Skeptical science: meteorite aliens bring out the armchair experts

opinions by Ryan Maue

While we breathlessly await the publication of “critical reviews” from the soon to be defunct Journal of Cosmology, experts from a variety of fields are crawling over each other to denounce the claims of Dr. Hoover, who claimed to found definitive proof of alien life from extraterrestrial meteorites (Meteorite Alien Life).  It would be an interesting exercise to compare the immediate broad-spectrum skepticism of this study to, let’s say, the Nature flood papers or the contrived Union of Concerned Scientists snowjob conference call.  But, one could describe the reception of pro-global warming literature, whether peer-reviewed or not, as quite partisan in nature.  So what has triggered this inherent skepticism of Dr. Hoover’s research, which is grandiose and ground-breaking, or something?

As mentioned in the Gawker blog post by Adrien Chen yesterday, Fox News apparently had the “exclusive” first crack at breaking Hoover’s research paper.  You can set your watch by this — whenever Fox News is mentioned in the first few sentences of an article or blog posting, expect biased and vitriolic language to follow — even in this new era of civility.  Dr. PZ Myers, a University of Minnesota biologist, accurately and more than adequately disassembles the claims of Dr. Hoover with humor and wit.  I’ll snip and encourage you to read his own blog.

Fox News broke the story, which ought to make one immediately suspicious — it’s not an organization noted for scientific acumen. But even worse, the paper claiming the discovery of bacteria fossils in carbonaceous chondrites was published in … the Journal of Cosmology. I’ve mentioned Cosmology before — it isn’t a real science journal at all, but is the ginned-up website of a small group of crank academics obsessed with the idea of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe that life originated in outer space and simply rained down on Earth. It doesn’t exist in print, consists entirely of a crude and ugly website that looks like it was sucked through a wormhole from the 1990s, and publishes lots of empty noise with no substantial editorial restraint. For a while, it seemed to be entirely the domain of a crackpot named Rhawn Joseph who called himself the emeritus professor of something mysteriously called the Brain Research Laboratory, based in the general neighborhood of Northern California (seriously, that was the address: “Northern California”), and self-published all of his pseudo-scientific “publications” on this web site.

In this instance,  the gratuitous reference to Fox News in the first sentence immediately soils the otherwise readable post.  Obviously, Dr. Myers does not have the ability to separate the hard news and opinion shows on Fox News, since there is little evidence of how this NASA discovery exclusive is evidence of any bias.  It simply detracts from a very good article, and turns off readers who do not watch MSNBC or wrap their dead fish with the NY Times editorial pages.

He brings up near the end a very cogent argument on how science matriculates, and ideas are vetted:

While they’re at it, maybe they should try publishing it in a journal with some reputation for rigorous peer review and expectation that the data will meet certain minimal standards of evidence and professionalism.

I agree completely.  And, whenever the Union of Concerned Scientists or World Wildlife Fund marches to the podium with some obvious politically tinged research, I’ll expect the same level of skepticism from both sides of the proverbial aisle.  The hair trigger response to a “Fox News exclusive” has brought out the armchair experts, who have unloaded a salvo of rhetorical firepower at the listing Journal of Cosmology.  Unfortunately, in their zeal to score a partisan political point, most neglected to see the rest of the media reported the same exclusive story.  This is called “science by press release”, and it has to stop.

/sarc alert

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101 thoughts on “Skeptical science: meteorite aliens bring out the armchair experts

  1. “Dr. PZ Myers, a University of Minnesota biologist, accurately and more than adequately disassembles the claims of Dr. Hoover with humor and wit. I’ll snip and encourage you to read his own blog.”

    PZ Myers is one of the ugliest personalities on this planet as well as a 100% supporter of consensus science. You ought to take more care in who you treat kindly. I’ll assume it’s sheer ignorance of Myers on your part. Try reading the comments on his blog and compare the “civility” to this blog, dummy.

    [ryanm: i think just got the point of the whole blog posting ;-) ]

  2. Such is the world.
    It is easy to see the errors when others do it, but not so easy to look critically at oneself. Or in simpler form, double standard.

  3. Coupla things stand out in the blog article: The predictable FoxNews rant and disdain for pseudo science. I then read the FoxNews article and found they added nothing to the story but simply reported what they learned from the pro and anti sides of the issue. The FoxNews writer seemed skeptical with “hard to swallow” but otherwise it was pretty typical of what you get in most MSM and press. So what we have is a guy ranting about pseudo science based solely on the organization involved, and bad reporting based on the new outlet alone, and most importantly, shredding any notion he may have of impartiality in the science or the messenger.

    I vote for finding a better representative of the anti-life in alien meteors faction. Someone who ignores the letterheads and focuses on the science.

  4. between overs in the world cup cricket, i foolishly turned on the news channels, including Fox News, to see what they were headlining.
    Fox had Steven Solomon, author of “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization”, talking of Pakistan running out of water because of the melting Himalayan glaciers. here’s a taste of Solomon:

    7 Dec 2009: HuffPost: Steven Solomon: Water Is The New Oil
    Extreme droughts, floods, melting glaciers and other water cycle-related effects of global warming are why there’ll likely be 150 million global climate refugees within a decade…
    Although no Al Gore of water has yet arisen to sound the political clarion, radically improved efficiency — which the combination of free market forces and water ecosystem regulations have begun modestly to produce — is the best solution…

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-solomon/water-is-the-new-oil_b_380803.html

    Fox followed with a lengthy piece on the UK releasing secret UFO files, same as Sky a few days previous:

    3 March: Sky News: Secret UFO Files Document Hundreds of Sightings

    http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/03/03/secret-ufo-files-document-hundreds-sightings/?intcmp=obinsite

    now Fox has this:

    5 March: Fox: Garrett Tenney: Exclusive: NASA Scientist Claims Evidence of Alien Life on Meteorite
    That’s the stunning conclusion one NASA scientist has come to, releasing his groundbreaking revelations in a new study in the March edition of the Journal of Cosmology.
    Dr. Richard B. Hoover, an astrobiologist with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, has traveled to remote areas in Antarctica, Siberia, and Alaska, amongst others, for over ten years now, collecting and studying meteorites. He gave FoxNews.com early access to the out-of-this-world research, published late Friday evening in the March edition of the Journal of Cosmology. In it, Hoover describes the latest findings in his study of an extremely rare class of meteorites, called CI1 carbonaceous chondrites — only nine such meteorites are known to exist on Earth..

    http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/03/05/exclusive-nasa-scientists-claims-evidence-alien-life-meteorite/?test=latestnews

    Fox is not the only media pushing such stories lately, but what is the purpose?

  5. Maybe we should have Fox News report that CAGW is real. That should put the last nail in its coffin. :-)

    And ethanol subsidies are good, wind power works, Obamacare is great…

  6. Hoover has a list of publications in mainstream journals a mile long.

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?as_q=&num=100&btnG=Search+Scholar&as_epq=richard+b+hoover&as_oq=&as_eq=&as_occt=any&as_sauthors=%22rb+hoover%22&as_publication=&as_ylo=&as_yhi=&as_sdt=1.&as_sdtf=&as_sdts=33&hl=en&as_vis=1 (over 300)

    As well as 10 patents:

    http://www.google.com/patents?hl=&sourceid=navclient-ff&rlz=1B3GGGL_enUS290US290&ie=UTF-8&q=%22richard+b.+hoover%22

    PZ Myers on the other hand has less than a tenth the number of publications and none of them have jack diddly squat to do with prokaryotes or extremophiles. If you want to know about the mating habits of zebra fish then associate professor of biology PZ Myers at the prestigious (ha ha) cow-town extension campus of the University of Minnesota then he’s the go-to guy. Outside that he’s a babbling blunderbuss of ignorant opinions.

    [ryanm: blunderbuss reference gets bonus points. you see now what i was getting at?]

  7. Dr Hoover found something in this piece of material. Here is a chance to do some science. Can someone give an explanation that they are satisfied with?

  8. The Journal of Cosmology is an absolute joke. And it will stop “publication” in May because of “liars and thieves” per a press release last month.

    Hoover may be a legit scientist, but JoS clearly has a pro-ET mantra. You can go back to their first article back in Oct 2009 and go from there. Maybe you’ll like the thought-provoking “Sex on Mars” paper, too.

    Hoover submitting his “paper” to this “journal” is either a “mauronic” move or an act of pure desperation while being unable to get his research published at a legitimate journal.

  9. The Journal of Cosmology is about as reputable and “peer reviewed” as Real Climate.

  10. OT but as frightening:

    1. Geographic disparities and moral hazards in the predicted impacts of climate change on human populations
    J. Samson1,*, D. Berteaux2, B. J. McGill3, M. M. Humphries1Article first published online: 17 FEB 2011
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1466-8238.2010.00632.x
    “Keywords:Climate change;climate vulnerability;demography;ecological niche model;geographically weighted regression;human populations;moral hazard
    ABSTRACT
    It has been qualitatively understood for a long time Aim that climate change will have widely varying effects on human well-being in different regions of the world. The spatial complexities underlying our relationship to climate and the geographical disparities in human demographic change have, however, precluded the development of global indices of the predicted regional impacts of climate change on humans. Humans will be most negatively affected by climate change in regions where populations are strongly dependent on climate and favourable climatic conditions decline. Here we use the relationship between the distribution of human population density and climate as a basis to develop the first global index of predicted impacts of climate change on human populations.
    Global. Location
    We use spatially explicit models of the present relationship between Methods human population density and climate along with forecasted climate change to predict climate vulnerabilities over the coming decades. We then globally represent regional disparities in human population dynamics estimated with our ecological niche model and with a demographic forecast and contrast these disparities with CO2 emissions data to quantitatively evaluate the notion of moral hazard in climate change policies.
    Strongly negative impacts of climate change are predicted in Central Results America, central South America, the Arabian Peninsula, Southeast Asia and much of Africa. Importantly, the regions of greatest vulnerability are generally distant from the high-latitude regions where the magnitude of climate change will be greatest. Furthermore, populations contributing the most to greenhouse gas emissions on a per capita basis are unlikely to experience the worst impacts of climate change, satisfying the conditions for a moral hazard in climate change policies.
    Regionalized analysis of relationships between distribution Main conclusions of human population density and climate provides a novel framework for developing global indices of human vulnerability to climate change. The predicted consequences of climate change on human populations are correlated with the factors causing climate change at the regional level, providing quantitative support for many qualitative statements found in international climate change assessments.”

  11. Pat

    The story on UFO files was widely reported, including on the BBC. It has been long time coming, and the news was made even greater when they realised that the most credible encounter’s files were put through a shredder. The reason for the shredding was also put through a shredder. That got the UFO believers excited, which makes an interesting story even juicer.

    This meteorite topic and UFO story are not related at all, and I can’t see any reason why they should be linked. In my view, dates both articles were posted on is nothing but coincidence.

  12. I’m just astonished that PZ Myers thinks that journal peer review is meant to be “robust”. As PZ can plainly see the real review is happening in the open: on blogs.

    PZ writes too angrily to be taken seriously. When he dials down the rhetoric (and he does occasionally), he’s an excellent writer.

  13. Could this have been a giant ruse to discredit Fox at a time when News Corp is buying Sky. If PZ Myers is hailed as a wit and we are encouraged to read his blog, you know that something is rotten in Denmark.

  14. The main controversy around this paper, is, if I understand it right, that it is just a repeat of this guy’s earlier paper, and nothing new has been done, except another Press Release.

    Now shut up and enjoy Brasil’s Carnival.

  15. Pat, you clearly have not been watching the last two England games … a dramatic tie and a dramatic loss!!!

  16. I have pretty much the same visceral reaction to the name P.Z. Myers that Dr. Myers has to Fox News. He is an odious little mind who has done quite enough to promote science as a new religion rather than a rational method of inquiry. One is often defined by one’s enemies: it seems I’ve developed a sudden affection for Dr. Hoover and his theory.

  17. Ha, ha. Fox is doing exactly the right thing when it gets this kind of attention from the leftist/statist/pseudo-intellectuals!

  18. TomRude says:
    March 6, 2011 at 4:07 pm
    “OT but as frightening:

    1. Geographic disparities and moral hazards in the predicted impacts of climate change on human populations”

    They missed the UK. (Energy security and all that…) Think they gotta recalibrate their model.

  19. “This is called “science by press release”, and it has to stop.”

    Why should it stop? The beast is always hungry. If he’s not fed he gets very angry and uncontrollable.

  20. Robert of Ottawa says:
    March 6, 2011 at 4:56 pm
    “Pat, you clearly have not been watching the last two England games … a dramatic tie and a dramatic loss!!!”

    And another dramatic win against South Africa last night!

  21. Good grief! How did the discussion get so angry?

    It’s going to be a tough sell to expect people to believe there are exobacterial fossils in any meteors, certainly by SEM. And for sure, you can’t expect life to develop inside one, or inside a comet. Temperature wrong, and a lot of other things.

    And don’t expect exobiology to have DNA or amino acids exactly like ours. For one thing, the stereochemistry could be reversed even if the stomic arrangement were the same. What drives terrestrial biology has depended deeply on the local abundance of elements and physical conditions. Some species have arisen that substitute elements occasionally as necessary to expand into a new niche.

    I might buy the idea of life being blasted off of Mars, freezing, and then falling onto Earth. But that seems to require too many low probability events to be satisfactory, and besides, life had to originate somewhere first.

    Chemical evolution leading to biological evolution is a much more satisfying explanation, and there is even hidden evidence for it in the genetic code. Chemically related amino acids use related codons. The process is driven by a principle called the hypercycle in which cooperativity results in more efficient use of available energy to outcompete other “species”. Order is generated spontaneously in the local system, while disorder is created in the universe, so there is no violation of the second law of thermodynamics.

    The concept of the hypercycle is independent of the particular chemistry involved, however it requires an energy-consuming process of replication of the components of the system that may cooperate or compete, and an opportunity for change that leads to new opportunities selected by replication efficiency gains. Translated, it explains a general process whereby life can originate spontaneously under conditions where certain prerequisite conditions are met. They need not be Earth-like.

    See:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis

    If you want to get a headache, read this:

    http://www.physik.uzh.ch/groups/aegerter/teaching/Biophys/eigen.pdf

    Or instead, go to the library and get:
    Sci Am. 1981 Apr;244(4):88-92, 96, et passim.
    (The Scientific Amercian version is much easier to digest, but I can’t find a link).

  22. the Nature flood papers or the contrived Union of Concerned Scientists snowjob conference call

    Nature should be feeling shame and embarrassment for treating these new stories about record cold and snow at lower latitudes being caused by global warming with so much importance. Global warming ‘science’ had never predicted these things would happen. All the ‘predictions’ that global warming would cause that, or the so called scientific explanations of why it was caused by global warming, came after the fact and were rushed into the public before the process of proper peer review could take place. That is not how science is supposed to work. But since it was done that way it makes it clear that motivations other than true scientific research were in play.

    Nature also treats Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) poorly.

    These issues lead me to think Nature’s modus operandi is not purely science but selling magazines.

  23. @ Wucash: Concerning UFO’s I would agree. My personal take is that there is substantial evidence for them in significant numbers. The best reference book is at this site since these interviews are with military persons that have more experience around aircraft and how they appear than the average observer:

    http://www.ufohastings.com/index.html

    Another good site by a nuclear physicist:

    http://www.stantonfriedman.com/index.php?ptp=articles&fdt=2006.11.10

    http://www.stantonfriedman.com/

    Of course if it were commonly accepted that they have been or are routinely present then we wouldn’t need SETI, and the public pucker factor would also greatly intensify. As for actual contact, I can just imagine having one sitting next to us in the office and since much of humanity has trouble getting along even with their own, I imagine that he would come to an unhealthy end in a relatively short time.
    Although I have never seen anything that I could identify as an alien operated vehicle, I did see one of the green fireballs in the 1960′s; weather was clear/early evening, ball was about 2′ in diameter @ about 100 feet away, the same intense green as a stop light with a “flaming” surface, then trailed a few red sparks and went out as a light bulb being turned off :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_fireballs

    Personally I would guess a plasma ball of some kind probably from singlet oxygen (upper atmosphere) since this is one of the few gases capable of generating that color.
    They were apparently fairly common over nuclear test sites.
    I have also been fortunate to observe artificially generated ball lighting resulting from a power line short caused by insulator failure in high winds. That plasma ball was ~1-2′ in dia., almost too bright to look at directly and appeared to have weight as it had a parabolic path for a distance of some 300′. This instance would tend to confirm at least one theory that oxidizing metal ions, in this case from the wires, are the energy feed for the ball.

  24. Robert of Ottawa says:
    March 6, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Now shut up and enjoy Brasil’s Carnival.

    I wish I was there. A girl I know in Brazil promised such wonderful things to me if I’d just visit her during Carnaval.

    but, we digress

  25. “While they’re at it, maybe they should try publishing it in a journal with some reputation for rigorous peer review and expectation that the data will meet certain minimal standards of evidence and professionalism.”

    Oops. Doesn’t that leave out every journal that has ever published an AGW paper?

  26. BFL,
    SETI is a waste of time and money not because of UFO phenomena, but because it is increasingly clear that high power radio transmissions are a transient phenomena of late industrial age technologies and are not going to be in general use for much longer in human history. For this reason, any other civilization that follows a similar development path will only transmit similar radio signals for 100-200 years before transitioning to low power transmissions, closed data networks, and highly encrypted radio signals generally indistinguishable from background noise.

    Thus, unless the other civilization is at an almost identical level of development (considered impossible) and unless the transmissions of another civilization reach our solar system at the same time we are listening for them, then SETI will never detect anything. This doesnt mean that intelligent civilizations arent out there, just that they are either less developed than us, or are more developed than us, so we simply are incapable of communicating with them.

  27. “I might buy the idea of life being blasted off of Mars, freezing, and then falling onto Earth.”

    For a while Mars may have been able to play Greece to Earths Rome. Mars may have been more ‘habitable’ than the Earth, especially had Earth had a massive collision that remelted it and threw up enough matter into orbit to make an over sized moon.
    Life evolving on Mars, transferred to Earth, and then Mars dying is possible. Unlikely, but possible.

  28. Amino Acids in Meteorites says:
    March 6, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    “I wish I was there. A girl I know in Brazil promised such wonderful things to me if I’d just visit her during Carnaval.

    but, we digress”

    Woah, there! Now you’ve taken this topic somewhere worth going you can’t just walk away! This community stands ready to give you some immediate, post scientific peer review provided you adequately develop your treatise. ;)

  29. Mike Lorrey,

    We had just better hope the Borg isn’t within twenty or thirty light years. They’ll consider us a pushover: click

    …and certifiably crazy.

  30. Now wait a minute, I thought that NASA was the arbiter in all matters in science and engineering. James Hansen is the climate authority, no questions asked. NASA is diagnosing Toyotas for acceleration problems, despite the fact that they do not design cars. Now an astrobiologist declares that he had found evidence for life on other worlds. So by the above examples we should just accept it without skepticism right? Is this any more far fetched than CO2 being the primary driver of climate for the globe? I think not, given the data presented so far. So where next for this discovery? Maybe they could use those supercomputers to model the evolution of this fossil into James Hanson and circle would be complete.

  31. IMO (but Os are like axxxholes – everybody’s got one), the chances of extra-terrrestrial life are close to 100% (See 1. below), but the chances of contact/detection of any sort are vanishingly small (2, 3 and 4).

    1. Why should this planet be so special ?
    2. Well established DNA-based organisms here will feed off any poor organic fragment unfortunate enough to arrive.
    3. SETI is bound to fail because of excessive distances and times and because the chances of coincidental windows of opportunity, here and there, must be V small, particularly because, IMO (ditto), evolution’s experiment with intelligance seems to be a failure.
    4. Do not fossilized/resident organisms riding on arriving detritus, even if only from Mars etc., let alone from outside the solar system or elsewhere inside or outside our galaxy, get too well irradiated/fried to make them far from ideal specimens for realistic detection?

    Accordingly, Dr Hoover’s work seems to betray someone with nothing better to do and some sort of supervisory failure by NASA. Not the sort of thing that should be allowed in the present economic climate.

  32. Smokey: “We had just better hope the Borg isn’t within twenty or thirty light years. They’ll consider us a pushover…and certifiably crazy.”

    If there has been actual alien contact with major government leaders, my take would be that based upon our historical treatment of our own kind, we would have been advised that we are herewith confined to the local solar system and any attempt to extend our reach would result in dire consequences.

  33. There is a red haired alien is the US to have talks with Barry at the moment, the way she talks is a dead give away as no one on this planet from any nation talks with her accent or total disregard for the truth.

  34. Never understood some peoples absolute insistence that life on earth rained down from comets, or meteors from Mars, etc. Why is it so difficult to believe that life managed to come to be on a planet that had perfect conditions for it (even when the atmosphere was very different)? My take on life supposedly found in rocks in the Antarctic (if it exists), is they were ejecta from a previous impact on the earth, that made it out to space for a while, then finally fell back to the surface.

  35. In Australia, Science Reporters for the government’s (very pro-CAGW) ABC Radio have run with this story. I heard one describe it as perhaps the most important scientific discovery of the year.

  36. In this instance, the gratuitous reference to Fox News in the first sentence immediately soils the otherwise readable post. Obviously, Dr. Myers does not have the ability to separate the hard news and opinion shows on Fox News, since there is little evidence of how this NASA discovery exclusive is evidence of any bias. It simply detracts from a very good article, and turns off readers who do not watch MSNBC or wrap their dead fish with the NY Times editorial pages.

    This is classic. Independents rank Fox News as the least trust-worthy of mainstream news networks. The notion that some supposed categorical distinction between Fox’s News and its opinion shows somehow inoculates against charges that Fox News promotes false information is ridiculous.

    [ryanm: when the rest of the media is in-the-tank liberal for Obama, it naturally sounds like heresy when Fox News attempts to provide both sides of an issue. moderates and independents simply can't make up their minds about anything]

    http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/dec10/Misinformation_Dec10_rpt.pdf

  37. Hoser said
    “And don’t expect exobiology to have DNA or amino acids exactly like ours. For one thing, the stereochemistry could be reversed even if the stomic arrangement were the same. What drives terrestrial biology has depended deeply on the local abundance of elements and physical conditions. Some species have arisen that substitute elements occasionally as necessary to expand into a new niche.”

    You’ve just described a perfect example of whats known as the ” Anthropomorphic Problem.”
    If there is alien life or bacteria out there, the odds are that it won’t be anything similar to life on Earth. Humans can be unimaginative, and when we think of aliens, we almost always go to some bipedal creature, two eyes, a mouth, etc.
    Yet the odds are of that happening almost nothing. We obviously wouldnt know anything the enviroment it came from, how it evolved, etc. and chances are, would be nothing like us whatsoever.
    It might be in gas form, so we couldnt breathe it in. It probably wont be symmetrical by any means. ( A trapezoid shaped alien…interesting.)
    We would almost certainly not be able to communicate with it, as it would obviously not speak a word like anything on Earth. ( Or even speak at all) It might communicate through signs, or high pitched noises, maybe even something undetectable to the human ear.
    This one one problem researchers involved in the UFO field have tried to figure out for years, and probably wont be solved until we experience an actual encounter with extraterrestrial life.
    So unfortunately we will probably never suffer an Attack of the 50 Woman. :)

  38. Folks, take a million random rocks on Earth. Earth, the planet we know is chuck full of bacteria. You will likely NOT find a single bacterial fossil. Yet, NASA claims to have found two fossil bacteria bearing rocks in a decade from like 8 rocks. This is mathematical lunacy and therefore immediately makes me suspect of the motive like the need for maintain funding with a Republican Congress looking to find targets for cutting spending.

    Go “random” fossil hunting if you don’t believe — you will rapidly see how insane this claim is. There are times I fossil hunt from my car :-) because I can identify which rocks are fossil bearing and which are not — because random is exactly how not to find any fossil of any sort. The Martian rocks which made it to Earth were not pre-identified and selected. So you all are welcome to come with me on our random fossil hunt, were we plug in some random GPS coordinates and see if the first 8 rocks we pick up show evidence of bacterial fossils. LOL!!! Could I be wrong, perhaps — about a 0.000001% chance of being wrong.

    Most rocks are not fossil bearing of any kind – 99.99999% are not. Most don’t contain the right grain size, the right mineralization, or anything right to make a bacterial fossil — even when they are fossil bearing. Bacterial fossils are very rare on Earth according to the papers I’ve read — I’ve never found or recognized any fossil bacteria and I have looked at lots of rocks under microscopes — I have a research quality microscope in my home. Studying the grains in a rock is often a good way of seeing if you are getting closer or further from your intended target. Yes, lots of people find clam shells, bits of this and that … but we are talking about Bacteria. NASA’s “bacteria” are much smaller than what we find on Earth.

    I don’t believe their claim based on statistics alone, even assuming every planet in our solar system was/is full of bacteria. Do I wish it were true? – yes, of course. If they had evaluated 1 million rocks and identified 1 or 2 that were particularly interesting, then I would look twice at the evidence. However, I don’t believe that NASA won the astro-biological lottery twice in their first 8 rocks.

  39. Robert Morris says:
    March 6, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Woah, there! Now you’ve taken this topic somewhere worth going you can’t just walk away! This community stands ready to give you some immediate, post scientific peer review provided you adequately develop your treatise.

    I know it should be submitted for peer review . But it’s proprietary and can’t be shared on this blog. Trust though it’s better than we thought.

    ;o)

  40. Hoser: “Chemical evolution leading to biological evolution is a much more satisfying explanation, and there is even hidden evidence for it in the genetic code.”

    Say what?! I think you’d better look into that a bit more carefully. Even the relatively pro-abiogenesis Wikipedia article you cite notes the following about the 1970′s hypercycle idea: “However, these reactions are limited to self-excisions (in which a longer RNA molecule becomes shorter), and much rarer small additions that are incapable of coding for any useful protein. The hypercycle theory is further degraded since the hypothetical RNA would require the existence of complex biochemicals such as nucleotides which are not formed under the conditions proposed by the Miller–Urey experiment.”

    They hypercycle idea is pretty much a non-starter in terms of abiogenesis.

    ————-

    Smokey, BFL: LOL!

  41. Dave Springer:

    ‘dummy’, hilariously adjoined to finger-wagging about civility. And ‘mauron’ – two consecutive posts.

    Strange how offensive these two mild insults appear. Must be the contrast with the surroundings.

    Hope it doesn’t catch on.

  42. Smokey,
    The human race is evolving into its own form of borganism. We dont need some alien invaders to do it to us, this is the natural course of evolution of any technological species.

    What you all consider “sci-fi” today is just a quaint picaroonish form of literature that is nothing but a western cowboy novel set in space. The human society of 2050, in the depths of the technological singularity, will be stranger than can be imagined. The human society of 2100 will be incomprehensible to the common primitives inhabiting today’s place in space and time.

  43. all it takes…is to drop human arrogance,,,to understand the universe is full of life,,,based on the same basic principles and building-blocks…Only a few years ago,,,we thought earth was the only planet that contained water,,,now we know different…
    If “intelligent “life like ours occurs in nature in this timeframe….it is no more then logical to assume there is “intelligent “life in another time-frame…way before or after us….
    So it is logical to find life….under our level of evolution…and life way above it.

  44. There is ample precedent for serious scientists pursuing nutty or unscientific conjectures. A large fraction of Isaac Newton’s output was on alchemy. A further large fraction was heterodox theological writing (e.g. “debunking” the Trinity).

    You have to concentrate on finding the science and dealing with it scientifically because sometimes (maybe often, maybe always) it will be mixed in with unutterable dross. Which is not to say that you can’t tell the difference quickly and easily, but you do have to at least make a serious attempt.

  45. In the 1950′s and 60′s we used to buy these little black cylinders in the store.
    We took a match to them and they would ignite and begin to grow out like they were alive into small snakes or worm-like creatures .
    They looked just like those “alien life forms.”
    They were never really alive, and never will be.
    But they would also look very convincing as fossils in some piece of rock.
    The mind is very creative.

  46. Dave Springer, you have completely intrigued me; did you mean that the person you were admonishing is a moron, or were you implying that he is a resident of a Breton town?
    If you were implying he is a moron, your implication is a little like a parent beating a child to curb the child’s violent tendencies.

  47. Might this alleged ‘life’ not have originated from Earth, got ejected into space and came back?

  48. —I have always found it very strange that so many people — lay and scientist — seem determined not to ‘believe’ in life elsewhere in the universe. They keep their eyes closed and hum away, fingers in ears, no, no, no, it’s not possible, I don’t want to consider it… But why not? Are they afraid and if so, what are they afraid of? In our early history, we were quite naturally afraid of the stranger outside the gates, but surely we’re more understanding now?

    I think the idea of life elsewhere is not only fascinating but obvious. It must be impossible for this little planet to be the only one amongst the trillions in the universe on which life evolved.

    But if we get out into the cosmos one of these centuries and do find that we are entirely alone, then all these people — lay and scientis — are going to have to go back to church because this one little planet must indeed have been alone peopled by a God.

    They can’t have it both ways.

  49. I took the time to read the entire paper at JOC. It’s good. The electron microscopy is fantastic. One might expect that from Hoover as he has contributed greatly to the world of exotic imaging (both inner and outer space) techniques and hardware. The chemistry appears be a slam dunk for indigenous life. It’s better evidence than we have that prokaryotes inhabited the earth 3.5bya. All the widely accepted diagnostics are present and nothing contary. If this was an earth rock there’d be no question it contains fossilized prokaryotes.

    This upsets a lot of ideological applecarts on both the left and right. There’s something in it for everyone to hate.

    For the anti-evolutionists it’s the idea that life is not just 3.5 billion years old but many billions of years older than that and comes from comets rather than being created by God 6,000 years ago. For them it’s like “it’s worse than we thought”.

    For evolutionists it pushes origin of life questions off planet, out of the solar system, and billions of years into the past before our sun was born where they can’t explore. If life originated on the earth they have a nice closed system with no outside contamination. They have a universal common ancestor (or perhaps a few) that existed billions of years ago from which all life descended and, importantly, an unbroken cell line from which all extant DNA evolved so they can create all these tidy little narratives about it changed over time and theoretically can be traced back to its common ancestors through similar DNA sequences shared by all living things.

    But now, if the cometary panspermia hypothesis is true, they have to deal with the concept of genetic material raining down from space constantly polluting the global gene pool. Our genome, you see, is about 3 billion nucleotides long but only 1-2% of that is actually intact genes that code for functional proteins and enzymes. In the meantime 8% of our genome is made of remnants of endogenous retroviruses (ERVs). These are viral invaders that insert foreign DNA into our DNA in order to commandeer the molecular machinery of our cells to produce copies of the virus. The 8% of our genomes can thus be likened to battle scars picked up by our ancestors dating back millions or even billions of years. If there is a prokayotic world inhabiting comets then it follows there will also be a world of retroviruses (bacteriophages) on those comets. So the packets of foreign DNA delivered by ERVs found in earthly genomes might not have been picked up and carried from one form of earth life to another but rather have come from another solar system thousands of light years distant and with many billions of years of reproductive isolation from its source there and life on the earth. It throws a real serious monkey wrench into evolution research based on the theory of common ancestry. Lynn Margulis caught an inordinate amount of flak from mainstream evolutionists for introducing the endosymbiosis theory (which is now widely accepted at least in the evolutionary pathway from prokaryotes to eukaryotes) which posits that widely separated cell lines once thought to be reproductively isolated from each other for millions or billions of years might actually exchange and merge genetic material in unpredictable times and places. And Lynn’s theory only polluted earthly genomes from other earthly genomes not with genetic material from far reaches of the galaxy with many billions of reproductive isolation.

    So this is a real can of worms for dogmatic creationists and dogmatic evolutionists alike. For the rest of us science buffs who follow the evidence wherever it leads this is one of most interesting, important, and exciting discoveries in the history of life science on a par with the discovery of the universal genetic code. It gives the “universal” part a whole new meaning.

  50. @ Dave Springer

    Well, no.

    First, creationists are not even privy to any scientific discussion, so we can ignore them here.

    And the origin of life has nothing to do with evolution at all, this is the subject of abiogenisis. So an ‘evolutionist’ couldn’t care less, even if he had an agenda.

  51. K says:
    March 7, 2011 at 1:25 am

    Dave Springer, you have completely intrigued me; did you mean that the person you were admonishing is a moron, or were you implying that he is a resident of a Breton town?
    If you were implying he is a moron, your implication is a little like a parent beating a child to curb the child’s violent tendencies.

    It’s the latter and I stand guilty as charged. I reacted to quoting PZ Myers’ rant against Hoover. PZ Myers is a highly undistinguished 50-something associate biology professor whose only claim to fame is being the iconic leader of a large ragtag band of potty-mouthed militant atheist college students through his “science” blog at scienceblogs.com/pharyngula. Pharyngula was runner-up in the 2011 Bloggies Award for Science which WUWT recently won. Myers has a nasty of habit of directing his minions to flash-mob online polls to bias the results. I’m surprised he didn’t win the Bloggies given his known tactics in such things. Anthony Watts on the other hand did everything he could to discourage unfair voting. Adding insult to injury one of Hoover’s colleagues at UAH (an astrophysicist who was co-author on a paper several years ago proposing a cometary origin of life) is a personal friend of mine. Hoover, unlike Myers, is an impeccable scientist of great integrity with a long distinguished history of contributions to science. His collaborator on the paper (my friend) is a man of great integrity as well as a remarkably well-informed astrophysicist. The ignorance Maue displayed in praising Myers’ rant against Hoover pissed me off on several different levels.

    [ryanm: you are completely missing the whole point of the posting again. Get a grip on your hair-trigger indignation. If you are able to recognize the ghoulish nature of Myers’ blog and sycophants, then you should recognize the method to my postings. I cannot blatantly discuss the politics of climate change here per Anthony’s rules.]

  52. Matt says:
    March 7, 2011 at 3:17 am
    @ Dave Springer

    “Well, no.”

    Well, yes. You have no bloody idea what you’re talking about.

    This has everything to do with evolution. It’s an extra-terrestrial source of genetic material that potentially found its way into terrestrial genomes at any and all times from the word go 3.5bya right up to the present day as comets haven’t stopped falling to earth and Sol hasn’t stopped wandering through the galaxy having close encounters with other stars. Our solar system does not orbit the galactic center at the same speed as the spiral arms. It wanders up and down out of the galactic plane and traverses the spiral arms on the horizontal plane. If there is intact genetic material in the cometary halos of other stars it has all kinds of implications for the evolution of life on earth.

  53. Jimbo says:
    March 7, 2011 at 2:39 am

    “Might this alleged ‘life’ not have originated from Earth, got ejected into space and came back?”

    No. The chiral amino acids found on the meteorite were racemic i.e. a mixture of both left and right handed varieties. Terrestrial amino acids are not racemic. Life on this planet only uses left handed chiral amino acids. The exclusive use of left-handed amino acids is one the great biochemical mysteries of life on this planet. Miller-Urey type chemical reactions that form amino acids in sterile environments create racemic mixtures of amino acids. No one has figured out a non-biological synthesis pathway that generates a non-racemic mixture nor have they figured how or why life on the earth uses only left handed amino acids. It’s called the “homochirality problem” and it’s one of the key pieces of chemical evidence leading to the conclusion that the meteorite is both extra-terrestrial in origin and wasn’t contaminated by terrestrial material after it landed.

    One of the neat things I learned reading Hoover’s paper is that comet cores, even as far away from the sun as the orbit of Mars, reach temperatures of 60C. Temperatures that high greatly accelerate a lot of chemical reactions. Even though chemistry doesn’t stop when these same comets are in the long slow part of their orbits among and past the outer planets it slows down so much it makes it less credible that chemical evolution could happen on them. The periodic heating and cooling of comets in highly elliptical orbits makes the potential chemistry far more active and interesting. Miller-Urey type reactions creating amino acids are definitely happening on comets. That’s been known for 60 years though. What Hoover brought to the table in this paper is bleeding edge electron microscopy imaging and chemical analysis of fine structure components of the alleged fossils.

  54. Another mystery of chemical evolution is the structure of the universal genetic code which consists of triplets of three nucleic acids (A,C,T, and G) called codons. There are 64 possible combinations which code for one of twenty amino acids plus codes for sequence stop/start. Three bases is minimal number that can can code for more than 16 acids. There’s a lot of redundancy in the code with many codes coding for the same acid. There are preferences for one redundant codes over another and these are though to relate to speed of decoding. As codon sequence proceeds through a ribosome like a paper tape with an amino acid polymer coming out the other end like grease out of a grease gun the speed at which the polymer is emerging influences how it folds. The holy grail of biochemistry is predicting how a polymer sequence stored in a coding gene will fold into an equisitely complex functional 3 dimensional structure. If it doesn’t fold right it’s useless and it can potentially fold in many different ways. The translation speed of redundant codons is variable and different organisms have different preferences.

    One of the implications was discovered the hard way. We use prokaryotes to produce human proteins and enzymes used in medical and other applications (such as insulin). To do that we take a prokaryote and insert a human gene into it along with regulatory sequences so the critter produces the protein or enzyme we’re interested in. However, prokaryotes have different codon preferences ostensibly due to differences in the ribosomes (ribosomes are factories composed of RNA and proteins which read transfer-RNA sequences and build proteins out of them). Ribosomes are universal to all living cells. Viruses don’t have ribosomes and it’s controversial whether viruses are living organisms or just dead parasitic machines since they can’t replicate without commandeering the ribosome of a conventional living cell.

    Anyhow, when we first started our own commandeering of prokaryote ribosomes to produce proteins and enzymes of interest we found that a gene transplanted into them from a eukaryote often produced an improperly folded insoluble useless product. To fix that we had to substitute a different but redundant codon to match the prokaryote preference. Then the output would fold properly.

    But back to the meteorite. Only a subset of the 20 amino acids used by life on earth was found on the meteorite. I believe it was 8 of them. The author didn’t have a firm answer for why it was only 8 out of 20. An incomplete set is associated with fossilized terrestrial bacteria and while the extra-terrestrial and terresterial sets have some overlap they are not identical sets. Evidently some amino acids are more durable in fossilization than others. But this brings up another interesting mystery in the evolution of the genetic code. Many suppose that in the beginning life didn’t use 20 amino acids but rather 14 (or fewer) plus stop and start sequences for a total of 16 codes or less. That can be coded for by ACTG doublets instead of triplets and hence the genetic code could have seamlessly moved from doublets to triplets very early in the evolution of life.

    Of course the biggest mystery is how an abstract digital code came to exist in the first place without invention by an intelligent agency. There are only two examples of codes known to exist in nature. The universal genetic code is one of them. All the others are codes of human invention such as the morse codes and the alphabet. Abstract codes exist nowhere else. So what was found on the meteorite might possibly contain clues about the evolution of the genetic code from an ancient abandoned system of doublets to the modern universal triplets (if that’s how it happened). Accidental evolutionary theory absolutely relies on a path of increasing complexity from the exceedingly simple billions of years ago to the mind boggling complexity of extant life. The problem is that even the simplest form of extant prokaryotic free living thing is a mind bogglingly complex nano-molecular collection of machinery. The cometary hypothesis doesn’t solve the problem of chemical-to-biological evolution but it increases by many orders of magnitude the time and opportunity for it to happen. As far as we know every solar system of the many billions of solar systems in the galaxy has a cloud of trillions of comets and if each of those comets is a potential organic chemistry lab, and if these clouds mingle when stars pass within a light year or two of other then the evolution of life takes on whole new and exciting world of possibility.

  55. Smokey says:
    March 6, 2011 at 6:44 pm
    Mike Lorrey,

    We had just better hope the Borg isn’t within twenty or thirty light years. They’ll consider us a pushover: click

    …and certifiably crazy.

    Who knows? Maybe the Borg will like singing, “It’s Howdy-Doody time. . .”

    Oh, and it’s “The Borg aren’t within. . .” The Borg are a collectivity, you know.

    /Mr Lynn

  56. Oh rats! Left the > off the end of the blockquote tag. I wish we could select and format, as on so many other blogs. /Mr L

    [That’s OK, you have me, the insomniac mod. ~dbs]

  57. Dave Springer says:
    March 7, 2011 at 2:56 am

    Dave Springer says:
    March 7, 2011 at 3:29 am

    Dave Springer says:
    March 7, 2011 at 3:53 am

    Dave Springer says:
    March 7, 2011 at 4:56 am

    Thanks for the fascinating discussion of issues in early biochemical evolution. I save the links.

    /Mr Lynn

  58. joesp says:
    March 7, 2011 at 12:00 am

    “sorry…how do we know meteorites are not ejectiles of earth?”

    Thats actually fairly easy to discern by looking at the ratios of elements and isotopes, particularly the ratio of iron to nickel, among other flags (asteroids originating in the asteroid belt that contain iron are thought to be from the core of a differentiated planetesimal and have iron/nickel ratios that don’t exist on Earth’s surface or mantle, but would exist in our planet’s core). Again, I recommend watching the show “Meteorite Men” on the Science Channel (also on Comcast Xfinity you can see old episodes, not sure of availability elsewhere), for a very decent laymans exposure to the answers to these sorts of questions.

    Martian meteorites found on Earth likewise have an isotopic profile and exhibit mineral structures that are unique to Mars surface. Quoting wikipedia:

    “In 1983 it was suggested by Smith et al. [3] that meteorites in the so called SNC group (Shergottites, Nakhlites, Chassignites) originated from Mars, from evidence from an instrumental and radiochemical neutron activation analysis of the meteorites. They found that the SNC meteorites possess chemical, isotopic, and petrologic features consistent with data available from Mars at the time, findings further confirmed by Treiman et al. [4] a few years later, by similar methods. Then in late 1983, Bogard et al. [5] showed that the isotopic concentrations of various noble gases of some of the shergottites were consistent with the observations of the atmosphere of Mars made by the Viking spacecraft in the mid-to-late 1970s.

    In 2000, an article by Treiman, Gleason and Bogard gave a survey of all the arguments used to conclude the SNC meteorites (of which 14 had been found at the time) were from Mars. They wrote, “There seems little likelihood that the SNCs are not from Mars. If they were from another planetary body, it would have to be substantially identical to Mars as it now is understood.”[6]”

    There’s good evidence that much of the magnetites found in the one meteorite the investigators have looked at were of a type that can only be formed by biological processes. Others have tried to claim that those magnetites are due to earthly contamination, but a 2009 article in Scientific American ruled out any earthly or nonbiological orgins to the magnetites, so by process of elimination, really, you have to accept the high probability of biological activity happening on Mars at the time the rock was there.

    Beyond that, a lot of scientists are looking at methane plumes detected in the Martian atmosphere in recent years by orbiting space probes that indicate that some specific areas regularly outgass methane with each Martian spring/summer season, something which is is too regular with increases in insolation to be supported by geological processes, which are the only other possible explanation other than existing biological activity either on the surface or in subsurface habitats.

    People that continue to dispute the possibility of life on Mars IMHO are akin to the Inquisition denying the Galilean moons of Jupiter for theological reasons. Evidence of various types continues to pile up that is no longer deniable.

  59. Mike Lorrey says:

    “People that continue to dispute the possibility of life on Mars IMHO are akin to the Inquisition denying the Galilean moons of Jupiter for theological reasons.”

    Agree completely. I would be willing to bet money on finding life on Mars [and maybe on a moon of Saturn]. Life can be found in hydrothermal vents in the ocean, where temperatures are much more extreme than on Mars. Of course that is life adapted from more moderate environments, but the universe seems to be constructed in a way that spontaneously creates life from 92 elements + energy.

  60. A hot planet I can understand. There may be heated water below the surface that allows life to exist. Even a heated gas planet may harbor life. We have life that has evolved to exist in our thin, radiated atmosphere.

    A cold planet is less a life-supporting environment in my opinion. Cold tells me that water may not be available. Yes, bacteria exists in our ice. But that is not the kind of cold I am talking about.

    My opinion: while life may have occurred in an earlier phase on many planets, and fossils can be found, these discoveries will be extremely rare and will tell us that life is abundant on a planet in impossible to imagine, extremely rare places.

  61. Pamela Gray says:

    “A cold planet is less a life-supporting environment in my opinion. Cold tells me that water may not be available.”

    Proof of water on Mars: click

  62. Communication w/purported aliens would be nearly impossible. We’d have better luck trying to communicate w/ants. “They” would use some kind of communication completely foreign to ours — communication by simple air vibrations would be as incomprehensible to them as much as their advanced communication would be to us.

    Aliens would first send robots to do their exploring, just like we do. Why subject their biologically-vulnerable bodies to the hazards of high-speed space travel? Unless the speed-of-light barrier can be broken, any trip of multiple lightyears becomes too problematic for fragile biological forms. Even if “they” did come in their biological forms, they would be unimaginably different. Looking anything remotely like a human is certain evidence of a hoax, IMO.

    Anyway, I’m perfectly comfortable w/UFOs — obviously not every flash or object in the sky can be identified. I’ve seen some odd meteor tracks — one came almost straight down at me, slowly, and blossomed into a “blue-nimbus” just overhead before slowly vanishing. Another was an small orange ball traveling mostly horizontally that broke up into a half-dozen orange “sparks” directly overhead before dissipating.

  63. Michael Jankowski says:
    March 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    “The Journal of Cosmology is an absolute joke.”

    Check out the editorial staff. Good grief. Do you have any idea who Roger Penrose is? That’s a Who’s Who list of recognized experts in relevant fields.

    The joke’s on you.

    “And it will stop “publication” in May because of “liars and thieves” per a press release last month.”

    Political appointees running NASA are the joke. More interested in feeding at the ginned up CAGW trough than doing real space science. Half the scientists on the list are senior scientists at NASA and JPL. Aside from Penrose (Oxford) of course who’s arguably the most recognized living theoretical physicist in the world today.

    “Hoover may be a legit scientist, but JoS clearly has a pro-ET mantra.”

    How perceptive!

    “You can go back to their first article back in Oct 2009 and go from there. Maybe you’ll like the thought-provoking “Sex on Mars” paper, too.”

    Colonizing Mars would seem to require some of that. Not gay sex though so it might have been of an instructional nature for you.

    “Hoover submitting his “paper” to this “journal” is either a “mauronic” move or an act of pure desperation while being unable to get his research published at a legitimate journal.”

    If by that you mean get through pal review at consensus driven mainstream journals afraid to rock the establishment boat (sort of like getting climate change skepticism published in the same places) then yes, you might deserve some partial credit for that portion of your response. It certainly wasn’t moronic though. It was brilliant.

    “Richard B. Hoover” name appears 67,400 times in articles no older than 24 hours:

    http://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=navclient-ff#q=%22richard+b.+Hoover%22&hl=en&prmd=ivnsuo&source=lnt&tbs=qdr:d&sa=X&ei=PwV1TcDRJoep8AbwkPiYDw&ved=0CBQQpwUoAg&bav=on.2,or.&fp=eda1291fdd569703

    Talk about publicity. And it didn’t cost him a dime. Everyone from the New York Times to Fox News to the Drudge Report. There was even a Wikipedia biographical entry hastily cobbled together in the last 24 hours. Absolutely brilliant.

  64. Nothing that comes out of NASA should be believed until it is confirmed by independent 3rd parties. NASA is a corrupt and incompetent bureaucracy that left the field of science years ago. They only exist now to seek more funding and grow the bureaucracy. And I’m not even being cynical.

  65. beng says:
    March 7, 2011 at 7:40 am

    “Aliens would first send robots to do their exploring, just like we do. Why subject their biologically-vulnerable bodies to the hazards of high-speed space travel?”

    The stock answer is that they would no longer have biologically-vulnerable bodies. Why would they? Bodies are just machines unless one subscribes to some kind of mysticism that the mind isn’t an emergent property of the brain but rather has some magical component to it specially created for you by your own personal deity. Are you a mystic?

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all mystics are wrong. It just seems like they can’t all be right and I don’t know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.

  66. *****
    Dave Springer says:
    March 7, 2011 at 8:38 am

    The stock answer is that they would no longer have biologically-vulnerable bodies. Why would they? Bodies are just machines unless one subscribes to some kind of mysticism that the mind isn’t an emergent property of the brain but rather has some magical component to it specially created for you by your own personal deity. Are you a mystic?
    *****

    No, not a mystic, just an old engineer.

    I don’t disagree w/you. Just substitute “Aliens in their constructed machine-bodies….” If they’re sufficiently advanced, they’d prb’ly have done that anyway. I would. :)

  67. Well, Dave. You have some decent thoughts, but I’m not sure I can respond to the wholesale comandeering of the thread. I will just point out that many of the ideas, including the cometary cloud, are little more than speculation. In addition, a couple of statements are not clear cut:

    “For the anti-evolutionists it’s the idea that life is not just 3.5 billion years old but many billions of years older than that and comes from comets rather than being created by God 6,000 years ago. For them it’s like “it’s worse than we thought”.”

    Unclear use of terms here. I presume you are thinking of the Biblical literalists, which is not the same as anti-evolutionists. And BTW, having 10 billion or 13 billion years as opposed to 3.5 billion years is just a rounding error if we are calculating probabilities. For everyone but the Biblical literalist — meaning for most people, including most creationists — I don’t suppose it would make much difference to their viewpoint.

    Also, I’ve got to agree with Matt that you are not being careful with terminology in discussing “evolution.” Abiogenesis, by definition, takes place before evolution of life can begin. There is, of course, the very sloppy term “chemical evolution,” but that is really a misnomer which adds more confusion than clarification.

    You have some interesting ideas and I am absolutely in agreement that finding life in comets that originated in another system would be exceedingly fascinating and important. Maybe we could just take a slow breath with the postings and be a bit more skeptical of the speculations and a bit more careful with the terminology . . .

  68. R Lawrence says:
    March 6, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    “Strange how offensive these two mild insults appear. Must be the contrast with the surroundings.”

    It is extraordinarily rude for this joint. I half expected at least a couple of [snip]s to appear.

    “Hope it doesn’t catch on.”

    I also.

    If you really want to see some contrast go read the comments at

    http://www.scienceblogs.com/pharyngula

    Keep in mind that snake pit was the runner-up for the 2011 Bloggies award for science blogs. Undoubtedly Myers rallied the troops to vote for Pharyngula and vote often as he does with so many other online polls and surveys. I’m surprised it didn’t win. Coming in second place is bad enough as that blog’s participants are a terrible reflection on science. The language is enough to make a sailor blush.

  69. Well I am really mystified by all the comments here. Personally I subscribe to looking at evidence, and trying to avoid put-down remarks. Now the quality of evidence Dave Springer adduces eg “The chiral amino acids found on the meteorite were racemic i.e. a mixture of both left and right handed varieties. Terrestrial amino acids are not racemic” and the high proven abilities of scientists involved, says to me that here is something to take seriously.

    Sorry if my usual understanding and attempts to pay due attention to detail accuracy is somewhat lacking tonight. My phone and internet have been accidentally cut off and it will take a month to reinstate.

    My Tesla-related studies are showing me acutely that there is far more out in the universe, as well as under our noses, than is generally accepted, and that, sadly, most people find it easier to mock than to study, and that although people may see the light in one field, they may be unperceptive in other fields. I hope that a big lesson of the CAGW disaster is to help people to learn to move beyond facile remarks, and to be willing to re-examine cherished beliefs – applying the excellent principles of Scientific Method, if necessary to the inner factors and the mysteries as much as to the external evidence.

    I think we are at a great frontier. And I think that the crossings already exist in many, many different disciplines, often hidden in humble circumstances. Russian scientists already working with superluminal experiments. More. Lots more. Please can we too be humble and willing to “boldly go where none have gone before” taking just Scientific Method and courtesy with us?

  70. Dave, rest assured that I am keeping my eyes on the “other” blogs where the warmists play. Expect future postings to highlight some of the vitriol from those sewers of science.

  71. Dave said:

    “There are only two examples of codes known to exist in nature. The universal genetic code is one of them.”

    What is the other one?

  72. Dave S,

    I have an open mind on this discovery, but wouldn’t the presence of racemic (left & right geometry) amino acids negate biochemical synthesis? If the molecules were only all left or all right handed then there may be some form of biochemistry involved.

  73. Eric Anderson says:
    March 6, 2011 at 10:47 pm
    non-starter

    I think I laid out the general principal. A criticism of the specifics doesn’t address the main point. What we are talking about is the principal of an energy-driven process in which efficiency is acheived by cooperation and alteration of the components. That is the best explanation of a basis for spontaneous evolution I’ve ever heard. It is simply elegant. There is cryptic evidence for it in the genetic code and the ribosome itself. Of course there are huge gaps. What is your alternative? Fiat lux?

  74. Dave Springer says:
    March 7, 2011 at 2:56 am
    It’s better evidence than we have that prokaryotes inhabited the earth 3.5bya.
    _________________________

    One little problem: It’s not from Earth. First you have to prove life is a possible answer to the observation and exclude the other possibilities.

  75. Dave vs Hal: “. . . wouldn’t the presence of racemic (left & right geometry) amino acids negate biochemical synthesis?”

    Hmmm. Very interesting question. Just thinking out loud here: I’m not sure that a racemic mixture would negate any particular biochemical synthesis. It seems it would, however, necessitate an additional layer of recognition and feedback systems, with all the coding that entails, in order to make sure the correct chirality were used in specific biochemical processes. As a result, such a system would almost certainly require additional structural components and additional energy to operate, reducing efficiency and increasing opportunities for error. Query whether the additional complexity and reduced efficiency would be offset by any potential gains in architectural flexibility. My guess is that it would not, and that the simplicity and efficiency benefits provided by using (primarily) non-racemic amino acids outweighs the architectural flexibility, if indeed there is any, of using a racemic mixture.

  76. Dave Springer says:
    March 7, 2011 at 3:29 am
    So the packets of foreign DNA delivered by ERVs found in earthly genomes might not have been picked up and carried from one form of earth life to another but rather have come from another solar system thousands of light years distant and with many billions of years of reproductive isolation from its source there and life on the earth.
    ____________________

    Whoa! Down big fella. Jumping the gun a little. We don’t even know this crap in a space rock, to use the technical term, is even a remnant of life at all.

    Let’s say a chunk of alien crap (full of exobacteria) flies through space at 60,000 miles per hour, the orbital speed of Earth. Much higher than that and nothing will survive entry into our atmosphere. Thus, it will take about 100 million years for it to travel one light year. The radius of mixing hypothetical alien crap with Earth then is about 120 light years max: Start with a universe 13.7 billion years old, then wait for at least one star cycle to form heavy elements and explode. Then wait for life to arise. Figure up to 2 billion years for all of that. And this hypothentical alien DNA is supposed to survive billions of years floating about in a high-radiation environment?

    It seems, therefore, the Springer Cosmic Arrival Theory doesn’t pass the smell test.
    (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.)

  77. Dave Springer says:
    March 7, 2011 at 4:56 am

    Re: codons and amino acids

    Pretty good discussion. Chaperonins may have a role in folding. Also, Eigen suggests the original basic codon consisted of just the central base of the triplet, e.g. _A_, _C_. The codons with common central bases are chemically related, hydrophobic, hydrophillic, small side chain, etc. In that way, early life would not have to develop very sophisticated machinery. Not much of a code. Chemically related amino acids could be substituted in sloppy enzymes because high specificity of charging tRNA would not need to have developed first.

    Remember, this is Earth thinking. What about life on a planet with very little phosphorus? How do you make DNA? ATP? Not going to happen. So is there no life on such planets, ever? Maybe you substitute arsenic. What if carbon is limited? Must carbon be present in all life? Perhaps silicon or another element can substitute under certain conditions. The point is, life could find a way to develop if a cooperative energy-driven replication process can occur. We won’t begin to know how different life can be until we find some.

  78. Dave Springer says:
    March 7, 2011 at 2:56 am

    I’m not “anti-evolution,” but I am quite comfortable with the idea that God used comets to create life, if that proves to be true. If God can play with dice (the debate between Einstein and Bohr), then God can play with comets, too. I just don’t generally like scientists coming to teleological conclusions from scientific data.

  79. Eric Anderson says:
    March 7, 2011 at 9:45 pm
    Racemic mixture of amino acids.

    Using a racemic amino acid mixture might be an advantage early on. Amino acids might have been made through a non-biological process, and could have been racemic to start with. If the original primitive genetic code were sloppy, then a racemic mixture of amino acids might be tolerated. As other synthetic steps became more optimized, there might have been a point at which formation of chiral amino acids (enzymatic biosynthesis) could have become reliable and could have provided a growth advantage to the population able to utilize the chiral set. Interestingly, all of the amino acids (except Gly) in Earth life have the same chirality (L-isomers). That observation might indicate a possible racemic-chiral aa transition occurred very early in the development of the genetic code (lacking any other selective pressure for uniformly L-isomers).

  80. Dave Springer, 12.46 pm

    Thanks, replying.

    I quite agree (pharyngula). Impossible to read, just because of the abusive language. Same applies to sites that link to it, in the promotional sense. I don’t visit.

    Which was what I was driving at. Reassured, I’ll go back through your stuff!

    rl

  81. Dave Springer, the argument that “civility equals truth” is a charlatan’s way of defending himself. The truth relies on evidence not mild words. Presented civilly or not, the truth is still the truth.

  82. John Peters says:
    March 8, 2011 at 3:25 am

    “Dave Springer, the argument that “civility equals truth” is a charlatan’s way of defending himself. The truth relies on evidence not mild words. Presented civilly or not, the truth is still the truth.”

    I never claimed uncivility had anything to do with truth. Lack of civility is a distraction and often a disinvitation to reasoned debate. Would you rather have a calm discussion with a civil person or listen to an asshat ranting at you?

  83. Larry in Texas says:
    March 7, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    “I’m not “anti-evolution,” but I am quite comfortable with the idea that God used comets to create life, if that proves to be true. If God can play with dice (the debate between Einstein and Bohr), then God can play with comets, too. I just don’t generally like scientists coming to teleological conclusions from scientific data.”

    That’s my take as well.

    I’ve always considered ERV’s to be an ideal mechanism for use by an intelligent agent to alter the course of evolution. Just craft yourself a retrovirus, make it specific for a subspecies or generally infectious to an entire genera, add a DNA payload that will alter the target genome in the way you want, and let it loose. Humans already use that mechanism to deliver DNA payloads for many purposes even including medical use in correcting genetic disorders. A sufficiently advanced intelligent agent could in fact place various genetic payloads on comets many millions of years in advance for sequenced delivery to inner planets over the course of geologic epochs of time since orbital mechanics are predictable that far in advance. Not saying that actually happened but I’m not saying it didn’t happen either. All I know is the mechanism is there and there’s confirmation that comets are wet, warm, and have complex organic chemistry going on in them at least up to the point where there’s an assortment of amino acids on them that terrestrial life uses to build proteins and further than that there’s at least some arguable evidence of indigenous prokaryotic life on them. Where there are prokaryotes one might reasonably expect to find bacteriophages (viruses).

    It’s too bad that the leadership at NASA is more interested in feeding at the CAGW trough than doing real space science. It appears that the rank and file in NASA exo-biology are rebelling. I don’t blame them.

  84. Curious Bystander says:
    March 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    Dave said: “There are only two examples of codes known to exist in nature. The universal genetic code is one of them.”

    Curious said: “What is the other?”

    Those of human invention. I gave two examples: the Morse code and the Roman alphabet.

  85. Dave said: “There are only two examples of codes known to exist in nature. The universal genetic code is one of them.”

    Would you agree that the periodic table describes another example of code in nature?

    The spectrum of light?

    The patterns we see in galaxies?

    One should twice before placing boundaries on nature.

    Reply: Remember, there are two types of people. Those that place people into two categories and those that don’t. ~ ctm

  86. Dave Worley, what kind of information-bearing algorithm can be generated, transmitted and understood based on the spectrum of light, patterns in galaxies or even the periodic table? One could use light to transit coded information; one could use elements from the periodic table to do so; one could potentially refer to the positions of galaxies to transmit information, but those things are only mediums.

    It is critical to distinguish between a code and the medium used to transmit it.

  87. “what kind of information-bearing algorithm can be generated, transmitted and understood based on the spectrum of light”

    Basically, all of science is an attempt to crack the codes in nature.
    We recognize consistent patterns and are able to determine the properties of things in nature.
    The spectral property of light was decoded with a prism, for example.
    In a similar manner we are attempting to decode the genome.

  88. @Dave Worley

    The periodic table is a human invention generally credited to Mendeleev in 1869.

    All the other examples you give are either not codes or are human inventions.

    Perhaps reviewing the definition of “code” will help you understand. We’re using it in the sense of communication. In the genome what is being communicated is instructions about how to construct different proteins. DNA is where the instructions are stored. RNA is the transmission media. The ribosome translates the instructions and builds the protein.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code

    A code is a rule for converting a piece of information (for example, a letter, word, phrase, or gesture) into another form or representation (one sign into another sign), not necessarily of the same type.

    In communications and information processing, encoding is the process by which information from a source is converted into symbols to be communicated. Decoding is the reverse process, converting these code symbols back into information understandable by a receiver.

    It’s not called the Genetic Code for no reason. The reason is precisely the same reason the Morse system is called the Morse Code.

    The genetic code is the only known code not of human invention. That raises a legitimate question of how a code can come to exist without intent.

  89. @Worley

    “The spectral property of light was decoded with a prism, for example.”

    Sure. And the granular property of gravel is “decoded” with a seive.

    This isn’t communication. It’s the sorting of a mixture into categories of the same thing.

  90. “The genetic code is the only known code not of human invention. ”
    I respectfully disagree.

    “That raises a legitimate question of how a code can come to exist without intent.”

    Perhaps we’ll never know. Perhaps we don’t need to know. There are plenty of other thinks which can be decoded, and toward which our time may be better directed. Just a personal opinion.

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