Chapter 5: Reverberations from Scientists
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A Courageous Editorial Decision
Just a few months after Damon's letter and my response were published, another criticism of my work
appeared in the August 14, 1979, issue of EOS (York 1979). The author was Dr. Derek York of the
University of Toronto, a highly respected geochronologist who had also participated in the LSU symposium,
Time: In Full Measure, mentioned under the heading "Debating the Time Scale"
in Chapter 4. His article
was not based on any of his own experimental observations about polonium halos. Instead, he promoted
Henderson's idea of a secondary origin from uranium and criticized me for not accepting it. He did not mention
that he had heard my presentation on halos at the LSU symposium. Initially there was no opportunity for me to
rebut York's criticisms, for he never informed me that his article was to be published. My letter of objection (to
Spilhaus) concerning this silence is quoted in part below, along with his reply:
|[p. 67]||(October 23, 1979)|
Dear Dr. Spilhaus:
I have spent a great deal of time working on the response to Derek York's direct attack on my research. I
could have helped York avoid some embarrassing remarks if he had only shared his article with me prior to
publication. . . . But whatever the reason for York's secrecy, I cannot let his misrepresentations of
my work go unanswered. Actually, there is much more I could have said—and may yet have to
say—about his comments on my work.
The length of this manuscript is about half that of York's article, and, in fact, about the same length as my
response to Paul Damon's letter.
Be assured that I have high personal regard for Derek York, even though I have had to take exception to his
/s/ Robert V. Gentry
(November 14, 1979)
Dear Dr. Gentry:
I have forwarded your article to one of the EOS Associate Editors for review with regard to quality
of the substance and for consideration of its suitability for publication in EOS. These will be difficult
questions. Our decision will rest on whether your present letter makes any substantive addition to the discussion
and on the completeness and validity of the work on which it is based. New material may also be rejected by
EOS as it is not an appropriate medium for original publication of scientific results.
/s/ Fred Spilhaus
Months passed with no further word from Spilhaus about my response to York's article. Finally, after five
months had elapsed, I received a letter from Spilhaus, stating that he would be willing to publish a shorter version
of my response. However, his suggested version did not include enough detail to properly answer all of York's
criticisms; so I wrote Dr. Spilhaus again. Quoted below are both his letter to me and my subsequent letter to
I enclose a cut down version of the letter you submitted in response to York's paper on polonium halos. I
would be willing to publish this in EOS immediately.
I believe that publication of this letter would call attention to the principal exceptions you take to his
remarks. In the interests of conducting the scientific process in an orderly way, more extended technical
discussion should be directed to journals devoted to the publication of original research and/or reviews.
(April 28, 1980)
As per your suggestion, I would very much hope that Derek York and others will eventually publish some
original research material on radiohalos in specialty journals. And for your sake I am willing to make some
significant concessions on the length of my reply and not demand that my original version be published. But I
would also hope that you could see why my few brief technical comments need to be incorporated into the
First, to give Derek the privilege of making technical criticisms of my research while denying me the
privilege of specifically responding to those comments constitutes discrimination against a minority view. It
would be a case of the establishment attempting to suppress unpopular evidence. You have not struck me as the
sort of individual who would agree to this sort of thing.
Second, for me not to specifically respond to Derek's technical comments would leave the impression that I
don't have a response, or else it would have been published. After all, a rebuttal is meaningless if it simply says
I am right and the other guy is wrong.
Third, it would seem that if this question is ever going to be resolved, those few technical comments need
to be put in so that when the next fellow comes along and takes a shot at me, he will at least be firing at the
right target. Let me explain. It is conceivable, I think, that Derek read my reports but simply did not catch the
significance of the difference in the Po halos in granites and coalified wood. This difference is absolutely
crucial to any proposed explanation of Po halos in granites and needs to [p. 69] be briefly spelled out so that
other researchers won't go down blind alleys thinking they have solved the problem. Here I want to emphasize
that my brief technical response to Derek is not a matter of publishing new data; it is simply that of clarifying
data which has already been published but which has been misinterpreted.
So, Fred, I am returning to you a revised version of my reply, which is basically the version you sent to me
with the technical comments added. The last sentence or so has been modified to make up for the loss of the
background material that has been left out. And one very important citation has been restored to the references
along with one or two word changes here and there.
In closing let me again remind you that I did not instigate this discussion and I am not trying to turn it into a
cause célèbre. I am of the opinion, however, that there are some individuals who may want to do this if they
knew about my difficulties in getting this reply published. In this respect, as volatile as this subject is, there is
also a possibility it could turn into a mini-Watergate if some within the news media suspected there was an
attempt to suppress or coverup my rebuttal evidence. For your sake I am sincerely hoping this does not
As before, I am requesting that you have the galley proofs sent to me before publication. I have come a long
way, and I don't even want a misspelled word to come out under my name, much less an inadvertently omitted
word that could change the meaning of a sentence.
I know you have been under great pressure about this situation, and I am trying not to make it any harder on
you. Your efforts to be fair are greatly appreciated.
Certainly I still greatly appreciate his efforts. Much was at stake in my work. It was imperative that I be given
the right to respond because York had completely ignored the two main features of my letter in the May 29, 1979,
issue of EOS (Gentry 1979), namely, the challenge to synthesize a piece of granite and the reference to
Professor Norman Feather's conclusions relative to the origin of polonium halos in micas.
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