Arsenic and post-haste: another example of the broken peer review process turned "science by press release"

Did “go fever” push NASA to publicly announce science to the MSM that wasn’t well peer reviewed?

WUWT readers may recall that I conjectured about the cryptic press release NASA made last week that set the blogosphere afire. See NASA’s extraterrestrial buzz where the press release announced:

NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.

Well newsflash there G-men, it was more terrestrial than extraterrestrial, and now it appears the science behind the press release may be seriously flawed.

It seems that in their flawed zeal to get some press coverage, NASA again has egg of their faces, reminiscent of the Mars fossil microbe fiasco. It’s more “science by press release” gone wild. has a scathing review of the fire that is raging in the microbiology camp over this press release:

“It would be really cool if such a bug existed,” said San Diego State University’s Forest Rohwer, a microbiologist who looks for new species of bacteria and viruses in coral reefs. But, he added, “none of the arguments are very convincing on their own.” That was about as positive as the critics could get. “This paper should not have been published,” said Shelley Copley of the University of Colorado…

Of course if that was any of us saying the same thing about climate science, somebody would immediately label us “anti-science deniers”. Lets see if  somebody comes up with a label for these people asking skeptical questions. Maybe “anti NASA space bug deniers”?

WUWT reader “NoAstonomer” tips us to the fray in progress saying:

The microbiology blogosphere is currently ripping this study apart:

Here’s an excerpt from :

In fact, says Harvard microbiologist Alex Bradley, the NASA scientists unknowingly demonstrated the flaws in their own experiment. They immersed the DNA in water as they analyzed it, he points out. Arsenic compounds fall apart quickly in water, so if it really was in the microbe’s genes, it should have broken into fragments, Bradley wrote Sunday in a guest post on the blog We, Beasties. But the DNA remained in large chunks—presumably because it was made of durable phosphate. Bradley got his Ph.D. under MIT professor Roger Summons, a professor at MIT who co-authored the 2007 weird-life report. Summons backs his former student’s critique.

But how could the bacteria be using phosphate when they weren’t getting any in the lab? That was the point of the experiment, after all. It turns out the NASA scientists were feeding the bacteria salts which they freely admit were contaminated with a tiny amount of phosphate. It’s possible, the critics argue, that the bacteria eked out a living on that scarce supply. As Bradley notes, the Sargasso Sea supports plenty of microbes while containing 300 times less phosphate than was present in the lab cultures.

And “NoAstronomer” adds:

Yet some with no expertise in the field stick with the original story. Phil Plaitt at Bad Astronomy notes how he has to trust the peer review process…

But what happens if/when you realize that the process is broken, at least in this case? Can people take a step back and wonder if maybe the process failed in other cases too?

Get a load of this response:

“We cannot indiscriminately wade into a media forum for debate at this time,” declared senior author Ronald Oremland of the U.S. Geological Survey. “If we are wrong, then other scientists should be motivated to reproduce our findings. If we are right (and I am strongly convinced that we are) our competitors will agree and help to advance our understanding of this phenomenon. I am eager for them to do so.”

Umm, well, sir, small point: You and colleagues  at USGS and NASA created a veritable firestorm of speculation and coverage with the cryptic press release and “embargoed” story in Science Magazine. Plus a live webcast, and NASA TV live, and now you say “We cannot indiscriminately wade into a media forum for debate at this time,”?

Dude, that ship has sailed. GMAFB!

Gosh, this pattern seems familiar.  NASA trumpets these news worthy pieces in a “science by press release” after they pushed the peer review process to where if failed to catch the obvious, and then when called on it, they ignore any criticism.

Yes, the question is, how did this new train wreck get past peer review? Given the urgency attached to the press release by NASA, it certainly looks to me like NASA simply threw caution to the wind again. It seems to be another case of “go fever” that doomed Apollo 1, Challenger,  and made them look like fools again following the embarrassing Mars fossil microbe debacle.

“It would be really cool if such a bug existed,” said San Diego State University’s Forest Rohwer, a microbiologist who looks for new species of bacteria and viruses in coral reefs. But, he added, “none of the arguments are very convincing on their own.” That was about as positive as the critics could get. “This paper should not have been published,” said Shelley Copley of the University of Colorado…
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December 7, 2010 7:59 pm

does this disprove there are aliens in california?
’cause i thought that explained why my neighbors seemed like they are from another planet!

December 7, 2010 8:09 pm

About half the articles that appear in Science & Nature are just wrong. They are highly referenced, which gives these journals their high impact factor, and then, they’re never heard from again. The game is to increase the rating of the magazine, much like what people with negative reviews have been doing to Google (increasing their page rank score). This is pretty well known in the biz.
That being said, may I say “wow” is that paper bad. It’s bad even for Science standards. But let’s not dump on our favorite AGW rag for continuing to fail upwards. I was just reading through a defective JBC article today from 2010. Failure of peer review isn’t limited to Science.

December 7, 2010 8:18 pm

Every large agency like NASA makes mistakes, even in their hey day, but I am astounded at what NASA has become. From debacles like this to the BS that goes on with GISS and the Hansen led “team,” this is not the NASA I knew in my youth, when they put a man on the moon. And these attention whores who do science by press release tar the scientists who still are trying to do respectable work there with a very bad and broad brush.

December 7, 2010 8:32 pm

Ah, th’ ol’ infallable peer review process strikes again ‘eh….
What is going on in science nowadays?…. Is there no skillbase capable of scientific achievement left? Is science now, no more than a front for political activism and elitists? Just a front for grabbing government funding and social prestige?
… ’cause there sure ain’t any science bein’ done.

December 7, 2010 8:33 pm

LOL, NASA BLEW IT AGAIN!! Maybe they will now create another blog, called “Real Arsenic” and dedicate a “scientist” to spend all his time to keep this pseudoscience alive, just like they did with the unbelievably simplistic and moronic”RealClimate.” LOL!!

Joshua J
December 7, 2010 8:58 pm

Quick – somebody get a consensus. That should “settle” it.

December 7, 2010 8:58 pm

I think some criticism needs be directed at the USGS too. Geologists should know better but then the mandate was changed to include biology. Time to go back to the old multiple working hypothesis of Chamberlin and others. Perhaps the biologists could learn a bit about it too.

Black Sabbath
December 7, 2010 9:18 pm

It’s amazing how fast the scientific community came out to attack NASA for what they claim is plainly flawed science. Then again, NASA isn’tfunding any of the attackers.
In the Climategate mess however, we still have heard very little from an awful lot of so-called scientists who should have been saying a lot more about flawed science but are too afraid to lose their grant money.

December 7, 2010 9:25 pm

I don’t see any fault in holding the press conference. The paper was “Published Online 2 December 2010.” Any funding agency will sometimes fund flawed work. You just don’t give that group any new grants! So, I think it is incorrect to focus blame on NASA.
But, if the paper is as obviously flawed as its critics claim it is the journal, Science, that really needs to answer for this. If a reporter at Slate can find so many qualified people to review the paper, then why didn’t the editors? But I’m not going to make any judgments myself about the paper just yet.
You can find it here (the abstract is free):

Black Sabbath
December 7, 2010 9:25 pm

Another thing – has anyone here perused the pop-science websites like Science Daily and Wired and… Popular Science.
The crap they release daily just goes to show they’ll say ANYTHING to keep the funding coming in. It’s almost like they pull stuff out of a hat and throw it into headlines.
Researchers Say Sitting On Bright Blue Furniture Increases Libido
Could The Sun Freeze Over Tomorrow?
Eating Grubs May Grant Ability To See In Infrared
The Science Of Beer Pong
Scientists Say Dolphins Able To Understand Complex Computer Algorithms
Did Neanderthals Have Rock Concerts?
I think you get the idea…

December 7, 2010 9:48 pm

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This one just doesn’t have the “ring of truth”.

Al Gored
December 7, 2010 9:48 pm

Severian says:
December 7, 2010 at 8:18 pm
“this is not the NASA I knew in my youth, when they put a man on the moon”
Me too. This NASA appears to be a self-serving bloated research bureaucracy which is now very worried about their funding. Their Mars projects are almost ignored and their grand mega-project to go back to the moon or to Mars look unaffordable for the now bankrupt US. Thus they are on the AGW gravy train and promoting this kind of sensational science fiction for publicity. Anything to rally support.

E O'Connor
December 7, 2010 9:49 pm

“Arsenic and post-haste” He he – the movie and shuttles!

Douglas DC
December 7, 2010 9:51 pm

I knew an undergrad who wrote a paper on bacteria in the Mono Lake system.
He (this is in 1975) noted that the relatively high Arsenic in the water was dealt with due to the fragility of the Arsenic molecules,and the high Phosphate, and, as I recall
Boron dissolved in the water. Now this is all due to a very vague memory, I even
told my wife when I saw this that I heard about this back in my college years…
I will see if my old Biology Prof. is in town, he goes south in the winter. He should know what is up here….
Yes, I call BS for NASA..

December 7, 2010 9:58 pm

Phil Plait is a smart man who turned into a tool because of fame.
He continues to bash those who question CAGW. He’s done so for years. He’s now demonstrating a poor amount of skepticism on something he should defer to others in.

December 7, 2010 10:14 pm

“If we are wrong, then other scientists should be motivated to reproduce our findings.”
That’s quite a quote, which appears to exhibit a severe misunderstanding of science.
Other scientists should attempt to reproduce the findings or test the hypothesis whether NASA is right are wrong.

December 7, 2010 10:34 pm

Aha Phill Plait, now there is a warmista.

Leon Brozyna
December 7, 2010 10:35 pm

I wonder when the State Science Institute, I mean NASA, will issue a press release about an amazing breakthrough in the area of cold fusion.
And there was this story out the other day about how poorly U.S. students compared academically to other countries. Gee, I wonder about the connection…

Baa Humbug
December 7, 2010 10:44 pm

Of course if that was any of us saying the same thing about climate science, somebody would immediately label us “anti-science deniers”. Lets see if somebody comes up with a label for these people asking skeptical questions. Maybe “anti NASA space bug deniers”?

We are, collectively, “Anti-Funding deniers”.
Some of us are “Anti-science deniers”.
Some are “Anti-Social deniers”. (distribution of wealth)
Some are “Anti-Aid deniers”. (Foreign aid to 3rd world despots)
Yet others are “Anti-Sustainability deniers”. (In the pay of big oil)
Some are “Anti-Humanitarian deniers”, (refugees, border control)
Feel free to add.
As far as this “Alien life force” is concerned, it seems “the slime is settled”. (to the bottom of the lake)

Eric Anderson
December 7, 2010 10:47 pm

But Jonathan Eisen of UC-Davis doesn’t let the scientists off so easily. “If they say they will not address the responses except in journals, that is absurd,” he said. “They carried out science by press release and press conference. Whether they were right or not in their claims, they are now hypocritical if they say that the only response should be in the scientific literature.”
Exactly . . .

Baa Humbug
December 7, 2010 10:49 pm

Jeremy says:
December 7, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Phil Plait is a smart man who turned into a tool because of fame.
He continues to bash those who question CAGW. He’s done so for years. He’s now demonstrating a poor amount of skepticism on something he should defer to others in.

Phil Plait is a smart man…
Who turned into Phil the Tool man..
He continues to Bash….
Those who question the Cash….
For this Climate Change Scam.

December 7, 2010 10:55 pm

A note to mods – there seems to be some hypocrisy slipping in regards to language in posts compared to language in responses. People have been getting acronyms that contain an F deleted in the posts but obviously not in the posts like in this one for example (GMAFB) sic.

December 7, 2010 10:57 pm

You arsenic deniers will get your comeuppance. NASA scientists are right now planning to present their findings to Congress, but not until turning off the heat in the meeting room. Then in partnership with Greenpeace, NASA scientists will engage in acts of civil disobedience, such as picketing phosphate mines and painting rude graffiti on smoke stacks. The arsenic-in-DNA claim may be weak science, but the slim possibility that they are right requires implementation of the Precautionary Principle, One World Government, and economy-breaking new taxes so your wealth can be transferred to the more deserving.

December 7, 2010 10:58 pm

Lysenkoism at its best.

Martin Brumby
December 7, 2010 11:01 pm

Black Sabbath says: December 7, 2010 at 9:18 pm
I think that this is quite right. But the difference between Arsenicgate and cAGW isn’t only grant money.
Fundementally, the arsenic story is is interesting but won’t change anyone’s life. The cAGW myth has already changed the lives of millions (and will continue to do so for years to come.) Some have been plunged into fuel poverty, have lost their jobs, been denied hope. Others have cleaned up. (Think of the Goreacle.)
And, like the most successful hoaxes, it plays on the prejudices of many media people, politicians and, yes, scientists. That’s why cAGW has become “The Consensus”, and why scientists in fields other than Climatology have avoided or refused to spend a few hours looking at how Hansen, Mann, Jones and all the rest have been operating.
I’m afraid that, come the day of reckoning, many genuine but ‘non-involved’ scientists will have a tough time dealing with the backlash which is coming their way.

Bob of Castlemaine
December 7, 2010 11:07 pm

Bacterial leaching of refractory ores has been around for some time. The process uses bacteria to oxidize the sulfur component from pyrites, including arsenical pyrite. I understand that the bacteria involved in the process thrives in the presence of high levels of arsenic.

December 7, 2010 11:10 pm

And we should be paying these govt. scientists 6 figure plus salaries because they are the ‘experts’.

December 7, 2010 11:22 pm

I was quite amazed by that story too. The explanation is more plausible than that in the paper which seems fatally poisoned by arsenic.
Maybe we should call them the Arsenics.

December 7, 2010 11:29 pm

More bad science from NASA – no surprise there then. This is the inevitable result of what happens when science is prostrated to politics. Without government grants many scientisits will fall off the gravey train.

December 7, 2010 11:40 pm

“Egg of their faces” should be “Egg on their faces”.

December 7, 2010 11:55 pm

As is common for Randal, xkcd managed to have a strip about the press conference the next day:
But it’s one thing for a cartoonist to be quick to draw (sorry), and something else again for researchers.

Larry in Texas
December 8, 2010 12:32 am

Anthony, I was laughing out loud at ANOTHER NASA screwup! Until you had to remind me of Apollo 1 and Challenger, which are the classic examples of where NASA screwed up on both the science AND the engineering in their haste for a public relations coup. People died there. Here, people will not die (thank God), but it is just another embarrassment for these guys again. It may be time to reorganize NASA into a different type of agency, hopefully better than this crew. And these are the guys who would be organizing a trip to Mars? If I’m an astronaut, I’m quaking in my boots and not wanting to be picked for that mission.

Alan Wilkinson
December 8, 2010 12:38 am

Why am I not surprised? I watched that “scientist” present her “findings” and told my wife it smelt more like a political PR stunt than science, let’s wait and see what turns out.
Turns out we didn’t have to wait too long. Glad my crap-detector is still working.

Alexander K
December 8, 2010 1:18 am

The current state of NASA’s reputation is just sad when I think back to the heady days of the historic moon landing. A friend and I organised a 35 mm SLR camera and tripod to properly capture those grainy monochrome shots on our single channel from the NZ state broadcaster. Even the camera was pretty advanced at the time!
It seems that the really good science is now being done by big corporations churning out the Next Big Thing for endless consumer consumption.

December 8, 2010 2:16 am

This paper was rather more obviously flawed than the comments here would suggest.
The concept behind the paper was to demonstrate that life on other planets would be far more likely because it implied that rather than requiring carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphor the last of these could no longer be considered necessary for life. Which was handy, because it happens that phosphor is by far the least abundant of these elements (about 100x less abundant than the others). Problem is that the bacteria isn’t simply using any old element to replace phosphor – it can only use arsenic because it happens to be in the same column of the periodic table – and arsenic is 1000x less abundant than phosphor on planet earth (and 10,000 times less abundant in the rest of the solar system, a natural consequence of its higher atomic number). So, even if the paper was based on fact the attempt to use it to demonstrate an increased likelihood of life on other planets was fatally flawed.
The bacteria maybe able to eat cake, rather than bread, but it seems bread is still far easier to come by. (oh, and don’t forget, you need to get the temperature EXACTLY right – but that’s another story).

December 8, 2010 3:00 am

I haven’t followed this controversy or read the original paper. Most of the P in a bacterium is found in ribosomal RNA. Forget about DNA, it would be really amazing if functional rRNA could be made with arsenic, not P. At some point, the authors should do a simple stoichiometric balance. How much P was in the system and how much bacterial growth and mass did they get? Not sure why the authors did not get closer to 0 concentration of phosphorus in their system. This will a case where new experiments in the next weeks and months will provide clear answers to what is going on.

Skeptical Chymist
December 8, 2010 3:10 am

I note that the corresponding author for the Science paper gives a gMail address.
Does that strike anyone else as unusual? Or am I behind the times?

December 8, 2010 3:42 am

NASA does political BS these days, science not so much so.

Michael A.
December 8, 2010 4:38 am

“Of course if that was any of us saying the same thing about climate science, somebody would immediately label us ‘anti-science deniers’. Lets see if somebody comes up with a label for these people asking skeptical questions. Maybe ‘anti NASA space bug deniers’?”
If NASA and the rest of the world government elites can figure out how to move from this one microbe to an urgent global call for command and control economy, then rest assured that the microbiology community will suddenly come under fire as surely as climate skeptics have. As of now, there’s no money in it.

Tom in not so warm Florida
December 8, 2010 5:06 am

Dr S who has been continually warning us about NASA press releases over the last couple of years.

December 8, 2010 5:27 am

Come on ethical scientists (I’m sure most of you are). Time to self-regulate and admit the system is broken. You need to find real governance, quickly, before you lose the little faith the general public still amazingly seems to have in you.

December 8, 2010 5:44 am

Science has been hopelessly contaminated by advocates and ideologues. Peer review should be abandoned altogether, and all grants revoked pending an extensive forensic review by external auditors. There are no scientific experts any longer; just advocates for a particular point of view. What a sham.
Science has become a joke. Time for the inmates to take over the asylum.

December 8, 2010 6:32 am

On the bright side, the lower they go the stronger the case and will for reform. One would have hoped that they would be desperate to show CAGW was a one off mistake, and the rest of their research was worthy of funding. With the space program being outsourced they could end up being cut down to a simple financing department.

December 8, 2010 6:41 am

Are you suggesting this was an As-inane paper?

Andrew M
December 8, 2010 6:43 am

Dixon, your comment on “self governance” is appropriate.. however.. given the inability of modern society to govern ethically no matter what accountability measures are in place (the US Constitution, for example), do you think there is any hope for self governance with an “open enrollment”… Folks have put their agenda above the science (and for that matter their ethics), I don’t see a path to accountability, other than the blogs like WUWT. Can you imagine if there were no blogs, most of this bad science would be presented and accepted, and it would be very difficult for dissenting opinions to be heard. It goes to show how important the blog culture (and internet) really is. Thank you Al Gore!

December 8, 2010 6:55 am

Did Neanderthals Have Rock Concerts?
Of course they did, it was the stone age after all.

December 8, 2010 7:09 am

So NASA takes something that was done decades ago, and still screws the basic story line up.
Then tries to spin it that because these bugs have found a different ‘food’, they could
exist somewhere else…..
…..where that food is even more rare
and people actually think government health care is a good thing

December 8, 2010 7:18 am

It gets worse. From crap science to even crappier reporting. Truly beyond crap squared. These moron reporters are trying to imply that the bug evolved de novo, as opposed to being FORCED to incorporate the arsenic into its DNA (if it actually did) after having evolved along with the rest of us life forms over the past hundreds of millions of years. Oh, and thereby proving that God is dead.
Maybe I’m the moron, and should be a bit more cynical as in – the progressive liberal media or even the fake progressive liberal media have proved that God doesn’t exist. NASA says so, and the science is settled, so run along now, be an atheist and vote progressive liberal or, failing that, vote fake progressive liberal (martini marxist for Lord Monckton readers). Anyone who disagrees must be a creationist, redneck, moose-shooting, bible thumping Republican.
I actually feel sorry for the authors, in a similar way to feeling sorry for Phil Jones when I watch his sorry ass on YouTube videos.
Anyway, due to travel commitments, this Ph.D. DNA chemist hasn’t yet read the paper. I was looking forward to seeing some high level mass spec data with signals for all 4 “nucleotides” with an arsenic atom correctly linked in one form or another to the 5′- or 3′- end of the nucleoside. I guess I’m not going to find that then ?? Even 1% incorporation of arsenate in place of the phosphate in DNA or RNA would’ve been kinda cool.

Vince Causey
December 8, 2010 7:18 am

“this is not the NASA I knew in my youth, when they put a man on the moon”
Indeed. In those days, NASA was lead by German rocket engineers. NASA never fully recovered from the death of Wernher Von Braun.

December 8, 2010 7:25 am

I found the whole episode underwhelming. The talk of alien life was way overblown. If what they say is true, at best it’s a case of an Earth organism that has added an adaptation, and additional chemical pathways, to an already existing system.
Calling it arsenic-based is a joke. From what I read, it grows with phosphorus and still prefers phosphorus. It just has the ability to get by with arsenic in a pinch. And that’s assuming that what they claim is actually true and that the skeptics argument is wrong (that bacteria can grow in trace P environments).
And, even more fundamentally, it is not an arsenic-based life form. It’s carbon-based, like every other organism on Earth. It’s not alien at all. A least not in the most fundamental way possible. And just the fact that we’re talking about whether it incorporates arsenic in its DNA shows how normal it is. Do we really expect true alien life to have DNA at all? Sure, it will have something that performs that sort of role, but, really, DNA? With the same bases and the same helix and the same structure? Really? What I see is a paucity of imagination. Alien life should be ALIEN, not a slight variation on every life form currently existing on Earth.
Because I think the whole thing was a rush-to-fame, let’s-have-a-press-conference, let’s-ignore-the-standard-rules-of-science I guess you can call me an “ars-cynic” about the whole thing.

December 8, 2010 7:35 am

Ah, Phil Plait! The famous Phil Plait, the Discover Blogger and Global Warming ‘sceptic’ who put up the picture of a squirrel shutting its ears and singing “la la la!” in order to express his full convictions in certain scientific theories. Yes, him!
Chicken is a dish best served warm, and hounds have come home to bite.

December 8, 2010 8:02 am

Jeremy says:
December 7, 2010 at 9:58 pm
Phil Plait is a smart man who turned into a tool because of fame.
He is a cognitively dysfunctional lefty with a PhD and a bad attitude. Pretty much everything he writes is nonsense that is the result of programming and not intelligence.

John T
December 8, 2010 8:21 am

I’ll say this for it -they published the data and methods that allowed other scientists to evaluate the study on its scientific merit and try to replicate it if they so desired.
Just imagine if all departments in NASA did this…

December 8, 2010 8:40 am

Many thanks for the acknowledgment.
I found it very interesting how so many scientists can find issue with papers in their own field but seem to have this implicit bias towards trusting paper published about other topics, even when experts in that field criticize the paper.

December 8, 2010 10:38 am

I just clicked on NASA TV. Guess what’s on? Global Warming BS.

Dave Springer
December 8, 2010 10:44 am

I hadn’t read the paper and had no idea it was such a radical claim as arsenic replacing phosophorous in cell chemistry which must also include RNA, ATP, and phospholipids.
Someone ought to try PCR amplification of the “arsenate” DNA (which kids do for science fair projects these days inexpensively with mail-order reagents) and if it’s really arsenate the amplification will surely fail.

George E. Smith
December 8, 2010 11:21 am

Well I already told you it was old hat, and we had some Arsenofile mold growing in a lush Arsenic solution; back in 1953 when I was doing my last year in high school. We forgot to do a DNA sequencing on the stuff; because we didn’t think it was that special; but it sure was chowing down on that Arsenic solution; and since it was some chemical reagant; it is highly unlikely that the flask contained ANY phosphorous.
The mold clearly was surviving just fine; No way we will ever know what it was doing chemically with the Arsenic; if anything).

George E. Smith
December 8, 2010 11:26 am

“”””” Dave Springer says:
December 8, 2010 at 10:44 am
I hadn’t read the paper and had no idea it was such a radical claim as arsenic replacing phosophorous in cell chemistry which must also include RNA, ATP, and phospholipids. “””””
That’s the thing I was looking for; that ATP, from my near zero Biology background I seem to recall, that it is an absolute essential of ALL life on earth; and the chemical syntheses, that start from the primordial swamp gas and some of Igor’s lightning, don’t seem to be able to spontaneously synthesize ATP.
Well if I got that all scrambled somebody out there can set me straight.

December 8, 2010 12:29 pm

At least it sounds like these NASA scientists are open to being proven wrong.
But along the lines of comments by others, aren’t there some senior scientists at NASA that when shown this paper said, “Whoa, that’s a helluva claim to make. Your data looks good, but let’s be real careful on this one and see if we back up our claims by also …”
The dog and pony show arranged by NASA public relations also seems more appropriate for a side show barker (“Step right up, see alien life form…”).

December 8, 2010 12:51 pm

Here in Oz, I’m embarrassed to admit that our ABC radio “Science Show” was sucked-in to an interview with authors of the paper, although I‘m having fun commenting there on the transcript. (audio also available):
Please join in.
I see above that Douglas DC and George E Smith mentioned arsenic-bugs studied in 1957 and 1952. There is also more recent but rather old published stuff:
E.G. see: August 2007:
Arsenic-Metabolizing Bacteria in an Extreme Environment
And: August 2008:
Arsenic-munching bacteria found
Interestingly, the 2007 USGS research was partly funded by NASA
I was also stunned to see a respected physicist say in part, this about the 2010 discovery:
“…Paul Davies: This is the first time that any living organism has been found that can operate outside of the six basic elements on which all hitherto known life depends, which is carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulphur and lastly phosphorus. It’s replacing phosphorus with arsenic…”

Dave Springer
December 8, 2010 3:00 pm

@E.M. Smith
Yes ATP is the coin of the realm for energy metabolism in all living things. Adenosine tri arsenate, which no one ever heard of before, suddenly gets a bunch of hits on google. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Pretty skimpy evidence so far. I don’t buy it.

December 8, 2010 3:44 pm

They should get Ed Begley Jr to scream PEER REVIEW over and over and over for them.

December 8, 2010 4:00 pm

just ftr, why anyone who admits that life exists would be amazed by the existence of some other biochemical basis for life, is a mystery to me.
On the other hand, the results may not be encouraging.

John M
December 8, 2010 4:20 pm

Skeptical Chymist says:
December 8, 2010 at 3:10 am

I note that the corresponding author for the Science paper gives a gMail address. Does that strike anyone else as unusual? Or am I behind the times

She seems to have dual affiliations, so maybe she didn’t want to show favorites with her email address.
Or maybe she has heard something about emails and FOI requests…
Anyway, she seems to be an “evolutionary microbial geobiologist and biogeochemist”, which I guess is the modern day scientific equivalent of chief cook and bottle washer.

John M
December 8, 2010 5:58 pm

Link provided by one of the commenters at the webeasties blog.
I’ve mildly altered the text to “frame” the quotes in order to make them more relevant to another active area of research. Note that not much altering was required.
“She also questioned why the researchers analyzed the DNA while it was still in the gel dropped proxy data that didn’t agree with the instrumental record, making the results more difficult to interpret: “No molecular biologist competent statistician would ever do that””
“Redfield said the reason she posted the review on her blog is partly because scientific publications such as Science — and the debates therein — are typically behind a paywall and inaccessible to the public.”
“”I blog openly…to bring this stuff more into the open where everybody can see it,” she said.”
“Redfield acknowledged that the original paper was peer reviewed, but said that fact was “a puzzle.” She suggested that perhaps the reviewers may not have had an expertise in microbiology statistics. Another possibility is that the reviewers raised some concerns, but the editors of Science didn’t think they were serious or were “motivated by the coup of getting this very high-profile article.””
Yowsa, talk about a target-rich environment.

John M
December 8, 2010 6:01 pm

Ach…html commands didn’t work. Hopefully, my attempted “edits” (proxy, statistics, etc.) will be evident.

Black Sabbath
December 8, 2010 6:09 pm

Some of you will be upset for me saying this but NASA has run it’s course. It’s time to defund and close down NASA. The agency is infected with global warming alarmist nonsense. They’re blowing our money like fools, and the country quite simply is flat broke. This would be a great place to make cuts. It pains me to say this. These guys were the brain trust for years and accomplished so many great things. But it’s all over now. Let the private industry take over.

December 8, 2010 7:27 pm

I followed the rate of NASA press releases at physorg from 2007 – 2009 and in early ’08 the rate more than doubled and continues today. Like the shabby science discussed here most of the increase and in fact most of the releases were just fluff, smoke and mirrors.
Remember NASA is the space wing of our military, NOT a civilian space agency. Thus all this goody- goody stuff they do is just PR crap and they know they fool most of the people most of the time (MSM; all of the time). The real stuff, like the multi-gigabyte photo’s of the moon and the planets that they receive then hand us 1 0r 2 megabyte highly compressed jpeg copies, is inexorably hidden behind Never A Straight Answer.

December 8, 2010 7:34 pm

Also, I now group “Science” and “Nature” w/ the MSM. I no longer subscribe nor read because the quality of the writing has slipped dramatically in recent years.

maestrlom the magnificient
December 9, 2010 6:16 am

The microbes are immune to water. The Vatican baptized them with holy water. All the evil ones died off. The ones that are left are serving the Lord. Mono Lake is known as Lake Monotheos in the Vatican library.

December 9, 2010 10:51 am

So how did the National Aeronautics and Space Institute get into the biology and climate fields?
Sounds like scope creep.

Ged Darkstorm
December 10, 2010 12:45 pm

Well, as my comments last article on this show, this is not in any way a surprise to me. Tis a shame. But it is easy to get overly excited by “loose” data and forget to actually do all the controls and quantification to “tighten” things up.

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