To Arsenic … or not?

Poisonous Penpals  😉

Did you notice the scientific method in INaction with NASA last week? Science-by-Press-Release has an INfamous history. Here’s how it goes. First, release the beautiful pictures:


Next, initiate a Media feeding frenzy with words and phrases like: “embargo”, “evidence of extraterrestrial life“. Then … watch as the world’s Media go wild: “Has life been found elsewhere in the universe?”,  “NASA announces breakthrough that has alien lovers excited“, etc.  


You might be wondering if the science at this stage (29 Nov 2010), to back up this coming worldwide NASA press conference, had already been published? You know, so that NASA could check first with other independent scientists to see if their researchers had got it right. You would be dissappointed – 2 Dec 2010 … Hmm … The old journal peer-review system has failedagain.

However, then … the new worldwide scientific blogsphere peer-review system swung into action:  

“This paper should not have been published“… “none of the arguments are very convincing on their own.”… they felt that the NASA team had failed to take some basic precautions to avoid misleading results … Without these precautions, arsenic could have simply glommed to the DNA, like gum on a shoe … “It is pretty trivial to do a much better job,” said Rohwer.

.. 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 … It turns out the NASA scientists were feeding the bacteria salts which they freely admit were contaminated with a tiny amount of phosphate.

“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.”

It looks like the well meaning public are beginning to give some dishonest science journals and scientific organisations “The Long Kiss Goodnight”. Once trust is betrayed it is often lost for good. Trust like a jilted lover does not stay around. Her soft exterior soon shows its granite hard core. Science is a hard mistress to please sometimes, let alone obey continually. Falsification, objectivity and skepticism are her demands. The history of science is not kind to those that use her for power, money and politics. Eugenics and Lysenkoism are still repugned like repugnent smells in the texbooks.


Note Maybe Santana (1979) says this more artisically, in She’s not there, about how beautiful Science has deserted this published science and its press releases.

But it’s too late to say you’re sorry.
How would I know, why should I care?
Please, don’t bother tryin’ to find her, she’s not there.

Well, let me tell you ’bout the way she looks,
The way she acted, the color of her hair.
Her voice was soft and cool,
Her eyes were clear and bright but she’s not there.

However it seems the video below is closer to the reality of how the jilted science blogsphere now feels about the NASA arsenic incident. Like Geena Davis’ change of character from soft pretty to steel hard in The Long Kiss Goodnight, when she realises that she’s been betrayed for money by her bosses. Similarities abound.

Good action revenge movie 🙂  A bit violent maybe, but it can be argued that NASA is likewise here (and more often) a bit “violent” with the facts. Note


Sooo … some new sciences (like astrobiology, ecology and climate science) are keen to leave their mark on history (“… the controversy over the Martian meteorite still sputters on today …”). But too often this mark descends into abuse of the scientific method and the current journal peer review system. It looks like the new scientific blogsphere with its instantaneous worldwide peer review system, backed up by hyperlinks, is reining in these cowboys. And the poisonous science-by-press-release is being controlled with science-by-the-scientific-method again. Good! 🙂

Poison Intolerant Brady

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One Response to To Arsenic … or not?

  1. I regret to admit that Western science is mostlyPR (public relations).

    [snip] OT – Brady

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