Or else it would fall down the news hole immediately. In “The Mystery of Bach’s Genius? Solved! It’s All in the Ink” (Evolution News & Views, August 12, 2011), David Klinghoffer observes, about the recent reassessment of evidence for nucleobases in space:
J.S. Bach wrote his musical scores with iron gall ink, which was in standard use in Europe at the time. The ingredients include tannic acid from oak galls, a hypertrophy growing on the sides of oak trees, and gum arabic, from the sap of the acacia tree. Imagine if a musicologist claimed that the mystery was fast being solved of how Bach composed music of such towering genius, since a “relatively simple combination of naturally occurring substances offers a plausible route to the building blocks” of the ink he used.
As an explanation of musical genius, this would be bewilderingly silly. Yet it’s the basic summary of a genre of breathless news items about the origins of life on earth, a staple of science journalism and, its symbiotic twin, peer-reviewed “origins” research.
The basis of life is information carried in genetic molecules like DNA — notes arranged in the right order — but the hypothesized existence of raw ingredients in the ancient earth, the stuff the ink is made of, is regularly assumed to be just about all you need to explain how life’s music was composed.
The interesting thing is why it’s done: Because in the current state of science and of media., no honest assessment of origin of life studies can be put before the public. That story just could not let itself be written.
Strange choice of words, you might think: “could not let itself be written.” Writers use the term to describe a situation where what hey have to say is so culturally unacceptable that, if they say it, they will be assumed to have said something else. For example, if one says “Origin o life studies are at an impasse,” the immediate translation is: Goddunnit! And the author is labelled a “creationist.” The problem is that, without an honest assessment of where we are, no useful directions are likely to emerge from research.
See also: Origin of life study shows how design can generate results.
The advantage – easy origin of life. The disadvantage – Staggeringly improbable