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.