How we reported a controversial story about the day the dinosaurs died


This is part of the Transparency Project. Learn more about the project here. This article refers to a story originally published in April 2019, “New fossils may capture the minutes after the dinosaur-killing asteroid impact.”

How did you find this story?

This was an unusual story for us because it was based not only on a research paper published in a scientific journal, which is the type of study we usually cover, but also touched on a profile in the New Yorker that described tantalizing findings not mentioned in the research study, particularly suggestions of dinosaur fossils found at Tanis.

Paleontologists reactions to the profile tended to range from skeptical to outraged: Finding dinosaur fossils right at the KPg boundary is a big deal, and big claims require big proof; they need to be verifiable by other scientists. Many of the early news stories that emerged were about the controversy and the profile, and the actual research paper got buried in the brouhaha. But I wondered whether the skepticism extended to the much more modest claims of the paper. I felt that there was an interesting science story buried in there.

How did you decide who to speak to for the story?

Even without any dinosaur fossils, I thought the paper was interesting as a possible “snapshot” of the day of the asteroid impact. And I was curious about whether other scientists thought this claim was plausible based on the evidence presented.

I spoke with experts on sediments, on vertebrate and invertebrate fossils, and on the KPg boundary, to get people to weigh in on as many aspects of the evidence as I could. Ill note that all of the sources that I talked with by phone are mentioned in the story; one source, paleontologist Steve Brusatte, talked with me online but wasnt able to talk by phone within my limited timeframe, and his quotes didnt end up in the final version. However, I did feel that the main gist of his concerns about the New Yorker story, that big claims need big proof and that that proof hadnt been presented, were represented by other voices in the story.

What questions did we ask that we didnt include?

I had enough material for three different stories, and in the end it came down to what story I thought I could do the most justice to. As the drama unfolded, paleontologist Robert DePalma got a lot of personal and professional criticisms, including suggestions that he was sRead More – Source