Tuesday, December 28, 2010

ZenTiger Arsenic and Old Lace

I thought NASA discovering life based on arsenic (link: 2 Dec 2010) fairly interesting. It seemed just one step away from confirming the existence of the acid-blooded monster Sigourney Weaver had to deal to in the "Alien" series of movies.

The astrobiology finding revealed the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using arsenic, suggesting that NASA could start to look for life on planets previously ignored.

NASA scientists found bacteria living in arsenic in a California lake, a discovery that will impact the search for extraterrestrial life forms. The finding, presented by NASA at a press conference today, was preceded by intense media speculation about the possibility that the U.S. agency would announce that it had found life in outer space.

But was it really a genuinely game changing discovery or just dodgy science?

Dr Redfield has come up with an analysis of that startling discovery that I find more convincing.
NASA's shameful analysis of the alleged bacteria in the Mars meteorite made me very suspicious of their microbiology, an attitude that's only strengthened by my reading of this paper. Basically, it doesn't present ANY convincing evidence that arsenic has been incorporated into DNA (or any other biological molecule).
Mind you, I'm not a scientist, but Dr Redfield most certainly is. It also raises some interesting flaws in the peer review process. Opening up the data to the internet enables informal peer reviews to be triggered and debated, as is the case here. It's a powerful option, and may be far better than cloistered reviews falling into the group-think traps we saw hinted in ClimateGate. Just another reason for open access to information can only help advance science, not hinder it.

Here's Dr Rosie Redfield's post here on NASA's alien life forms: Arsenic-associated Bacteria

Here's one of the many NASA related articles: Arsenic and Old Lace

3 comment(s):

Andrei said...

Whenever a scientific breakthrough is announced by press release before being published and scrutinized in the relevant journals you can count on the fact it is dodgy.

And that is what happened here

Anonymous said...

What's the big deal?

This is the beauty of science and the scientific process; it is self correcting.

Unlike religion, science is always looking to disprove and to progress, not block eyes to evidence and stagnate.

Compare the science done at Nasa, with, say, the "science" done at the Discovery Institute and see where the track record leads.

ZenTiger said...

It depends how it is used LRO. For example, testing vaccines and new medicines on children in Africa to minimise the fallout of bad results (but, hey, they will be self-correcting on the next batch of kids they test on), or grandiose statements made by NASA that some people took (for some strange reason) as proof there is no God) and that brings us to your next point - in Christianity, there is continual thought and discussion on religious issues, just as there are in the world of science. When both areas decide they can answer the other area is where mistakes are often made, and science speaking on religious matters only serves to hinder and stagnate the field because it loses its purity.

There is plenty of examples of "bad science" and the Climate Change field is full of it - it's one thing to say it will be self correcting, it's another to recognise political decisions are being made on the backs of these Climate Change pronouncements.

And that's the other thing to understand - both religion and science can be hijacked by politics. It's the politics you need to separate from mix.

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