Controversy Surrounding the Timing of the Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Impact
In December 2021, a group of paleontologists published research suggesting that the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs could be narrowed down to a specific season, springtime, 66 million years ago, based on an analysis of fossilized fish remains found at a site in North Dakota.
Another group of researchers has accused the first group of faking their data, and the journal that published the research has added an editor’s note stating that the data is under review.
In June 2021, paleontologist Melanie During of Uppsala University in Sweden submitted a paper to the journal Nature, which reached the same conclusion as the later paper, that the asteroid impact occurred in spring, based on the analysis of fossilized fish at the Tanis fossil site in North Dakota.
Before During’s paper was published, a paper by a team led by Robert DePalma, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester and a former collaborator of During’s, was published in Scientific Reports, reaching the same conclusion based on a separate data set.
Both papers made their conclusions based on the analysis of fish remains from the Tanis site, which contains a wealth of marine fossils that likely died in the immediate aftermath of the asteroid impact, also known as the KT extinction.
According to an article in Science, During believes that DePalma fabricated data in order to claim credit for the research and beat During to publication.
DePalma gained significant attention in March 2019 when a New Yorker article featured the Tanis site, which he controls access to through his lease of the private land. This article was published before a research paper on the site was released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
During has stated that this is not a disagreement or a case of intellectual theft, but rather a case of misconduct.
Both papers examined isotope records and growth patterns in 66-million-year-old paddlefish jawbones and sturgeon fin spines from Tanis in order to determine the season in which the asteroid impact occurred.
Last month, During published a comment on PubPeer alleging that the data in DePalma’s paper may be fake, citing anomalies in the isotope analysis, a lack of primary data, insufficiently described methods, and the failure to specify the lab where the analyses were performed.
The isotopic data in DePalma’s paper was collected by archaeologist Curtis McKinney, who died in 2017. It is unclear where McKinney conducted these analyses, and raw data was not included in the published paper.
During has stated that this situation feels like an excuse, and that McKinney’s relatives do not deserve this treatment.
DePalma has denied fabricating data and samples to fit the results of this or any other team.
An editor’s note was added to DePalma’s paper on the Scientific Reports website on December 9 stating that the reliability of the data in the manuscript is in question and that appropriate editorial action will be taken once the matter is resolved.
On the same day, Ahlberg tweeted that he and During filed a complaint of potential research misconduct against DePalma and co-author Phillip Manning with the University of Manchester. When contacted for updates on the situation on January 3, a spokesperson for Scientific Reports stated that there were no updates to report.
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