../shake/Science Notes  -- Summer 1998
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WING AND SLOAN found themselves at opposite ends of the debate, but they agreed on one thing: if fossil gatherers and paleoclimate modelers ignored each others' work, they would miss a great opportunity to understand what the climate was like 55 million years ago, and how it got that way.
      And so, to the surprise of their colleagues, these two scientists started talking to each other at scientific meetings, keeping the lines of communication open even as they disagreed. Wing ultimately decided to come to UC Santa Cruz as a visiting scientist to work with Sloan. "We had this lively discussion about who was right," he says. "I thought it would be much more fun to talk about it in one place."
      Says Sloan, "My hope is that we'll publish a paper together, after nine years of saying, 'She's wrong,' 'He's narrow-minded.'"
      "It's the most productive argument I've ever been involved in," says Wing.
      Fossil gatherers and paleoclimate modelers use very different tools and methods to study a time so distant that any conclusions they reach are based on shaky assumptions.
      Paleontology is the older science: more than 150 years of fossil research point to the warm winters Wing and other paleontologists continue to study. Only since the advent of the supercomputer in 1976 have researchers used models to study the whys and hows of the Earth's climate.
      Paleontology proceeds in small incremental steps as new fossils are unearthed, identified, and analyzed. Each new fossil adds one data point to an already massive body of knowledge. Computer modeling leaps ahead with startling new results, predicting how greenhouse gases or changes in shoreline could have affected the ancient climate.
      But these two disparate approaches feed off each other. Modeling relies on data from the field, such as temperatures, geography, and ages, to make its broad predictions. Fossil hunters and geologists then look for new data to uphold or challenge the model's predictions. The exchange continues as modelers incorporate the new data into their theories. Neither method would explain as much about our world without progress in the other

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