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How science works

You probably heard about the arsenic-based life-form last week. Was it a new form of life? The sort of life we might be finding on other planets. Alien life? Speculation was rife.

Scientists see fatal flaws in the NASA study of arsenic-based life

By Carl Zimmer
On Thursday, Dec. 2, Rosie Redfield sat down to read a new paper called, "A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus." Despite its innocuous title, the paper had great ambitions. Every living thing that scientists have ever studied uses phosphorus to build the backbone of its DNA. In the new paper, NASA-funded scientists described a microbe that could use arsenic instead. If the authors of the paper were right, we would have to expand our notions of what forms life can take.

Redfield, a microbiology professor at the University of British Columbia, had been hearing rumors about the papers for days beforehand.

. . .As soon Redfield started to read the paper, she was shocked. "I was outraged at how bad the science was," she told me.

Redfield blogged a scathing attack on Saturday.

Other scientists have also examined the experiment carefully. Their conclusion: The experiment was flawed. They meticulously detailed the flaws.

What makes the arsenic experience different from the global warming brouhaha?

Scientists were the primary agents and they acted as investigators rather than mouthpieces. Politicians and profiteers were not backing a preordained hype-thesis nailed into public consciousness with large government grants.

Link thanks to Instapundit.

Comments (1)


And critics were not slandered, denied access to publication, excluded from consideration for jobs, etc. Of course, that may just be because the critics spoke up before critical mass was achieved and too many oxen of reputation and gelt could be lined up to be gored. Academe is sometimes, as Tom Lehrer informed us, composed of "ivy-covered professors in ivy-covered halls."

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