Remember that controversy over NASA-backed “arsenic-based life” claims? When researchers raised doubts about whether life forms could indeed live on arsenic, NASA haughtily replied that the issue would not be discussed on blogs, etc., only in peer reviewed journals. Whereupon eight papers appeared in Science, questioning the claims. Not only that, but the arsenic-based life claim made The Scientist’s list of top scandals of 2011. That latter development suggests a distinct hit of payback: If you are NASA, you can afford to be either wrong or haughty, but not (apparently) both.
I’m becoming increasingly disturbed by the behaviour of Wolfe-Simon’s arsenic life coauthors. She shared the credit for the work with 11 other authors but, in the year since the tide of support turned, the senior author is the only one to have said even a word to support her or defend the work. And even he mostly says ‘No comment’ or ‘We’ll wait for the peer-reviewed responses’. All of the authors signed the Response to Comments published in early June, so I presume they stand by the work. Why then is Wolfe-Simon the only one speaking up to defend it?
She quotes David Dobbs (Wired Neuron Culture blog):
… both NASA and her mentors and former lab heads seem to have abandoned Wolfe-Simon. It appears they bought and fueled the bus; put bright lights and banners on it; cheered as Wolfe-Simon drove it a bit wildly honking the horn; and have now thrown her under it.
Hmmm. May we suggest that one underlying favtor was the desperate need to demonstrate that life can just easily happen by chance? Arsenic-based life was a sheer gift from the chance multiverse – now cruelly snatched away by harsh facts.
If we could just acknowledge the underlying emotional need for an accidental origin of life, we could be more understanding of the lapses into which people get led (without being one bit less critical of their fact base). And the co-authors could be more courageous in acknowledging when they have snookered themselves. Consider: When people mess up because of a romantic attachment to a person of poor character – and then realize their mistake – we don’t come down on them like a ton of bricks, do we? It could happen to anyone who isn’t a sociopath. One suspects it will be happening to many who pursue a chance origin of life.
Hat tip: Pos-Darwinista
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