How dating uncertainties affect the detection of periodicity in extinctions and craters

Julia Heisler, Scott Tremaine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

28 Scopus citations


Claims of a highly significant detection of a period of 25-30 myr in the records of major extinction events and large craters have prompted us to examine how dating errors degrade a periodic signal. We ran Monte Carlo simulations in which we placed eight events at equal time intervals and then displaced each event by a random error chosen from a normal distribution. If the r.m.s. error is greater than about 13% of the period, the periodic data is usually no longer distinguishable from random data at the 90% confidence level. At present, the r.m.s. dating errors in extinction episodes and craters over the last 250 myr are at least 6 myr or ≳20% of a 25- to 30-myr period. We conclude that even if a periodicity were present, it would not normally be detected at a statistically significant level by the tests used in the literature. The apparent periodicity is probably due to a statistical fluke or subjective bias.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-219
Number of pages7
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1989


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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