected this flux. I don't
know what Frank is seeing, but his suggested flux of mini-comet
just doesn't hold water (sorry - couldn't resist).
From Ted Bunch (NASA Ames):
With this flux of small objects, we should see a very high,
small-impact erosion rate on the moon and probably Mars regardless
of the low density of these objects. Objects 5-20 m in dia. with a
D = 0.2 g/cc will still erode visible features in a short period of
time. We have experimental evidence for that (Vertical gun impact
erosion rates). To my knowledge, nothing like this is evident on
the surface of moon or Mars or anywhere else.
From Chris Chyba (University of Arizona):
If the flux of supposed comets was steady through the past 10 to
100 Myr, then siderophile abundances from ocean sediments would be
10^6 higher than they are (the measured quantities are in
agreements with the known meteorite (mostly IDP) flux). One way
around this, of course, is for Frank's objects to simply lack the
usual cosmic abundances of siderophiles. These must be truly
remarkable objects! They are nearly pure water, with densities of
fresh snow, no siderophiles to speak of, but have a dark coating
(must be on the outside only) to protect them from rapid
sublimation (I am reaching back to Frank's models of the 1980s for
this). They also can't couple their impact energy efficiently with
the Moon, or Apollo seismometers would have detected them. Is all
this possible? Yes it is, but the objects begin to have a very
"contrived" feel to them.
From Mark Boslaugh (Sandia Lab):
According to Frank (GRL, April, 1986, p.310): "The number density
of these small comets in the vicinity of earth is ~10-20 comet/m3,
including a factor of ~2 for gravitational focusing. If these
comets are distributed with constant number density in the disk in
the ecliptic plane, and centered on the sun, with thickness 1 A.U.
and radius 1000.AU the total number of comets in theis volume is
~10E20. The corresponding mass is ~10E25 kg, somewhat larger than
the earth's mass."
Frank also asserts that textbooks will have to be rewritten in
scores of subject areas. Certainly conservation of momentum and
energy does not apply to his comets, so one of these subjects is
Please add impact physicists to the list of scientists who do not
believe Frank's small comets hypothesis.
From Mike A'Hearn (University of Maryland):
I am simply unconvinced that asteroidal searches even see the
comets of the same size as the asteroids they detect. The
coma inhibits most of the automatic detection schemes rather
than helping. After lengthy discussions with Ted Bowell and
Bruce Koehn during my last observing run in Flagstaff, they
agreed that their planned detection scheme would not find
comets. Bruce is now looking at various binning approaches to
see if there is some simple way of detecting them. The only
comets detected by Spacewatch have been ones that were seen
visually on the screen by the observer sitting in the control
room. They were not found by the software. I have never seen
a description of the NEAT algorithm so I don't know how good
it is on comets (actually if you have a good description of
the algorithm I would be interested since at least NEAT did find
a couple of comets!)
I do have serious problems with the mass flux implied by
Lou Franks' interpretation and, as Jack Brandt has pointed out,
we are proposing to search for fluxes of bodies that are
orders of magnitude lower than what Lou Frank claimed from his
DE results. I therefore don't really trust him either but
his new data are clearly telling us something interesting and I
would like to know what it is.
Reply to A'Hearn from Al Harris (JPL):
Your point that automated searches probably miss comets is well
taken. However, as I pointed out, Lou Frank's flux estimate implies
that you should see these things with a pair of binoculars in the
evening sky at the rate of one every few minutes. In the case of
someone staring up with binoculars, a coma can only help. So his
hypothesis is wacko.
From Al Harris to Dick Kerr on the detection issues:
Even if you allow an albedo of 0.005 (4-8 times darker than
anything we have ever measured in space), the "comets" would be
mag. 10 instead of 8.5, and still one per 400 sq. deg. of sky --
easily visible to anyone with a pair of binoculars and a few
minutes to spare looking at the sky any evening. The "search ...
done by the late Clayne Yeates" was horribly flawed, as much so as
Frank's comet hypothesis itself. The problem was that they assumed
that the "comets" were in zero eccentricity, zero inclination
orbits around the sun, so that the Spacewatch telescope could track
on them at exactly -0.5 deg/day from sidereal rate at opposition.
What they saw in the field were trailed stars and lots of dots, the
latter they interpreted as being Frank's comets. Anyone who has
ever used a CCD knows you get lots of dots -- noisy pixels,
cosmic ray hits, just random fluctuations of noise. An example of
an almost identical experiment was Cochran et al's search with HST
for small KB comets. They were smarter than Yeates and realized the
problem of noise. In a careful analysis, they determine that almost
half of what they scored as "detections" must be noise because they
can get a half-score by co-adding for other rates of motion.
People are still arguing if the other half of the claimed
detections might also be noise, but that's another story.
Anyway, in the Yeates experiment they must all be noise, because
the underlying assumption of circular orbital motion is dynamical
fiction -- it just can't be so. Just like the hypothesis of the
mini-comets itself, it leads to such preposterous contradictions of
what we know quite reliably to be correct, that a responsible
scientist will desist and look elsewhere for an explanation.
From Tom Gehrels (University of Arizona) on detection:
There is one other aspect though that we should investigate before
carrying interpretations too far.
Lou put a few interesting pictures on his Web site. However, his
statistics probably come from those splotches "observed" on the top
of the Earth's atmosphere. I learned 10 years ago, in a similar
situation, that when he wants to find something, he is not
His statistics, his large numbers, are the issue, and that should
be checked. Whereas right now the world may be in awe of those
(few) trails seen in his pictures, the basis for his statistics
should be gone over objectively.
From A'Hearn on detection:
The automated detection schemes which I understand (Spacewatch and
LONEOS but not NEAT) are constructed in such a way that they
will not find large, fuzzy objects, even if they are brighter
than an easily findable point source. Every active comet
found by Spacewatch has been found not by software but by
the observer at the console seeing it on the screen. There is
therefore a bias against seeing active comets. I agree that
inactive comets would be found since they would look just like
asteroids. Ted Bowell and Bruce Koehn are now exploring alternative
algorithms to figure out how they might search for comets with
LONEOS because they agree that their algorithms would miss
the active comets. The activity makes a comet more visible to
a visual observer but not to currently used algorithms. Just think
about the fact that comet Hale-Bopp was very bright, within two
magnitudes of its discovery magnitude, for at least two years prior
to its discovery according to the images on pre-discovery
photographs. Think also that, despite the existence of the
Shoemaker's Palomar survey and the Spacewatch survey in 1990-95 AND
STILL the NEAT survey and the Spaceatch survey since then, 2/3 of
the known comets coming inside Earth's orbit in both of those time
periods have been discovered by amateurs when they were far, far
brighter than the detection limits of the cited surveys. Part of
this is, of course, the fact that the existing surveys have focused
on the ecliptic where the asteroids are and most comets are not in
the ecliptic. The point is that we are not looking for faint comets
systematically. I will have to go back again to Rabinowitz's work
and see how sensitive his conclusions are to assumed distributions
I agree that Lou's numbers imply far too many of these objects
even for me to believe and I worry about them being a
misinterpretation. The case that Jack Brandt and several others of
us have been making for a couple of years is to look for a
population that we predict to be orders of magnitude smaller than
Lou Frank's population but we really do think that there is a
large, undiscovered population out there. On the other hand, I have
looked at Lou's latest data and I am convinced that he is seeing
something real - the question is what it is that he is seeing.
From Paul Weissman (JPL):
All the previous criticisms about Frank's suggestion are still
valid: they should have been detected in lunar seismic data from
the Apollo sites; they should produce a substantial number of
visible bolides; they should have been found by Spacewatch and
NEAT; they should produce interplanetary UV from OH that was not
seen by Voyager or Galileo, etc.
It is worth noting that in 1986 Frank was talking about 100 meter
objects, whereas now he refers to 10 meter objects. So the
effective masses of his objects have come down by a factor of
1,000. I presume that this is because of better observational data,
but may also be due to having better absorption cross-sections for
OH in the UV and other factors in his estimate of the sizes that
are better known now than they were 11 years ago.
It is of course dangerous to extrapolate from only two points, but
it could be that the estimated dimensions and masses of these
objects will continue to decline with time and better modeling.
Obviously, they have a long way to go to match what we currently
understand is the flux of near-Earth objects, but at least the
latest numbers are less inconsistent with reality than previously.
Frank continues to dig himself into a deeper and deeper hole with
the bizarre physics he invokes to make the objects undetectable by
other means. Eeventually that will rise up to smite him down in a
very convincing way (to everyone but him, of course).
From John Lewis (University of Arizona):
It's astonishing that Donahue, of all people, accepts this
interpretation. He has steadfastly opposed the argument forwarded
by Dave Grinspoon and myself (Icarus 74, 21-35, 1988) that cometary
infall delivers water to Venus at an average rate roughly equal to
the observed hydrogen escape rate. That rate is 10,000 times lower
than the infall rate he now seems to favor via these putative
microcomets! In other words, Venus, far from being in the final
stages of drying out from the loss of a global ocean, would (if
these enormous infall rates are correct) acually be increasing
in water content at such a rate that it must have started out
absolutely free of water only 30,000 years ago!
Note that the infall rate we favored was based on large comet and
asteroid impacts, not on ANY form of microcomets.
And what about the cratering data on the Moon? Where are the 10^6
times as many small craters? According to Shoemaker, they don't
Note that cometary ices bearing dust, organics, and salts should
give whopping "flame tests" upon entry due to the Swann bands of C2
and the sodium D emission, among others. These are not stealth
From Lindley Johnson (USAF Space Command):
I saw this press release in our local paper the other day and my
reaction certainly was "What has this guy been smoking?!?" I'm
surprised to learn this theory is being seriously discussed. I'll
check around, but I'm not aware that DoD sensors are detecting
anything like this, and I would think we would if it were real.
From Jeff Bell (University of Hawaii):
The new mini-comet affair has made be realize a scary fact: I no
longer believe official NASA press releases. Neither do most of my
friends. The process of reporting scientific work has become so
distorted that people on the outside can no longer get a balanced
view of what we really know about important space science issues.
[Bell then lists a number of past examples]
Case 5: Mini-comets. This hypothesis was endlessly discussed in
the 1980s and firmly rejected by everybody but the author, who in
fact exhibits all the characteristics of a crank. Yet here it is
back again, endorsed by NASA as a major discovery.
All these cases of hype run wild may serve the short-range purpose
of keeping valuable projects funded, but they have the long-term
effect of eroding the credibility of NASA, and the space science
community in general. If I don't trust official NASA press releases
on topics like this, how can I honestly tell a Dick Hoagland fan to
trust what they say about the Face On Mars?
THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH, 1 June 1997
ICE CUBES FROM SPACE PROVE THE SCOFFERS WRONG
Many scientists are having to eat humble pie this weekend,
following the revelation that the Earth is constantly pelted by
cosmic snowballs the size of houses. And not before time either, as
these same scientists have spent a decade disparaging Dr Louis
Frank of Iowa University for his refusal to bow to orthodoxy and
deny the evidence of his own eyes.
That evidence first emerged in 1982, when a student of Dr Frank's
was analysing images of the Earth sent back by two Nasa satellites.
To the student's frustration, many of the images were spoiled by
tiny black dots. At first sight, they appeared to be faulty data,
but careful study revealed that they behaved far too regularly to
be dismissed as random flaws.
Instead, they appeared to be tiny comet-like objects that were
striking the atmosphere at a rate of one every three seconds, each
dumping tons of water on to the Earth.
For a few years, other researchers showed no more than polite
interest in Frank's claims when they were mentioned at conferences.
It was when he tried to get his research published in academic
journals that Frank discovered the fate that awaits those who make
radical claims in science.
The leading journal NATURE rejected his claims, saying that "a
representative poll" had been taken of experts in the field and
they had voted against publication. Frank's attempt to answer his
critics with fresh evidence by using major telescopes were met with
obstruction and foot-dragging, with astronomers insisting that the
enterprise was a waste of time.
When Frank did succeed in getting access to a telescope, it
revealed objects streaking across the atmosphere at 20,000mph - as
he had predicted. It made no difference: the findings were still
rejected for publication.
Now, after 10 years of obstruction and ridicule, it is Frank's turn
to laugh. Cameras he designed aboard Nasa's Polar spacecraft have
revealed the existence of the small comets beyond all doubt.
Spectacular images taken by cameras show the comets streaking into
the atmosphere before dumping their water. They arrive at the rate
of about one every three seconds - just as Frank had claimed.
Frank himself has always been surprisingly sanguine about the
controversy, apparently taking the view that the "truth will out"
(sic). But there is no getting around the fact that many scientists
have taken a woefully unscientific approach to the whole issue.
While extraordinary claims must demand extraordinary evidence, the
reluctance of many to consider Frank's evidence was matched only by
their keenness to block his attempts to gather more.
Frank's experience in this quintessentially Strange but True story
are far from unique. The whole issue of bombardment by cosmic
debris is one that has always been dogged by mule-like
intransigence dressed up as academic rigour.
Until the early 19th century, anyone claiming to have seen stones
falling out of the sky was regarded as having had a few beers too
many; the French Academy of Sciences even declared such claims to
be a scientific absurdity.
When hundreds of stones were reported to have smashed on to the
French village of L'Aigle in 1803, the Academy dispatched a young
astronomer to debunk the story. He returned with bad news: the
reports were correct. Everyone now accepts the existence of
meteorites but the confirmation came too late to save hundreds of
specimens from being unceremoniously thrown out of museums as
The now widely-accepted theory that a hugh meteor struck the Earth
65 million years ago, pushing the dinosaurs into extinction, also
came in for a least as much abuse as the idea of micro-comets when
it was originally proposed.
When the late Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez and his
team first published their evidence for the giant impact in 1980,
one authority described it as "a nutty theory of pseudoscientists
posing as paleontologists". Today it is the nutters who argue
There is one aspect of the Earth bombardment issue that remains a
source of incredulity among many scientists: the idea that humanity
is under serious threat from meteor impacts. The sceptics are still
demanding hard evidence for this threat. We can only hope that the
"hard evidence" doesn't come in form of a billion-tonne meteor any
CCCMENU CCC for 1997
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