Shootout At The K/T Boundary

Several years ago, paleontologist Dewey M. McLean stepped to the podium at a conference on the climatological effects of volcanoes. The silver-haired professor from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute looked out over the packed house like a pastor surveying his flock. He was about to deliver a sermon— well, a paper actually—that would take on one of the exalted among his priesthood—the redoubtable Nobel laureate Luis W. Alvarez. Specifically, McLean was about to challenge Alva

Bruce Fellman
Oct 2, 1988

Several years ago, paleontologist Dewey M. McLean stepped to the podium at a conference on the climatological effects of volcanoes. The silver-haired professor from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute looked out over the packed house like a pastor surveying his flock. He was about to deliver a sermon— well, a paper actually—that would take on one of the exalted among his priesthood—the redoubtable Nobel laureate Luis W. Alvarez. Specifically, McLean was about to challenge Alvarez’s well-publicized theory that an asteroid had caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and thousands of other species 65 million years ago. The real angel of death, he would argue, was a “greenhouse effect” caused by intense volcanic activity.

The audience of scientists was looking forward to the talk; most of them were fellow heretics. But before McLean could begin, something started roaring outside the auditorium. The noise grew quickly, and as it reached near-deafening dimensions, McLean...