Monday, March 7, 2011
Mr. Plait, who was far gentler than he had to be the first time, delves into the topic more in this post, and it is not looking good for the article, author, or journal.
Bad Astro (As in "Your love is like bad astronomy. Bad astronomy is what I need.")
One quote from the article recalls my previous point about microscopy:
"As a microbiologist who has looked at thousands of microbes through a microscope, and done some of my own electron microscopy, I see no convincing evidence that these particles are of biological origin. " - Rocco Mancinelli - Bay Area Environmental Research Institute.
This is really the science equivalent of Morgellons disease. By that I mean a person gets a microscope, knows what they want to find, and then starts searching. If you know what you want to find, and you presume it is there, odds are you will find it. Even if you wind up being wrong. Microscopy is a discipline and even a art sometimes; it demands lots of practice. A person who picks up a cheap toy microscope and looks for Morgellons worms in their scab is going to find cotton fibers, which naturally move under bright light as they dry, and as a result of tiny air currents, and call them living worms. Similarly, a somewhat legit somewhat fringe scientist who has (for years) been claiming that life exists in rocks from space, but one who has only modest SEM experience, is going to find tubes and call them bacteria. That is the whole point of science; to protect us from our own self-deluding nature. And the whole point of peer reviewed journals is to find out problems like this and hold scientists to a very high standard.
Please don't let my comments come off the wrong way: This is valuable research and we should be looking at meteorites very carefully. But because this is so important, we must proceed carefully and take all results as preliminary until they are overwhelming. We cannot claim that, based on shape alone, these objects are bacteria. To do so actually hurts astro-biology and hurts our credibility among the public.