Date sent: Fri, 25 Apr 1997 09:31:42 -0400 (EDT)
From: Benny J Peiser <>
Priority: NORMAL

Book Announcement:

Trevor Palmer:
Plenum Company: New York/London
[to be published in early 1998]

For the last 20 years, Professor Trevor Palmer has been on of
the most outstanding yet least known British chroniclers of
the paradigm shift in the natural sciences, particularly with
regards to the scientific revolution in the fields of cometary
astronomy, neo-catastrophism and evolution. Since the late
1970s, when Trevor began to write about these startling new
research findings in SIS REVIEW, he has been continuously
following the implications of impact-related research on
palaeontology and evolutionary theory.

Over the years, Trevor Palmer has been influenced by quite a
number of neo-catastrophists and SIS speakers such as Rene
Gallant, Archie Roy, Victor Clube, Ruppert Sheldrake, Chandra
Wickramasinghe - to name be a few of the British players in
this scientific drama - who have enlightened many meetings of
the Society for Interdisciplinary Studies since its foundation
in 1974.

ONGOING DEBATE, Trevor outlines a new history of evolutionary
theory, natural selection and adaptation, all of which appear
to be founded more on 19th century natural theology rather
than pure science. He shows how and why Lyell's religious
belief in uniformitarian gradualism supplanted catastrophism
by the middle of the 19th century and how, during the last 20
years, a prolonged scientific revolution has once again brought
catastrophism to the forefront of the natural sciences.

Darwinian natural selection, long thought to hold all keys to
evolution, is critically reappraised and revised in view of new
astronomical, geological and palaeontological evidence.
Trevor's book will most certainly accelerate the process of
up-dating evolutionary theory by demonstrating how the theory
of impact-generated evolution might help to explain many of
the current anomalies. Whilst Stephen Jay Gould, Niles
Eldredge, Steven Stanley or David Raup have come up with
similar speculations about punctuated equilibrium and
catastrophic evolution, Trevor Palmer has gone a step (some
would rather say a mile) further than his American colleagues.
He has applied the model of 'coherent catastrophism' by Clube,
Napier, Bailey et al. to both the evolution of hominids, homo
sapiens and human civilisation and has thereby underlined the
"erratic descent" of Man and culture.

Professor Trevor Palmer is Head of the Department of Life
Sciences and Dean of the Faculty of Science and Mathematics at
Nottingham Trent University. He is the Chairman of the Society
for Interdisciplinary Studies and (together with Professor
Mark Bailey and myself) a member of the Organising Committee
of the 2nd SIS Cambridge Conference.

Benny J Peiser



1. The Context of Evolution: The Earth and Its Surroundings.
1.1 The Solar System
1.2 Possible causes of catastrophe on Earth
1.3 The fall and rise of catastrophism.

2. The Establishment of Gradualism
2.1 Catastrophism, gradualism and evolution
2.2 Myth, cosmogony and pre-nineteenth century catastrophism
2.3 Catastrophism and evolution in early nineteenth century
2.4 Hutton and his legacy
2.5 Natural theology and diluvialism in early nineteenth
century Britain
2.6 The catastrophism-uniformitarianism debate in the 1830s
and beyond
2.7 Lamarck, Darwin and evolution
2.8 Towards a gradualistic evolutionary synthesis.

3. Gradualism under Challenge
3.1 From catastrophism to neocatastrophism
3.2 Eustasy, impacts and mass extinctions
3.3 Phyletic gradualism and quantum evolution
3.4 Punctuated equilibrium and species selection
3.5 Gould's view of life.

4. Nemesis for Evolutionary Gradualism?
4.1 Iridium, tektites and the death of the dinosaurs
4.2 Conflicting views about the K-T transition
4.3 A periodicity in extinctions?
4.4 Current views on mass extinctions.

5. The Erratic Descent of Man
5.1 Early views on human evolution
5.2 The molecular revolution
5.3 Early hominoids
5.4 Hominids
5.5 Arguments over patterns in hominid evolution
5.6 The changing environment
5.7 Our uncertain origins.

6. Towards a New Evolutionary Synthesis
6.1 Darwinism challenged and defended
6.2 Life itself - accident or design?
6.3 More heat than light - the evolution debate as reflected
in books of the early 1980s
6.4 The continuing evolution of evolution
6.5 Evolution today - Darwinism, Lamarckism, Matthewism, or
6.6 The pattern of the past, and of the future.


Date sent: Fri, 25 Apr 1997 08:32:26 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: NEO News (4/24/97)
Priority: NORMAL

NEO News (4/24/97)

Brief notes on another NEO feature film in production:

Producers of "Armageddon" visited locations at MSFC. They
are interested in filming in the neutral buoyancy tank and
at several other sites. Bruce Willis will star in the
production doomsday drama about a near earth object
impacting Earth. (from NASA)

(Paul Almond notes that "Armegeddon" is being made by
Tristar and produced by Gail Ann Hurd)


Review of "Fire in the Sky" by David Morrison:

Turner Network Television (TNT) has joined the doomsday
bandwagon with a recent revival of the early 1980s TV film
"Fire in the Sky", in which an impacting comet wipes out
Phoenix, Arizona. I saw the movie at the time of its
release and was disappointed by it. Seen again after the
NBC disaster "Asteroid", however, "Fire in the Sky" looks
pretty good by comparison!

The plot is more complex, the actors more real, and the
drama more compelling. Even the science. although seriously
flawed, is better than in the more recent film. On the
other hand, "Fire in the Sky" paints a picture of
incompetent and even venal government that is far different
from that in "Asteroid". There are no government heroes,
either elected officials or others, in "Fire in the Sky".

The basic plot is as follows. An astronomer in Tucson
spots a small comet and calculates that it might hit the
Earth at its closest approach in a few weeks. The US
President calls a meeting to discuss the issue, at which the
hero of the film, a rather independent-minded and even
abrasive astronomer (you can tell because he wears a full
beard and colored shirts), states with conviction that his
orbital calculations show not only that the comet will hit
the Earth, but that it will do so near Phoenix. Although
others scoff at his claimed precision, the President orders
the military to adapt a forthcoming Titan-Centaur launch
from Vandenburg AFB to carry two multi-megaton nuclear
explosives to intercept the comet three days before impact
and try to deflect it. Strangely, he then turns the
situation on the ground over to the Governor of Arizona,
who seems thereafter to have sole responsibility for
decisions concerning preparation for a possible hit; the
President never is seen in the drama again. After
consulting with Phoenix local politicians and business
leaders, the governor decides that announcing the possible
impact would be extremely disruptive, leading to
economic disaster for the city and possibly mass panic.
Trusting that either the prediction of a hit near Phoenix
was wrong or that the military will deflect the comet, he
decides to keep the whole thing secret. Only the hero
astronomer and one TV station owner want to release the
information so people can make their own choice as to
whether to leave, but by a combination of threats the
Governor delays them. Instead he releases an extremely
low-key statement of his own that "a few scientists
speculate that there is a slight possibility that the comet
will fall to the ground in the desert outside Phoenix". No
one notices.

It seems remarkable to me that other scientists or media
people do not catch on, and that there is no national story
and no public dialogue on this threat. Basically, the drama
continues as a purely local Phoenix matter, with the
outside world apparently uninterested. Meanwhile we see
the launch of the Titan-Centaur from Vandenburg AFB. About
4 days before impact the astronomer finally gets TV time
and provides a very graphic description of the expected
destruction from a 1-km-diameter impact -- mostly correct,
but with some absurd lines about x rays and other radiation
damage obviously lifted from a handbook on the effects of
nuclear bombs.

Still only 20% of the city evacuates. Not until 72 hours
before impact, when both of the nuclear weapons miss
(firing a second too late) does the city (and the Governor)
finally realize the magnitude of their problem. The
National Guard is called in, martial law declared, and
civil defense authorities try to direct an evacuation.
Strangely, they cannot seem to pull this off in 72 hours,
as massive gridlock blocks the highways. (In fact, Phoenix
and other American cities manage routinely to move 20% of
their population across the city by private auto every
morning during commuting rush hour). There are scenes of
last minute military airlifts from the Phoenix airport and
of thousands hauled to safety by military truck convoys,
while others head for the deepest civil defense shelters to
try to ride out the impact. The comet arrives right on
schedule, completely destroying Phoenix and (by accident)
killing both the hero astronomer and the evil governor.

There is some strange science in this film, but some that
is pretty good as well. The special effects of the comet
are terrible, portraying it as flashing like a light-house
beacon, and with tail motions speeded up by a factor of
10000 so the comet looks 10000 times too small. There are
references to both Meteor Crater and the Tunguska impact,
and the discussion of an object disintegrating in the
troposphere and producing an airburst that is more
destructive than a crater-forming impact is very good.
Also, the statement that for a 1-km-diameter object the
radius of destruction would be at least 200 miles is the
right order of magnitude.

However, the film is certainly ambiguous as to what a comet
is. In one scene the astronomer hero shows two models of
its possible composition, one a friable material like a
carbonaceous chondrite and the other a coherent rock that
looked like basalt. Arguing that this comet was coherent
rock, he explains that this makes it more dangerous than a
friable material, contradicting the earlier point about the
greater destructive potential of an airburst. In fact, the
film shows the comet hitting the ground, but we never see
the crater it must have formed. The above-mentioned fear of
x rays is absurd, but when we come to the impact itself the
event is portrayed as a straightforward earthquake (Richter
8) and blast wave, with no fires lit and no "radiation".
There is nothing nearly so bad as the multiple small
impacts depicted in "Asteroid". In both this respect and
the use of nuclear explosives rather than lasers to deflect
the object, the older film is much more technically
accurate. The same can be said for the even older feature
film "Meteor", which also is far better in both science
and drama than was "Asteroid". Of these three films, "Fire
in the Sky" is the only one with a realistic depiction of
the discovery of an NEO on an Earth-impacting trajectory;
both of the others conjure up an absurd story about a comet
breaking up or dislodging an asteroid and directing it
toward Earth on short notice. Based on this distinction
alone, "Fire in the Sky" has my vote as the best NEO impact
disaster film so far.

David Morrison

CCCMENU CCC for 1997