Followup thoughts on the meteorite fossils claim

By Phil Plait | March 7, 2011 9:21 am

On Saturday I posted about the claims of Richard Hoover, a NASA scientist who says he has found evidence of fossilized microbes in a meteorite. As soon as I saw the story (thanks to a tweet from my friend Sheril) I knew the ‘net would explode with the news, so I wrote a quick post about it. My intent was to be as scrupulously fair as I could be while still trying to rein in the usual speculation that follows sexy news like this.

I’ve had a day to mull all this over, and I wanted to write some more thoughts about it. My initial thought was, of course, extreme skepticism — we’ve seen claims like this before which haven’t panned out, and this one has a lot more, um, hyperbole than most before it — but not being an expert in biology I didn’t want to make any firm conclusions until the experts weighed in.

Well, now they’re weighing in.

You can skip down to my conclusions — let’s just say here it doesn’t look good for the microaliens — but what follows is a more in-depth analysis.

The Science

My friend Penny Boston is an astrobiologist at New Mexico Tech (if her name is familiar, she was a guest scientist on episode 2 of "Bad Universe", when we went into Spider Cave to look at extremophiles). She sent me a note about Hoover’s claims, saying:

Rocks, even the most high density materials, are prone to microfractures. Microorganisms are notoriously splendid at working their way into incredibly minute microfractures…

Showing that the bug that you have actually is NOT a contaminant organism that made its way into a meteorite is a practically unsolvable problem. If you turn up an organism whose chemistry, way of coding information, or something else (besides morphology) indicates that it is significantly (and I MEAN significantly) different from anything that has ever been seen on Earth, THEN you might have a chance of proving this. Pictures of tube shaped structures don’t do it.

I wondered about this as well. As I said in my first post, the major problem here is contamination. Even if we assume the things Hoover is seeing are fossilized life forms — and that’s not established! — can he show beyond a reasonable doubt that they are not from Earth? The meteorite in question is not a hard, dense rock, but actually very soft and friable (crumbly). Contamination in such a specimen is very likely. Hoover does not and really can not make a strong case that contamination is ruled out.

Another concern of mine was that he is basing a lot of this on the shape of the structures he sees… but looking like a microbe doesn’t make them a microbe! And Hoover goes farther than that. In an earlier work, he states flatly that these objects are fossils, and that they have bacterial structures inside them:

Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (EDS) and 2D maps indicate that these filaments in Orgueil are permineralized with magnesium sulfate, encased within carbon-rich sheaths and depleted in Nitrogen. Many of the large and complex forms are polarized filaments that exhibit highly differentiated and specialized cells for nitrogen fixation (heterocysts) and reproduction (hormogonia, akinetes and baeocytes).

Look at the phrasing there: he is stating these things have structures that perform biological processes. There’s no "maybe", or "perhaps" in his claims. He is saying quite simply these things were once alive.

I have a serious problem with that. So does Dr. Boston:

I find many morphologies for which I am not sure that it is actually an organism. I have to find many of them repeatedly in the same context to increase confidence, and ideally I am only really sure I have a true beast in those instances when I can actually grow them in the lab and match them up to the morphology.

Shape may be interesting, but it is not nearly enough to make claims of ET life.

Others agree. Rosie Redfield, a microbiologist in British Columbia, has a lot to say about these claims as well. Her conclusions are pretty clear, saying:

As evidence for life this is pathetic.

Yikes. She goes into a lot of detail about Hoover’s methods, analysis, and conclusions, and her opinion is pretty clear.

At MSNBC’s Cosmic Log, science journalist Alan Boyle talked to some scientists, and they are clear as well. Rocco Mancinelli at Bay Area Environmental Research Institute said:

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.

I’ll admit these are falling into line with my own initial feelings — but I wanted to be as sure as I could that my own "Oh come on" reaction wasn’t biasing my own opinion. Scientists in this field at best seem to be saying that Hoover’s claims are not supported by his evidence. Others are saying he’s outright wrong.

The Journal

Also, as a skeptic, the journal that published Hoover’s paper raises alarms to say the least. As I pointed out yesterday, the pedigree of the Journal of Cosmology is not exactly sterling. For example, they published an error-laden article on a purported planet in the outer solar system, where the author, Gabriel Beck, took the opportunity to issue a grade-school insult at me. I say this not in retribution or because his words stung (trust me, I hear worse all the time), but because it shows the journal may be somewhat less than academic. Now, you might say the same thing about my blog, but the difference here is that this is a blog, where I am free to state opinions or be silly if I want. A journal that claims to be scientific may wish to hold itself to a different standard.

Again, this is not evidence that Hoover is right or wrong, but it provides a context for the claims. As Ian O’Neill points out in his review of this, why didn’t Hoover publish this in Science or Nature, or a scientific journal with a solid history? Why isn’t this all over NASA’s site? That’s not an ad hominem attack; it’s a legitimate concern. Hoover is a NASA scientist, and it’s odd, to say the least, that this work wasn’t published and publicized with NASA’s imprimatur.

The News

A lot of folks (in blogs and social network comments) are making hay about Hoover and the Journal going to Fox news with this story, the obvious implication that the words Fox and news shouldn’t even be in the same language. While I am no fan of Fox — to say the very absolute least — I don’t think this is a fair point; it’s neither here nor there. Obviously, Hoover and the editors at the journal think this is big news, so they approached a news organization. I do think going to just one group is a little weird, and it smacks of publicity-hounding (which in science has a deservedly bad reputation — <cough cough> Pons and Fleischmann <cough cough>). However, recently, most of the big online news media have published ridiculous science stories with no fact-checking at all. From asteroid impacts to Betelgeuse exploding, the quality of science reporting has dropped precipitously in many of the so-called mainstream media.

I will note that it’s interesting that the journal didn’t issue a general press release, though. Given the above, clearly a lot of news venues would’ve uncritically jumped all over the claims.

It’s also interesting that the journal sent word of this to scientists and asked for their opinions; while it smacks of publicity stunt it’s also not a terrible idea for a paper that is making an extraordinary claim (although that should be done after a very thorough vetting by referees before publishing, something that is not clear happened with this paper). The real test will be if the journal actually publishes quotes from scientists eviscerating Hoover’s work. Given what Drs. Boston, Mancinelli, and Redfield have said, I imagine that will be a common reaction. Will the journal see fit to print them?

The Conclusion (for now)

As I predicted (like it wasn’t obvious), this story is spreading like wildfire. A lot of people reading the story see this as a legitimate and conclusive scientific finding, because it was certainly phrased and designed to seem that way. Buzzfeed, for example, has the headline, "NASA Scientist Finds Extraterrestiral [sic] Microbial Life In Meteorite". Other examples abound.

So here’s what I think:

1) When I read the paper, my first reaction was pretty strongly of the "Not buyin’ it" variety. The science seemed shaky, and Hoover’s techniques doubtful, but my lack of expertise prevented me from drawing strong conclusions. However, experts in the field of micro- and astrobiology are starting to weigh in, and clearly think the claims of ET life are bogus.

2) The method of publication is decidedly odd, avoiding the big, reputable journals and instead going with a journal that has published clearly inaccurate articles in the past. I consider this very suspicious but not necessarily evidence the research is wrong.

3) The method of publicizing is also decidedly odd, avoiding going through NASA channels to issue a press release and instead approaching one news venue directly. Again, as in (2), this is suspicious but not conclusive for or against the results.

4) Publicly asking for other scientists’ opinions was shrewd, but given the opinions I’m seeing from them so far it’s likely to backfire. Hard. But the media won’t cover that as much as the original announcement — it’s not as sexy, frankly — so it’s unlikely to make much of a difference there. It’s up to blogs and other venues to make sure people get the actual, scientific, and skeptical viewpoint out.

5) Bottom line: given what scientists are saying now, together with my initial reactions and further thought, it’s my personal opinion that Hoover’s claims are wrong. There are way, way too many red flags here. As a scientist and a skeptic I have to leave some room, no matter how small, for the idea that this might be correct. But that room is tiny indeed, and it looks to me that the search for life beyond Earth will continue, and in time will eventually produce scientifically rigorous results.

But that time is not yet here.


Related posts:

Has life been found in a meteorite?
Media FAIL again: HuffPo and Apophis edition
Betelgeuse followup
No, there’s no proof of a giant planet in the outer solar system

Comments (168)

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  1. Sion

    Thew thing that is bugging my colleagues and me is how bacteria in a chondritic meteorite could fossilise in the first place. Where is the mineral-rich liquid water flowing over and through the bacteria, replacing the organic material, coming from?

  2. He needs to turn his samples over to another group for investigation… Simple, really.

  3. Gus Snarp

    Calling the Journal of Cosmology a journal seems overly generous to me. It’s a crank website at best.

  4. Doug McLachlan

    Phil,

    Funny that you mention the media firestorm. It is big, yes, but far less in the Main Stream Media than was my recollection of previous claims of micro martians. That in itself is rather telling.

    Imagine if this claim had it been made a quarter century ago. It would be either the lead item on the evening news (remember when people watched the evening news) or it would have been relegated to the cover of the National Enquirer – complete with a photo of ET meeting President Reagan.

    I actually find this encouraging that there is a strong enough undercurrent of knowledge in the general meida consuming population to know that the claim, while worthy of skepticism for all the points you (and others) mention but that the concept is, in itself, completely withing the sphere of believablility. That may be the great shift here. Yes, this claim may be garbage but the idea of extraterrestrial life is now firmly in the catagory of “when” we find it not “if” we will find it. Let’s not discount that shift – it is profound.

    Doug

  5. Hey, if someone COULD find all those socks that go missing in the dryer, that WOULD be a major achievement. [/seinfeld]

  6. callcenterhero

    those aliens aren’t scary!

  7. AliCali

    I have a question of degrees.

    Dr. Plait wrote: “Even if we assume the things Hoover is seeing are fossilized life forms — and that’s not established! — can he show beyond a reasonable doubt that they are not from Earth?”

    Does Hoover have to show this beyond a reasonable doubt, or that it is more likely that the fossils are from non-Earth origin than Earth origin (i.e. most likely of all theories)?

    If there are any set of competing theories trying to explain a circumstance, does one theory have to be beyond a reasonable doubt, or can the generally accepted explanation just be more likely than the others? Where is the line where we say, “We don’t know,” to “We think it’s this,” to “This is the generally accepted explanation?”

  8. angelo

    @Sion

    well, carbonaceous chondrites like Orgueil (CI1s) actually saw a lot of aqueous alteration in their parent body

    problem is, it’s an old fall, not always carefully stored, and a very fragile meteorite
    even *mineral* contamination is a problem: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2001M%26PS…36.1321G

    by the way, PZ is not exactly convinced either…

  9. Thanks for breaking this down in such a nice, analytical manner. A lot of people aren’t learning critical thinking skills these days. Just starting with the basics of “where is this published and what is their track record” followed by “what is this individual hoping to accomplish with the publication of this info?” help poke a lot of holes. A quiet release to peer review would have been the way for true review, but of course would not have received as much, if any, coverage.

  10. kevbo

    Yup, the ‘Journal’ does seem to be a top-notch publication. I’m glad to hear you found that sock, though.

  11. cdgg

    Excellent article.

  12. Balok image is enough to make this the best article on the subject yet. DUH WINNING.

  13. Apparently Hoover tried to get this paper peer reviewed before to no avail according to this statement from NASA:

    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=32928

  14. I disagree that contamination is a problem. First because the meteorite fell in 1806; if it was contamination after the meteorite arrived to Earth you could definitively find some DNA, some protein… even some living cells actually contaminating the interior of the metorite. The entire genome of Neanthertal has been sequenced from bone fragments more than 30000 years old: I repeat, if there was modern contamination after 1806, it’d be pretty obvious to identify. The meteorite is however 4.56 billion years old, so it actually is older than Earth… there’s no chance that such structures are modern contamination, or that they fossilized after the XIX century.

  15. I took a look at the “Journal of Cosmology” web page, and that journal screams crackpot as loudly as can be. It’s not just the unprofessionalism of having a blog comment in a supposed professional journal. It’s the fact that they’re all about “quantum consciousness” and the “myth of the Big Bang” and all kinds of other fringe crackpotism. It’s not quite as crackpot as, say, Plasma Cosmology, and sometimes “respectable” names (like Roger Penrose — who at least used to be respectable) get associated with this stuff, but it’s fringe at the least.

    I know that you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, and even though somebody says wrong stuff it doesn’t mean they can’t say something right. But this journal does not indicate “respectable”. If you want your findings to be taken seriously, you need to think a little bit about the sorts of things you’re going to associate them with.

  16. kid cool

    nice analysis.

    I read about it on the HuffPo and was suspicious when they wrote he has made this type of claim before.

  17. Sassan K. Darian

    I am confident in Dr. Hoover and his reputation. His claims will be put to rigorous scrutiny and only that will determine the facts; not speculation. Let’s not dismiss the claims from such a reputable man until it has been put under rigorous review from scientists all around the world.

  18. Mark

    Dr. Hoover posits that the microbes existed and, indeed, lived within the comets themselves (this is true; read the article http://journalofcosmology.com/Life100.html). He demonstrates this by showing that the temperature of a comet can exceed the melting point of water, ergo there are instances where there is liquid water within the body of a comet.

    What Dr. Hoover does NOT state is how the supposed life forms developed there, nor how they became fossilized.

    The remainder of the article is similarly suspect.

    Dr. Hoover takes great pains in his article to show that his methodology in data sampling was as accurate as it could be; he paid particular attention to the possibility of contamination, and took measures to avoid it by maintaining a sterile environment and sealing the sample after splitting it (to get at the likely-uncontaminated interior). After scanning the sample, he repeatedly noted that there was no detection of nitrogen despite the detection of organics (carbon, hydrogen, etc). Comparing this finding to similar scans of organic material (ie, mammoth hair) from multiple eras to find that ancient (ie, insects in amber) organic samples contain no nitrogen but recent (ie egyptian mummies) samples that do, he concludes that whatever he was scanning, assuming it was biologic (and not mineralogic), it could not have been a recent (~ 150 years) contamination.

    So, whatever he was looking at, it seems to be part of the original meteorite.

    The problem lies heavily in his interpretation. He concludes, by chemical composition comparison and visual comparison, that the filaments are fossilized bacteria. However, his presented arguments for visual comparison are lacking, in that he notes only the general shapes between the filaments and the (living!) cyanobacteria; he does not compare with fossilized cyanobacteria in his article. Chemically, well I am not a chemist, so the only thing I can say is that, nearly everything in our solar system came from the core of a star, and it was more or less dispersed fairly evenly; at least, to the point where it comes of no surprise to analyze a comet and find percentages of materials analogous to similar terrestrial percentages.

    I advise everyone to read and understand the article (url above) with all appropriate skepticism and doubt. A single shred of faith can undermine good science.

  19. When you typed microaliens, for some reason my brain read “midichlorians”! :o

    Damn you Lucas!

  20. Cathy

    Tanai: The evidence is shaky that these are even fossils at all. Hoover didn’t claim he found DNA, just that he found squiggly structures that look like bacteria. If they were truly fossilized structures, then we could probably slice them in half and see organelles. As that has not been done yet, the burden of proof is still on Hoover to show how he knows they were even alive at once point. Having carbon rich, nitrogen depleted exteriors of the tubes isn’t enough.

  21. Ron1

    spaceREF has a page with a statement by Dr. Paul Hertz (chief scientist, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate) about Richard Hoover’s paper in which he says NASA was unaware of the paper’s submission to the journal of Cosmology or of the paper’s publication, and not much more.

    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=32928

    cheers

  22. Bill the Wrenchbender

    When I saw this story on FARK, it seemed too good to be true.
    Seems like that is the probable case, ah well. I’m sure it is a matter of “when” and not “if”, just hope I’m around to see it.

  23. Jay Fox

    Carl Sagan:

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    I do not see evidence matching the claim.

  24. AM

    I am curious about the journal’s payment policy. You have to pay to be published. That isn’t the case in real journals, is it?

    http://journalofcosmology.com/About.html

  25. JMW

    “Orgueil” is a french word meaning “pride” in a negative sense – not as in pride in one’s accomplishment, but pride as in self-regard, puffery, ego.

    Given this, it would have been better if, instead of being a carbonaceous chondrite, the meteorite had been “irony-nickel”.

  26. HvP

    Doug McLachlan,

    The optimist in me would like to think that the relative disinterest in this story by the public is due to them being more skeptical. However, realistically I’m afraid that it’s simply a result of decades of being barraged with uncritical junk by the media to the point that they feel that they can’t trust anything reported as science anymore. The scientists who cried wolf, you might say.

    AliCali said, “Does Hoover have to show this beyond a reasonable doubt, or that it is more likely that the fossils are from non-Earth origin than Earth origin (i.e. most likely of all theories)?”

    I think the Carl Sagan quote that Jay Fox posted is helpful here, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

    Also, it’s a matter of degree of certainty and lack of precedent. It’s hard enough to tell if micro-structures in rocks are of terrestrial biological origin, much less of extra-terrestrial origin. We have no positive examples of extra-terrestrial life forms with which to establish any degree of certainty about what they should look like.

  27. Mike

    I’ve been holding off some skepticism because Dr. Hoover is a NASA scientist – am I being hopelessly naive? Do they screen for crackpots? Do they discipline scientists who are obviously pushing this crap? Have they even commented?

    That’s what I don’t get in all of this – either way. The scientific consensus seems to be very strong. So how does NASA tolerate this?

  28. SLC

    As I commented yesterday, which comment fell into a black hole, PZ Myers commented a couple of days ago and more recently this morning that the paper is rubbish.

  29. DrBB

    Hoping this is far enough down-thread for an irrelevant comment but thanks for incorporating that alien image from “The Corbomite Maneuver,” an episode responsible for one of my all time fave Trek quotes, which I have deployed many times to a highly satisfactory ironic effect: “And now another demonstration of our superiority!”

    On edit: Balok, that was his name! Thanks for comment upthread. Played by Ron Howard’s little brother, if memory serves. Mmm, tranya–I hope you relish it as much as I.

  30. Having read the professional comments collected thus far at the journal site, I am more intrigued than I was yesterday. One issue is that answering ‘the question’ is multi-disciplinary. You really need an expert mineralogist, an expert petrologist and experts in Archaeans and bacteria. The lack of a team effort here is unfortunate. I’d also like to know the bulk mineral composition of these chondrites, particularly the percentage of radioactive minerals, and just more about their mineralogy in general (yes, I know this is available elsewhere, but it would be good to have it summarized in the paper).

    The reason is that Hoover’s hypothesis depends on cometary bodies being a suitable in situ environment for microbial life prior to and during the period of early planetary development. A steady heat source is essential, unless we’re positing that the comets maintained nearly circular orbits inside of Mars or at least near Earth. With enough radioactive elements, there could be enough heat within a large cometary body to allow for water to be in a liquid state in pore spaces.

    @AM — “I am curious about the journal’s payment policy. You have to pay to be published. That isn’t the case in real journals, is it?”

    Yes, sometimes, especially smaller ones, such as the Northeast Naturalist, which publish paper versions. Fees are necessary to defray lay-out and printing costs. You still have to get your paper reviewed and accepted, of course.

  31. Rogerborg

    Yes, it’s probably tosh, but peer review can sometimes be a synonym for people who didn’t manage to get in to the party telling each other how lame it must be.

    There’s a certain smack of “If I had a meteorite and bacon, I’d do a much better study and make wicked bacon and eggs, if I had any eggs” to the criticism.

  32. John

    I first saw this story via Yahoo! News and the reporting was so awful that, although I withheld judgement on the findings themselves, I was convinced that journalists should be required to take a course in scientific literacy before earning a degree. I can’t understand quoting a “journal” before checking the journal’s validity. That’s the equivalent of not checking your quotes–worse, actually.

  33. GrogInOhio

    After reading a bit of the Journal of Cosmology, I think you’re being overly generous. Combined with the NASA statement mentioned above, I think Richard Hoover is a crank.

  34. Ken

    Mike @29: The recent “arsenic DNA” research was also done for NASA, although IIRC they were just the funding agency and the scientists did not work directly for them.

    I don’t have any problems with NASA employing scientists who are sometimes wrong. Any scientist can be wrong at times, and I would even argue that ones who are never wrong aren’t trying hard enough. I agree, though, that if they don’t accept the corrections by their peers, they’ve crossed a line and NASA needs to take a look at whether they are making the best use of their funds.

  35. Murff

    So, a scientist studies an object, comes to a conclusion. Puts it out for other scientists to review his work. They do and find problems.

    Really, other than the media part (which I could care less about), it seems like the scientific method is working fine here.

  36. AM

    @Douglas, thanks. Had no idea.

  37. andy

    Makes me wonder why there are not more actual biologists involved in these astrobiology claims.

    The actual biologists are clearly wondering this too.

  38. TheAnt

    Thank you for the excellent summary here. I already had my doubts but you confirmed what I suspected. Carbon is a material that can make amazing shapes under certain conditions. But it is not a good substrate for fossils.
    We do have a couple of indications for alien life, methane on Mars and a possible chemical inbalance of the atmosphere of Titan, but it will be a long time before we can have any answer whether these are merely chemical processes or something more interesting.
    The wish for a quick answer is the reason this story got that spread.

  39. Old Rockin' Dave

    As to the question of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, here is what a well-known amateur reasoner had to say on the subject:
    [W]hen you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. It may well be that several explanations remain, in which case one tries test after test until one or other of them has a convincing amount of support. – Sherlock Holmes

  40. Perhaps someone can help me…

    Is there an accepted scientific demarcation between ‘living’ and ‘nonliving’ complex chemical processes? If not, it seems obvious that there are likely to be complex chemical processes occurring ‘out there’.

    I understand that religious/spiritual/cosmological folks make these distinctions as rules of thumb for social or moral conduct, but I do not see how science can find some objective distinction between what’s alive and what’s not alive but is merely some complex, historically-emergent (or whatever) chemical process. I see that they can assume or define a distinction and make it operational through practice and peer-review and so forth, but how can they find some objective tell which sorts the living from the non-living?

    It’s a slightly philosophical question, but why should we pretend that categorizations such as ‘living’ and ‘dead’ are somehow unaffected by the social institutions in place? If these scientists lined up to say that these ‘tubules’ (or whatever) were living, wouldn’t these things then, as we use our language, be ‘living’? After all, the norms for use of scientific language are established by social groups as a tool for predicting and manipulating phenomena, ‘truth’ is just a rhetorical veneer which arises when we make fictional rationcinations, is it not? Are we not concerned, in talking about truth, with questions about what language is warranted and how it is controlled by specific groups of experts? What Newton said was first false, then true, then false again but useful as a rule-of-thumb in certain terrestrial domains.

    Call me crazy, but I don’t see how we could establish some objective fact about whether or not some things are ‘living’. There are obvious cases, but we are concerned with the grey areas here. Doesn’t it just become a matter of naming? Aren’t the skeptical scientists involved in their own brand of weird, speculative metaphysics? Don’t both sides of this debate have extra-empirical assumptions which are open to criticism?

  41. I blogged on it as well and ended it with Carl Sagan’s famous quote:

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs.

    Thanks for the write up Phil- will add a link to this on my post.

  42. ABooth

    It’s funny how so many dismiss for lack of evidence, when by the very nature of the research, there is very little evidence to work with.

    The fact is; his findings are either true or false and citing insufficient evidence, doesn’t turn a fossilized life form into something else. Mockery is one of the greatest tools for holding back scientific discovery and this article is nothing more than one big “I Don’t Buy It” article.

    Why people try to convince others to dismiss someone’s research without looking at that research themselves, I find pathetic.

    It’s much easier to be a skeptic and a critic than a visionary. One requires hard work. The other requires an audience of fools.

  43. Eugene

    Would there be a way to identify the age of a fossil within a meteorite? Or does deep space and the collision with Earth make that impossible? Because if you could, then all you’d have to do is figure out whether the fossils are older than the meteorite’s presence on Earth.

  44. I have always believed that we weren’t the only beings on the Universe. In fact, if you ask me, I think I have a very valid proof for this.

    Look at the human body. It is made up of cells, tissues, organs, systems that make up the organism (in this case, MAN). Everything has its function in its world (or its planet) inside of the human body (universe); the liver, kidneys, brain, lungs, bones, etc. They work together, but also independently for the proper functioning of our bodies. Cells interact just like we do, send messages, procreate, protect and respond to threats and dangers, just like we do. To the cell, the tissue becomes its universe for which it might not comprehend its entire functionality because it functions within itself to effectively work. Same applies to the tissue with respect to the organs, and the organs with respect to the entire body. Each of these organs might know of each other because messages are constantly being transmitted across the entire body, but there is no proof (at least I do not know of any), which says that the eyes understand the work-abilities of the ureters and vice versa. So to the eye, there might not even be a ureter as far as it is concerned. Does that mean that the ureter does not exist? NO!

    Cells are created (born), carry out their duties, and die when they are old. In the same way, We are born, we live and we die. LIFE GOES ON! In my opinion, our contribution to the entire universe is a mystery we are yet to resolve, and might never will.

    In perspective, it is assumed that there are between 50 to 100 trillion (50 – 100,000,000,000,000) cells in the body. There might be more, or less. In like manner, it is speculated that there are about 200 billion galaxies in the universe, averaging about 150 billion stars each.

    Lets assume that there are about 3 planets orbiting each star, if my math is still correct, (and I hope it is) that would roughly amount to 3 x 150 billion x 200 billion = 90,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (90 sextillion) planets. We’d only just be 1 in all that.

    That is equivalent to 1.1 x 10–²³. This is about 1/10 the diameter of an electron, which is smaller than the proton, way smaller than the nucleus, and definitely nothing close to the size of a cell. Go figure!

    So according to my math, if there are actually between 50 and 100 trillion cells in the body, which is the basic unit of life, and there really are 90 sextillion planets; that’s between 900 million to 1.8 billion times more planets on the universe than there are cells in the human body.

    And people doubt that there is the presence of ‘Other Life’ on the Universe?

    I don’t think God stopped creating after He created MAN. The Bible just said HE rested on the 7th day. What did HE do after the 7th day, 8th day, 9th day, etc? Also didn’t HE also create the angels anyway? So if Christians believe in angels, and principalities and powers, why not ‘Other Life’? They in themselves are Aliens, don’t you think? #justsaying

    more on my bolg: chikeukaegbu.wordpress.com

  45. TheBlackCat

    Is there an accepted scientific demarcation between ‘living’ and ‘nonliving’ complex chemical processes? If not, it seems obvious that there are likely to be complex chemical processes occurring ‘out there’.

    The definition I saw that makes the most sense is:

    Something that is able to carry out controlled, non-equilibrium chemical reactions and maintain this control in the face of changing external conditions within a reasonable range.

    So it is not the complexity of the reactions that matters, it the fact that the reactions are regulated so they operate at a certain restricted level even if the levels of inputs and/or outputs change.

  46. R2K

    Murff Says:
    March 7th, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    So, a scientist studies an object, comes to a conclusion. Puts it out for other scientists to review his work. They do and find problems. Really, other than the media part (which I could care less about), it seems like the scientific method is working fine here.

    Well Murff here is the issue… The problems found with this work were found several years ago. Rather than try harder, or share his work, or get someone else to verify it… this scientist just went to a shady (soon to close after being in operation for only about two years) journal, and then PAYING to have it posted there. A journal with bizarre political and scientific ideas on the edge of conspiracy theory.

    The author jumps to conclusions that are not supported by evidence. If science were working here, we would never have seen this paper because it is not good enough, and not ready to be posted. With more work and better evidence, then it would be ready for a cautious posting.

  47. This is interesting. Apparently the paper had been rejected by the Inter. Journal of Astrobiology.
    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=32928

  48. ccpetersen

    Murff: it would appear that the “research” and “paper” that Hoover did and published would have gotten an undergraduate student an F for the same effort.

    That “journal” contacted me a year or so back asking if I could submit papers of “relevance” to their new site, citing my astronomy books and articles published, etc. I went to their site and couldn’t believe my eyes. It just screamed “crackpottery”.

    I was also highly amused by the “self immolation” press release the “journal” put out recently, describing how they are ceasing publication. It was screechy, whiny, unprofessional, and skirted THIS close to sounding like a screaming two-year-old who wasn’t getting his/her way and thus was going to take all the toys and go home.

    Real scientists don’t screech like babies with doughy pantloads.

  49. HvP

    chike ukaegbu said, “So according to my math, if there are actually between 50 and 100 trillion cells in the body, which is the basic unit of life, and there really are 90 sextillion planets; that’s between 900 million to 1.8 billion times more planets on the universe than there are cells in the human body.”

    Error, error! Proceeding from false assumptions alert!

    There is no evidence to support the assumption that the number of life-sustaining planets correlates in any way with the number of cells in the human body… except that you have to have at least one of the former in order to have even justone of the latter.

  50. John H

    Large collisions with earth have ‘splashed’ surface material into space in the past. Perhaps
    this was the result of some ancient ejected contamination.

  51. Bias

    I think this article is very bias. You didn’t think he was right, so you found some experts that were willing to go with your thoughts. You only found experts that happend to think he is wrong, but what about the experts that think he’s right, that he actually found something?

    If you want a fair answer, you should weight it between both sides.

  52. Robert

    Now I’m not a geologist, so I’m very probably completely wrong here, but it seems to me that meteorites form under extremely non-Earthlike conditions. Between the time they form and the time they reach Earth, they go through some of the most extreme conditions imaginable from the radiation and vacuum of space to re-entry. So I seriously doubt that anyone can say what kind of rock structures form on meteorites, let alone be able to claim from a picture alone that this could not possibly have formed naturally (non-biologically.)

    My first guess is that this is some kind of mineral vein that did not melt under re-entry while some of the remaining material did. Until we know a LOT more about how meteorites form, and are able to exclude the strangest situations, this will be my first guess for any strange structure found on a meteorite.

    If you were to make a movie of these bugs moving around and reproducing, then I’d start worrying whether the sample is contaminated. At the moment, in my opinion, its still way too early to even worry about that.

  53. It’s funny how so many dismiss for lack of evidence, when by the very nature of the research, there is very little evidence to work with.

    It’s clear to me that this paper (and evidence) belongs in the ‘provocative but necessarily speculative’ category. The Viking experiments showed how hard it is to devise tests for ‘evidence of life,’ albeit they had to do it with robot experiments and no had chance to re-test outside the chosen parameters.

    That said, it seems a skeptic needs to (a) show how these formations are abiogenic, ie. mineralizations of some type or (b) show they are fossils of Earth microbes which colonized the chondrites after falling to Earth. I’m hoping to see some good, hard counter-evidence addressing these two possibilities.

  54. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    #17:

    I am confident in Dr. Hoover and his reputation.

    Ironically, one of the questions out there now is if there is a “PhD”, a “BA” or nothing.

    #35:

    I think Richard Hoover is a crank.

    Well known McKay vouches for his research ability (if not against his crankhood).

    #44:

    Is there an accepted scientific demarcation between ‘living’ and ‘nonliving’ complex chemical processes? If not, it seems obvious that there are likely to be complex chemical processes occurring ‘out there’.

    No, there is no generally accepted definition, and it wouldn’t help you in an analysis.

    More generally, evolution can be defined as “descent with modification”, or the process which takes hereditary populations to hereditary populations with changes over generations.

    By that definition of life, as populations participating in the life process, you capture all evolvable biology whether you like it or not, cells as well as viruses. You also capture hardware and software genomic replicators, so you may want to identify biology with a natural LUCA or by specifying biochemistry.

    Now this is in principle enough to identify life at large, but it may take eons and large volumes of planetary bodies to find populations and see them evolve.

    More specifically people add cellular metabolism and subtract evolvability to commonly make a “NASA definition” with a) replicators b) metabolism. Then you can find individuals of cells or similar stuff in principle within minutes.

    You will also eventually find some unlikely duds, replicators that can’t evolve, non-biological chemistry and such. Fortunately those would be interesting all by themselves.

  55. Travis Monroe

    The original NASA mission statement:

    1. To advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe and use the environment of space for research.
    2. To explore, use, and enable the development of space for human enterprise.
    3. To research, develop, verify, and transfer advanced aeronautics, space, and related technologies.”

    This mission was changed a few years ago to include the hobby of searching for ET? Does anyone know who did that? NASA needs to get back to its real mission and if they find ET in the process, so be it. Spending billions on cosmic rabbit trails is a waste of taxpayer money and best left up to those private entities that have the funds to waste. That isn’t our federal government. It appears NASA has become another out of control bureaucracy redefining itself for the personal fulfillment and agenda of its government employees.

  56. TheBlackCat

    @ Douglas Watts:

    That said, it seems a skeptic needs to (a) show how these formations are abiogenic, ie. mineralizations of some type or (b) show they are fossils of Earth microbes which colonized the chondrites after falling to Earth.

    It doesn’t work that way. It is up to Hoover to show that they aren’t mineralizations or contamination. He failed to do either.

    It is the responsibility of the person making the claims to show that those claims are true, it is not the responsibility of the people who question the claims to show they are false.

    As long as Hoover can’t rule mineralization or contamination with a very high degree of reliability, then we have to assume it is one of the two.

  57. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    #54:

    That said, it seems a skeptic needs to (a) show how these formations are abiogenic, ie. mineralizations of some type or (b) show they are fossils of Earth microbes which colonized the chondrites after falling to Earth.

    Erhm, Hoover himself supplied the a) type information – the filaments had the signature of being “fossilized”, ie like the result of mineralization of organic material. Whether the original forms and/or kerogens were biological or not is the question – both biological and non-biological processes can form such.

    So you can use Hoovers data to “confirm” biology and non-biology both, conversely there is nothing to test either theory on.

    [Added in posting:] And what TheBlackCat says, the null hypothesis is non-life as in 10’s of 1000’s of other analyzed meteorites.

  58. Aaron

    Sounds like the alien commie microbes have got you all ready man! Conspiracy abounds!

  59. HvP

    Travis Monroe,

    I fail to see how finding evidence in support or against the existence of life on other worlds does not fulfill item one of NASA’s mission statement.

    “1. To advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe and use the environment of space for research.”

    Cited for emphasis: To advance the “understanding of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe…”

  60. Brian Too

    Time to extend the discussion a little.

    Here’s a problem I’ve thought a lot about. What if it turns out that convincing proof of extra-terrestrial life is nearly impossible to achieve?

    I think there are some very convincing scenarios of course. If you go somewhere for the first time and find unfamiliar life everywhere, right away, that’s powerful. If you find unfamiliar large (multi-cellular) organisms, that’s convincing. If you go and find fossilized remains, that’s indicative.

    However what if you go to a place like Mars or Venus and find this type of evidence? Single celled organisms (if you accept the claim). Nothing alive, or if it is alive you can’t culture it. Rare and scattered indications. Difficult places to live by our standards so that we wouldn’t be surprised to find that instances of local life would be few and far between. If indeed it exists at all.

    My concern is that some extremophiles are very hardy and are accompanying us to other worlds. Our own probes are potential sources of indigenous contamination. We’ve been sending probes for decades now. How do you distinguish hitchhikers from Earth from local organisms?

    If shape alone isn’t enough to go on, detecting single-celled extraterrestrial life could be fiendishly difficult. Yet our understanding of the development of life here on Earth, leads me to believe that the most common and likely form of extraterrestrial life, are simple single-celled organisms. Or their extraterrestrial analogues.

    And if there is anything at all to Panspermia theory, it does seem a good bet that generally recognizable cell-based life will be a common lifeform. At least within our solar system!

  61. And what TheBlackCat says, the null hypothesis is non-life as in 10′s of 1000′s of other analyzed meteorites.

    The CI carbonaceous chondrites examined by Hoover are extremely rare. There are only nine falls and finds known on Earth. They are very different from other meteorite types compositionally and mineralogically. See generally: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbonaceous_chondrite

    Comparison to them with other, much more common meteorite types is missing the point. These chondrites are extremely friable and clayey-like in texture, which is why they have only been collected fresh after falling or in Antarctica. If the fragments are submersed in water they disintegrate.

    The Meteoritical Society keeps the following database on all known CI carbonaceous chondrites. It’s a very short list. Select “CI chondrite” in the window labelled ‘all classes.’

    http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meteor/index.php

    Hoover himself supplied the a) type information – the filaments had the signature of being “fossilized”, ie like the result of mineralization of organic material. Whether the original forms and/or kerogens were biological or not is the question – both biological and non-biological processes can form such.

    If so, then the key (and only question) is the date of fossilization of the biogenic organisms observed in the SEM images. Five of the known and examined CI chondrites were observed to fall and collected soon thereafter, in 1806, 1864, 1938, 1911 and 1965. The other four were recently collected in Antarctica. For those examined that were observed to fall (five of the nine), we can positively fix the earliest date at which any Earth microbes could have begun colonizing them. So the question is whether the fossil forms of microbes in the SEM images could have plausibly formed since 1806, 1864, 1938, 1911 or 1965. I would like to see some good feedback on whether fossilization and mineral replacement of Earth microbes has been observed or is plausible on these short time scales.

  62. DerKlempner

    Honestly, I believe what he’s found in the meteorite *is* the fossilized forms of bacteria.

    But I don’t think they’re extraterrestrial in origin. I believe they’re Earth-based microbes that invaded the rock before it was ejected from our planet, only to fall back millions or billions of years later.

  63. John Jaksich

    Having read his vita a few months ago–its seems as if his judgement has become impaired. It is truly sad to see a gifted inventor and scientist go behind the normal channels of communicating science.

    Thank you Dr. Plait for your analysis.

  64. John S

    It seems to me that the argument against this being possible alien life is contamination …. no wait … it’s that it’s not life … wait … which one is it? Why can’t the person refuting this make up their mind? Why doesn’t the author simply acknowledge they do not know the truth … but no, he has to state that Hoover is wrong! Not that it could really go either way.

    I’ve read a bit about all of the things found in this meteorite and others and it seems to me that there is at least a significant amount of compelling evidence even if it can’t be “proven”. Anybody who claims otherwise is just being a know it all jerkwad.

  65. shunt1

    I actually agree with Phil’s five points as listed above.

    Unfortunately, they were directed towards his credibility instead of the actual physical evidence being presented.

    Facts are facts, and it does not matter who presents them. When something seems rather unusual, CHECK THE RAW DATA!

    Checking the raw data is something that I have been begging people on this blog to do for years.

    *WINK*

    Personally, I think that Richard Hoover may have been the first scientist to actually document the interaction of “Dark Matter” and the atoms contained in the meteorites which he has been studying.

  66. amphiox

    or if it is alive you can’t culture it.

    If it is alive, then you will be able to culture it. By definition. Possibly, perhaps even likely, you might not be able to culture it right away, you might not know how to culture it properly at first.

    But, if it is alive, you will be able to culture it. There will be a way, there for you to find. If it is alive. If there isn’t, it isn’t.

    How do you distinguish hitchhikers from Earth from local organisms?

    A hitchhiker from earth would have evolved on earth and descended from earlier organisms that lived on earth. The evidence of its history as an organism whose ancestry traces to earth would be evident all over it. Such evidence may not always be easy to discern, but it will be there. There to be found by one who tries hard enough to look for it.

    If shape alone isn’t enough to go on, detecting single-celled extraterrestrial life could be fiendishly difficult.

    More compelling that shape alone would be a cross-section through one of those shapes, showing internal structure. If I saw such a cross-sectional fossil with clear evidence of a bilayer set of outer and/or internal membranes, I would find that very, very compelling.

    Another very compelling type of evidence would be the demonstration of an information-containing molecule. In other words, a genetic molecule or templated product of a genetic molecule. It doesn’t have to be DNA, RNA, or protein, but if it is a polymer with variable subunits, and the order of those subunits can be shown to constitute a pattern that is non-random, the way a DNA, RNA, or protein sequence is, then that would also be very intriguing evidence.

  67. shunt1

    Now lets look at the physical evidence:

    1) This micro-structure is some form of a crystal.

    2) This micro-structure may be biological in origin.

    The first observation is that a crystal like this could only form in a fluid environment. Why?

    My second observation is with the rather sub-micro-structures shown in the images.

    Crystals are formed because of molecular bonds and must follow specific orientations. Why do quartz crystals always look the same?

    There are many sub-micro-structures in these images which are hard to explain with simply molecular crystal orientations.

    Observe the raw data and ask yourself some very simple questions….

  68. Honestly, I believe what he’s found in the meteorite *is* the fossilized forms of bacteria.
    But I don’t think they’re extraterrestrial in origin. I believe they’re Earth-based microbes that invaded the rock before it was ejected from our planet, only to fall back millions or billions of years later.

    This possibility has been raised in a commentary to the paper. But as a hypothesis, it raises its own unique set of challenges as daunting as an ET explanation. First, the impact which caused this amount of Earth mass to be sent out of Earth’s orbit in a contiguous and non molten state would have had to have been an enormous impact, ie. around the Hadean period of early planet development. The trick is how to get that amount of Earth mass blasted up and out of orbit without the friction and shock waves either vaporizing it or melting it. Tunguska 1908 suggests the temperatures achieved with even a 100 meter comet fragment hitting Earth. So if the CI1 chondrites came from an Earth source, the impactor must have been truly enormous and must have occurred very early in Earth history, ie. 3-4 gy. It is possible for this to have happened, since we know meteorites from Mars have fallen on Earth from a presumed similar period. So by the same argument, the fossilized microbes on these chondrites could as well be from Mars. I guess the nut would be if chemical and mineralogical signatures of the chondrites indicate or rule out an early Earth, early Mars or cometary origin to the host material, which is not even really a rock. It’s more of an amalgam.

    Radioactive dating of the Orgeuil meteorite, one of those used in Hoovers’ study, gives the matrix an age of 4.56 gy:

    “A new study suggests that temperatures in some parts of the disk were warm enough for liquid water to exist on the first solid bodies in the solar system just 20 million years after they had formed. That’s at least 30 million years earlier than indicated by previous evidence.

    The new finding, based on a highly accurate method for the radioactive dating of primitive meteorites, pinpoints one of the earliest and most important events in the solar system-the time at which frozen water became liquid.”

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_n8_v149/ai_18070942/

    So it appears the matrix within which Hoover has found what he terms microbial fossils predates the formation of the Earth. Interesting.

  69. In their “Encyclopedia of Planetary Science” (1997), Shirley and Fairbridge estimate the age of CI chondrites, ie. those used in Hoover’s study, as 4.56 gy and slightly before or contemporaneous with the formation of terrestrial rocks on Earth. They are REALLY old rocks.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/search?index=books&linkCode=qs&keywords=0412069512

  70. Joseph G

    Wait, “differentiated and specialized cells”? So he’s not just claiming that these were bacteria, but multicellular life!?
    I’ll take that with a couple grams of sodium chloride, I think.

  71. Due the controversy Hoover’s paper has stirred up, I supposed the best thing would be for his examination to be repeated by a new independent team of scientists.

    Despite the obscure media that was chosen to publish the news and despite all the relevant critique, maybe SOME of what he has found is right and interesting.

    Everybody targets his claims and says that the conclusions are wrong: maybe that is so, but the structures look distinct and interesting (at least to me, a non-scientist), maybe they show something else that is interesting? In all the scramble to distance everybody from the embarrassment, no one seem to care to elaborate whole hearted on alternative explanations for the structures, as if they are automatically ‘too boring’ compared to Hoover’s claims.

  72. BTW – maybe someone here can help with this question:

    Since these meteorites are ‘extremely rare’, old and unique: who give scientists permission to cut them up? (like Hoover did). Can anyone doing a research paper do that?

    Won’t the material ‘run out’, maybe before really sophisticated examination techniques become available (which I guess they will in the future, just extrapolating general technological development)? Who is managing the meteorites and giving the permissions – NASA?

  73. HvP

    Shunt1 said, “1) This micro-structure is some form of a crystal.

    Has that been established? What if they are merely softer materials that were extruded from pores in the rock due to heat/pressure? What if they are the result of the melting of materials on the surface of the rock when it encountered the heat of reentry?

  74. Looks like this has played out pretty much exactly the way I thought it would based on similiar past stories – extraordinary claim of meteorite life made – and quickly debunked and removed to the realm of being – at very best – highly dubious and inconclusive.

    The media, predictably, are reporting this with less skepticism & more credulity in the articles I skimmed through in today’s local newspapers – although they’re hardly giving it front page status either, mercifully.

    Nice write up BA – as always. :-)

    @17. Sassan K. Darian :

    I am confident in Dr. Hoover and his reputation. His claims will be put to rigorous scrutiny and only that will determine the facts; not speculation. Let’s not dismiss the claims from such a reputable man until it has been put under rigorous review from scientists all around the world.

    Didn’t you read what the BA wrote? Dr Hoover’s claims *were* put under rigiourous examination by expert scientists – and have been found wanting. :roll:

    As for Dr Hoover’s reputation – I think its now dropped – and even if it had’nt in science you need to support what you say with *Evidence* first and foremost.

    @ 81. Joseph G. : I’ll take that with a couple grams of sodium chloride, I think.

    *Only* a couple of grams? I’m taking it with a whole salt dome of halite! ;-)

    @26. JMW :

    “Orgueil” is a french word meaning “pride” in a negative sense – not as in pride in one’s accomplishment, but pride as in self-regard, puffery, ego. Given this, it would have been better if, instead of being a carbonaceous chondrite, the meteorite had been “irony-nickel”.

    Ha! That raised a smile from me – good one. :-)

  75. @55. Bias :

    I think this article is very bias. You didn’t think he was right, so you found some experts that were willing to go with your thoughts. You only found experts that happend to think he is wrong, but what about the experts that think he’s right, that he actually found something? If you want a fair answer, you should weight it between both sides.

    Well, not always.

    In science what matters is the evidence, the logical reasoning plus the calculations &/or observational &/or experimental results to back them up.

    Sometimes there really aren’t two sides – just correct and incorrect.

    If we’re doing maths do we weigh up the balance between 3 + 5 = 8 versus 3 + 5 = 10? No, because that’d be silly, right. If we’re studying stars do we give equal weight to the side that says they’re divine chariots pulled by anthropomorphic dieties such as Amon-Ra or Helios or or do we accept that they’re giant massses of plasma lit by internal nuclear fusion? Et cetera. This is one of those sort of situations.

    Dr Hoover has made an extraordinary claim – through a journal that you’ll see the majority of scientists here don’t think much of – for good reasons – the burden of proof is therefore on him. An examination of the rock in question has revealed a number of reasons why he’s wrong. That’s all.

    @46. ABooth :

    It’s funny how so many dismiss for lack of evidence, when by the very nature of the research, there is very little evidence to work with. The fact is; his findings are either true or false and citing insufficient evidence, doesn’t turn a fossilized life form into something else into a fossilised lifeform.

    Fixed that for you.

    This is not being dismissed for lack of evidence – if you read the opening post – & many of the comments – then you’ ll see *why* it is being dismissed and that’s because the evidence doesn’t support the conclusion argued for by Dr Hoover.

    Mockery is one of the greatest tools for holding back scientific discovery

    Examples of that please?

    and this article is nothing more than one big “I Don’t Buy It” article.

    In which the BA also explains *why*he doesn’t buy it (& why other experts don’t either) and thus why we shouldn’t. You forgot that part. :roll:

    Why people try to convince others to dismiss someone’s research without looking at that research themselves, I find pathetic.

    It would be *if* it was the case – which it is NOT. The BA & others *have* looked at that research – the Opening Post by the Bad Astronomer here directly links and quotes one of Dr Hoover’s earlier papers or did you miss that? :roll:

    It’s much easier to be a skeptic and a critic than a visionary. One requires hard work. The other requires an audience of fools.

    I think it is the other way round. Skepticism and criticism requires hard thinking, hard work of researching and studying and assessing things, being a visionary just requires having a vision. Mushrooms and tequila anyone!? ;-)

    (Of course, it does depend a bit on what sort of “visionary” you’re talking about & how you define it too.)

  76. Jeff P.

    It’s a bit unsettling to see the amount of quackery posted on the Internet. A guy who couldn’t get his article published by a real journal, a guy who we don’t even know if he has a real PhD, who decides he can’t just post his quackery in the “Geocities of Cosmology”, but has to do an interview with Fox News too? Honestly – how can people not see this for what it is?

    This isn’t a case like heliobactor pylori in guts causing ulcers that went against mainsteam ideology. This is a case of an individul out for personal attention and putting the pieces of a square through a triangular hole. Anyone who says this guy has a great reputation needs to have their head examined.

  77. TheBlackCat

    @ John S: Once again, it is up to the person making the claims to state their case. The author did not reliably rule out either contamination or non-biological origin, so his conclusion that it is proof of extraterrestrial life is unfounded.

    It doesn’t matter what it really is, what matters is whether the claim that it is proof of extraterrestrial life is supported. The author hasn’t ruled out more mundane explanations with any reliability.

    To give an example, say someone claims that the statistics in their experiment shows that ESP is true. Someone critiquing the results points out that the statistics were not carried out correctly, which could lead to false positives, and that the experiment did no reliably rule out bias in the choices made by the test subjects.

    The author responds “It seems to me that the argument against this being possible ESP is bias …. no wait … it’s that it’s bad statistics … wait … which one is it? Why can’t the person refuting this make up their mind?”

    The point isn’t that it is bad statistics or bias, the point is that, given how extraordinary the claims are, the author has to do a really good job ruling out more mundane explanations or it isn’t convincing. As long as more mundane explanations fit the facts equally well, if not better, then logically we have to tentatively assume that it is something more mundane.

  78. Good to see for astrobiologists and microbiologists weighing in. I had been sceptical (contamination – trajectory) for some years.
    Proof is in the pudd’n when our astronauts take rock samples from Mars, while walking on Mars. It is highly likely that Mars having been wet some billions years ago could well have the signatures of life and bacterial life forms. But it is also unlikely that a rock with microbial life landed in our lap here on Earth.
    Until all the facts can be examined, nothing can be ruled out and should remain in the vault as speculatory not fact.
    Trudi (truemaskedwabit)

  79. Nigel Depledge

    Cathy (20) said:

    Tanai: The evidence is shaky that these are even fossils at all. Hoover didn’t claim he found DNA, just that he found squiggly structures that look like bacteria. If they were truly fossilized structures, then we could probably slice them in half and see organelles. As that has not been done yet, the burden of proof is still on Hoover to show how he knows they were even alive at once point. Having carbon rich, nitrogen depleted exteriors of the tubes isn’t enough.

    Overall, I agree, except that you would not find organelles in bacteria or archaea.

  80. Nigel Depledge

    Clyde (44) said:

    Is there an accepted scientific demarcation between ‘living’ and ‘nonliving’ complex chemical processes? If not, it seems obvious that there are likely to be complex chemical processes occurring ‘out there’.

    This is a tricky question.

    My understanding is that there is no overall consensus, but there are various rules of thumb that are applied in limited situations.

    Probably the broadest rule of thumb of which I am aware is this: life is that phenomenon which undergoes evolution by natural selection.

  81. Nigel Depledge

    ABooth (46) said:

    It’s funny how so many dismiss for lack of evidence, when by the very nature of the research, there is very little evidence to work with.

    The fact is; his findings are either true or false and citing insufficient evidence, doesn’t turn a fossilized life form into something else. Mockery is one of the greatest tools for holding back scientific discovery and this article is nothing more than one big “I Don’t Buy It” article.

    Why people try to convince others to dismiss someone’s research without looking at that research themselves, I find pathetic.

    You seem to have missed the point.

    The discovery of extraterrestrial life would be huge. Even fossil evidence that suggests that ET life at least used to exist would be huge.

    Hoover’s claim is truly extraordinary. His evidence does not support it. (And, IIUC, he has failed to consider several mineralogical processes as possible explanations for the “lifelike” morphology he finds.) Therefore, he should not have made the claim in the first place. Every great scientist was their own biggest critic.

    Inadequately-supported claims like this not only destroy the credibility of the scientist involved; they harm the whole of science. Hoover seems to have let his optimism overcome his scientific judgement. Not just for a few hours or a single day, but for long enough to write a paper and have it published.

    It’s much easier to be a skeptic and a critic than a visionary. One requires hard work. The other requires an audience of fools.

    And it is easier to come up with a glib soundbite than to add something of value. Did you have a point?

    Many commenters here have agreed that Hoover is wrong, yet they still expect ET life to be discovered at some point sooner or later. But the evidence for such a discovery needs to be watertight.

  82. Nigel Depledge

    Bias (55) said:

    I think this article is very bias. You didn’t think he was right, so you found some experts that were willing to go with your thoughts. You only found experts that happend to think he is wrong, but what about the experts that think he’s right, that he actually found something?

    If you want a fair answer, you should weight it between both sides.

    Science does not deal in such wishy-washy concepts as “fair”.

    In this case, the opinion of an expert microbiologist far outweighs the opinion of this paper’s author (who, apparently, did not think to consult with expert microbiologists or astrobiologists before publishing). Hoover seems to have reached his conclusion based only on gross chemistry and morphology. There are other – perhaps more important – factors that he has failed to consider.

    Phil’s own words show a model of restraint and balance. He has sought expert opinion, and that opinion seems overwhlemingly to be that Hoover’s conclusion is wrong – or, giving him every benefit of the doubt, unwarranted based on the evidence he presented.

    If known mineralogical processes can account for what Hoover has seen, then the claim of ET fossils is a stretch too far.

  83. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 91. Nigel Depledge :

    Probably the broadest rule of thumb of which I am aware is this: life is that phenomenon which undergoes evolution by natural selection.

    [Pedant mode on, nit-pickity setting to maximum. ;-) ]

    So dogs, frex, that are “artificially selected” for by human breeders aren’t really alive then? ;-)

    Or computers that might be designed to be artificial intelligences cannot, by that definition, be alive? ;-)

    [/Pedant mode off.]

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

    The question of defining “life” is a rather complex and vexed one esp. at the most basic levels eg. virii, prions, crystals.

    Phil’s own words show a model of restraint and balance. He has sought expert opinion, and that opinion seems overwhlemingly to be that Hoover’s conclusion is wrong – or, giving him every benefit of the doubt, unwarranted based on the evidence he presented.

    Well said & seconded by me. :-)

  84. Nigel Depledge

    John S (73) said:

    It seems to me that the argument against this being possible alien life is contamination …. no wait … it’s that it’s not life … wait … which one is it?

    There are two separate problems with Hoover’s work.

    The first is possible terrestrial contamination. Hoover is sure he has ruled this out (the lack of nitrogen detected in the gross chemistry, and the precautions taken when cutting the chondrite open) but others are not convinced. For example, Hoover makes no mention of the fragile nature of these chondrites and the possibility that terrestrial microbes could enter the tiniest of cracks.

    A small amount of contamination might not give rise to a detectable amount of nitrogen, but would still be visible on the SEM.

    The second problem is that he has failed to demonstrate that the structures he observes are biogenic (terrestrial or otherwise). According to various comments posted further up this thread, there are mineralogical processes that can give rise to this kind of structure.

    Hoover’s conclusion that these structures are ET microbe fossils rests on the following:
    1. Precautions to eliminate terrestrial contamination;
    2. Chemistry that hints at non-living (and therefore possibly fossilised)structures;
    3. Shapes that resemble known terrestrial microbes.
    4. Ignorance of any non-organic process that could give rise to these structures.

    Point 3 is trivial and doesn’t really constitute evidence unless you are absolutely certain that you are right about 1 and 2. And points 1 and 2 are not sufficiently convincing. Point 4 is, to my mind, the clincher. Hoover did not do enough homework before publishing.

    Why can’t the person refuting this make up their mind? Why doesn’t the author simply acknowledge they do not know the truth … but no, he has to state that Hoover is wrong! Not that it could really go either way.

    It’s simple, unless you are deliberately missing the point.

    Hoover is wrong to make the claim he makes because his evidence does not support that claim. Having said that, there is a teeny, tiny chance that he is right. But, if Hoover is right, it is by luck, not by judgement.

    I’ve read a bit about all of the things found in this meteorite and others and it seems to me that there is at least a significant amount of compelling evidence even if it can’t be “proven”. Anybody who claims otherwise is just being a know it all jerkwad.

    Calling people who disagree with you “jerkwad” doesn’t make you right. The evidence really is too poor to support the claim that Hoover makes. Therefore, Hoover was wrong to make the claim at all.

  85. Nigel Depledge

    Shunt1 (78) said:

    There are many sub-micro-structures in these images which are hard to explain with simply molecular crystal orientations.

    They may be hard for you to explain, but this does not mean they are hard for an experienced mineralogist to explain.

  86. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (99) said:

    So dogs, frex, that are “artificially selected” for by human breeders aren’t really alive then?

    Yes. According to that definition. As you can see, it is not the best definition for the example you have chosen.

    Although, if I were to get really picky, I might point out that dogs can evolve by natural selection, it is just that selective breeding prevents them from doing so.

    Or computers that might be designed to be artificial intelligences cannot, by that definition, be alive?

    I highlighted the key phrase here. Yes, under that definition, an AI that cannot evolve is not alive, even if it can think, feel and sing “Daisy”. But software agents that can evolve are, by that definition, alive.

    I was trying to emphasise that any definition of life has limited applicability. I think you have emphasised this point even more.

  87. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Nigel Depledge : Yup. No worries – happy to help! :-)

  88. Messier Tidy Upper

    @29. Mike Says:

    I’ve been holding off some skepticism because Dr. Hoover is a NASA scientist – am I being hopelessly naive? Do they screen for crackpots?

    I’m pretty sure there is pyschological testing – or at least there was for astronauts especially – but even with the bets screening the occasional crackpot will still get through eg. Edgar Mitchell :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/04/22/edgar-mitchell-is-at-it-again-yawn/

    and Lisa Nowak – although in fairness people do change over time too and neither of those individuals was probably quite so .. eccentric .. when they were originally selected.

    Edgar Mitchell’s New Age interest kinda grew into an obsession post selection and esp. post-Apollo & as for Lisa Nowak, well people *will* do anything for love! ;-)

  89. Quinlan Atkinson

    Whenever I hear or read about physicists, astronomers, or biologists ravaging some scientist for making a claim such as this, it ironically reminds me of Copernicus before the Catholic Church. Even if there was actual life in the meteor, poor Richard Hoover was sandbagged to begin with – “It’s contaminated, he’s a crackpot, burn him, he’s a witch!”

    Now I’m just an old school secular guy who does believe in evolution, but just as an outside observer, I’m taken aback how Hoover was savaged by his colleagues for his claim. Not even willing to meet the guy halfway on “okay, I can see where he’s coming from, but has he consider: A,B,C as possible explanations.”

    Skeptics tend to be blind to their own zealot-like grip on the natural world. I regret that even if 200 years from now, a humble scientist discovered life from other worlds, and found solid ways of testing its validity, she or he would be crucified by their colleagues. It would never happen. Never. Because the consequences would be to loss of one’s reputation forever.

  90. amphiox

    Whenever I hear or read about physicists, astronomers, or biologists ravaging some scientist for making a claim such as this, it ironically reminds me of Copernicus before the Catholic Church.

    Ah. Another “they laughed at X” fallacy. Well, they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. And for every Copernicus, there are thousands of Bozos.

    (And incidentally, Copernicus was never severely persecuted by the Catholic Church. He delayed publishing his ideas for a long time, and most of the Church’s reactionary responses occurred only after his death, during which time Copernicus already enjoyed significant support within the scientific community – because they’d already had a chance to examine and test his ideas and found them compelling.)

    And the most important aspect of the Copernicus story is, of course, that his ideas were vindicated BY THE EVIDENCE.

    I regret that even if 200 years from now, a humble scientist discovered life from other worlds, and found solid ways of testing its validity, she or he would be crucified by their colleagues.

    No. No no no no no. No no no no no no no no no no!

    This is just flat wrong. If there were really “solid ways of testing its validity” it would be accepted, and the rapidity of the acceptance will be proportionate to the solidity of the evidence. If in 2030 NASA lands a probe on Europa and drops a submersible through the ice with a camera, and that camera returns video of a meter-long tentacled thing grabbing and trying to swallow the camera, acceptance will, I guarantee you, be almost universal within 24hours. If someone cultures a living prokaryote from a meteorite, shows a video of that critter swimming around in the medium, and isolates its genetic material and shows that its not made of DNA, and is willing to send samples of his living culture to other labs around the world, I can guarantee you that acceptance will proceed on the order of months, if not weeks.

    If anything, the number of scientists the world over who positive want there to be solid evidence for extra-terrestrial life is such that the danger is for superficially convincing but ultimately flawed evidence to be accepted erroneously too early.

  91. amphiox

    I’m pretty sure there is pyschological testing – or at least there was for astronauts especially – but even with the bets screening the occasional crackpot will still get through eg. Edgar Mitchell

    Such screens are also not always that good at spotting the ones who end up turning into crackpots after their work with NASA is done….

  92. amphiox

    Because the consequences would be to loss of one’s reputation forever.

    Remember the mars meteorite ALH84001 from 1996? Well that claim of fossil lifeforms looks like at present to be well debunked. But please note that the authors of that paper, to the man and woman, are still working scientists, and still widely respected in their fields. No one is calling any of them crackpots. And no one has been crucified. And no one’s reputation has unduly or unjustly suffered.

  93. Yojimbo

    @110 amphiox

    No one is calling any of them crackpots. And no one has been crucified. And no one’s reputation has unduly or unjustly suffered.

    However, if they were still writing, blogging, doing TV stints, and generally making a nuisance of themselves claiming that the now debunked stuff was right, they would be well down the road to crackpottery.

  94. Joseph G

    Another question that comes to mind: Why was this submitted to the Journal of Cosmology? Why not submit it to the journal Astrobiology? Wouldn’t that be a much more appropriate venue for this?

  95. I ask with curiosity and no snark: What are the possibilities for what the tube shapes actually are?

    As for the Journal of Cosmology, I hadn’t heard of it until this bit of fluff appeared, but I was entertained by their recent “We’re closing down” news release–little more than a litany of “We challenged established science and they used their megascience powers to CRUSH US!!!”

  96. tresmal

    Joseph G:

    Why was this submitted to the Journal of Cosmology? Why not submit it to the journal Astrobiology?

    It was submitted to the International Journal of Astrobiology but was either withdrawn or rejected. The latter according to a commenter named “Rocco” at NASAwatch:

    The statement “This paper was submitted in 2007 to the International Journal of Astrobiology. However, the peer review process was not completed for that submission.”Is not true, The paper was rejected, after peer review.Rocco Mancinelli, Ph.D., Editor, International Journal of Astrobiology.

  97. My problem is the meteorite itself, and the method used to analyse the things. CI chondrites are incredibly rare, we only have 5 or 6 samples, and they contain some really weird mineral phases. They possibly represent what the dust in the protoplanetary disk looked like, so tube-shaped minerals or phillosilicates which form into plates are not exactly uncommon.
    Secondly analysing things using EDS is notoriously sketchy. Its a bit of a dark art to even get accurate major element data from something like the grain the tubes are on. It seems dodgy to use this technique to draw any solid conclusions at all.

  98. I regret that even if 200 years from now, a humble scientist discovered life from other worlds, and found solid ways of testing its validity, she or he would be crucified by their colleagues.

    No. No no no no no. No no no no no no no no no no!
    This is just flat wrong. If there were really “solid ways of testing its validity” it would be accepted, and the rapidity of the acceptance will be proportionate to the solidity of the evidence.

    Exactly, e,g; in just a hand full of years, the Chicxilub impact event was accepted as the leading hypothesis for the end Cretaceous extinctions.

  99. Nigel Depledge

    Quinlan Atkinson (105) said:

    Whenever I hear or read about physicists, astronomers, or biologists ravaging some scientist for making a claim such as this, it ironically reminds me of Copernicus before the Catholic Church. Even if there was actual life in the meteor, poor Richard Hoover was sandbagged to begin with – “It’s contaminated, he’s a crackpot, burn him, he’s a witch!”

    Your analogy is not valid.

    In failing to absolutely rule out the possibilities highlighted by the experts, Hoover has ended up making a dramatic claim that is simply not supported by his evidence.

    Now I’m just an old school secular guy who does believe in evolution, but just as an outside observer, I’m taken aback how Hoover was savaged by his colleagues for his claim.

    Actually, in science this is pretty normal.

    Not even willing to meet the guy halfway on “okay, I can see where he’s coming from, but has he consider: A,B,C as possible explanations.”

    That’s the default starting position. However, it is clear from the criticism that Hoover should not have published at all. His conclusions are not supported by his data.

    In short, if he is right, it will be by luck, not by judgement.

  100. flip

    #115 Tresmal

    Can you repost the link to NASAWatch? Something’s gone wrong in the html. Thanks!

  101. flip

    #92 Trudi

    Proof is in the pudd’n when our astronauts take rock samples from Mars, while walking on Mars.

    They did what now?

  102. P4p3rDr4g0n

    To prevent misunderstandings which can be derived as the bacterium that we found out that the phosphorus will be incorporated into the DNA. People tend to misunderstand these things. The press was filled with you to find extraterrestrial life forms. www. konyv-konyvek. hu/book_images/36a/146651836a.jpg

  103. Nigel Depledge

    Amphiox (108) said:

    If there were really “solid ways of testing its validity” it would be accepted, and the rapidity of the acceptance will be proportionate to the solidity of the evidence. If in 2030 NASA lands a probe on Europa and drops a submersible through the ice with a camera, and that camera returns video of a meter-long tentacled thing grabbing and trying to swallow the camera, acceptance will, I guarantee you, be almost universal within 24hours. If someone cultures a living prokaryote from a meteorite, shows a video of that critter swimming around in the medium, and isolates its genetic material and shows that its not made of DNA, and is willing to send samples of his living culture to other labs around the world, I can guarantee you that acceptance will proceed on the order of months, if not weeks.

    Yes. This!

  104. Nigel Depledge

    Danny Adams (114) said:

    As for the Journal of Cosmology, I hadn’t heard of it until this bit of fluff appeared, but I was entertained by their recent “We’re closing down” news release–little more than a litany of “We challenged established science and they used their megascience powers to CRUSH US!!!”

    Yes! I need to get me some megascience powers!

  105. When my son (anesthesiologist/panspermia devotee) excitedly hit me with this information – my first thought was “This is too good to be true!”. My second thought was – who in the world would publish such drivel? Well, after going to the ‘Cosmology’ web site – it became clear that this is not a legitimate scientific publication. My third thought was – how could NASA allow this to happen. It seems that they have been trying for years to get this whole research project squelched (which is in itself suspect) rather than having it scrutinized by peer review.

    Now, my final thought is “What would it prove if this whole thing were true?” Most sentient people believe that we are not alone in this universe – it’s just that the time/space continuum disallows any connectivity. Unless someone finds methods to enter other dimensions we won’t ever know for sure.

  106. GS

    I’ve worked in EDS and general inorganic materials analysis for a couple of decades, so can at least provide some input there. His EDS work seemed like a good way of distinguishing recent contamination by early bacteria which may have colonized the meteorite from fossils which may be much older, and he did follow proper scientific protocol of comparing his unknown samples with earthly samples of known dates, both recent ones which still had nitrogen and ancient ones which did not. He also compared EDS spectra of the background area of the meteorite and of the filaments, providing a control for his carbon content claims. While that data alone does not prove that the images are of fossilized microbes, it does make a very strong case that they are not recent (i.e. last few centuries, since the meteorites fell) colonization of the samples by earthly microbes.

    The question of whether an alternative explanation can be found for the morphologies shown is a different, and much more difficult one. No matter how many samples a geologist or micropaleontologist might examine without finding something that looks like Hoover’s sample, it doesn’t mean the next might not have something that’s a perfect fit. I would defer to experts in that field on that subject, but I don’t know if its possible to ever be conclusive. It is not required, however, for a paper to be conclusive to be published, its only required that it give a plausible explanation for the data it contains. There may be other plausible explanations, and getting the data out there is much more likely to uncover those explanations then just having a couple of peers review it.

  107. Sam Zaydel

    Phil, thank you for the excellent editorial-like thought-provoking piece of writing.

  108. Gerald Vaughan

    Yes, we biologists do have an operational definition that differentiates between living and non-living forms. All living things are made of cells (at least those we have here on earth). All living things exhibit metabolic activity. All living things reproduce themselves. (There are a few others but they are too picky for this comment.) It follows, then, that viruses are not alive. They are not cellular, have no metabolic activity and do not reproduce themselves (it is the infected cell or organism that makes them). Fossils, whether they contain some DNA or not, are not living. Our set of discriminating definitions for living vs. nonliving things is of no use in the case of the micro aliens. Though we can tell if a thing is alive or not, It is much harder to tell whether a thing used to be alive.

    I would point out that the concept that the structures in the chondrite may have been alive has not been incontrovertibly proven, neither has it been proven false. Many true things were initially debunked only to be shown to be true. For example, the fact that most stomach ulcers are caused by a bacterium and even the idea of plate tectonics both found difficulties in being accepted as did Jenners vaccination work. Keep an open mind but have a good gatekeeper for it. G.L. Vaughan

    P.S. It makes sense to read the paper itself before commenting. You might learn something for yourself.

  109. flip

    #125 Erniedoonie

    My third thought was – how could NASA allow this to happen. It seems that they have been trying for years to get this whole research project squelched (which is in itself suspect) rather than having it scrutinized by peer review.

    As explained several times above: NASA had nothing to do with the publication of the paper, squelching or otherwise and in fact, didn’t even know the paper had been published at all; the paper was indeed submitted for peer review and got turned down, and so the JOC was approached instead.

    Most sentient people believe that we are not alone in this universe – it’s just that the time/space continuum disallows any connectivity.

    IIUC what prevents us from discovering other forms of life (if there are any) isn’t space-time, but simply the largeness of space itself. The universe is huge!!

    #129

    Thanks Tresmal!

  110. Nigel Depledge

    Gerald Vaughan (128) said:

    I would point out that the concept that the structures in the chondrite may have been alive has not been incontrovertibly proven,

    And Hoover’s language in that paper (certainly in parts of it) makes it clear that he felt it had been (despite his failure to address possibilities that would be no-brainers for many mineralogists).

    neither has it been proven false.

    I don’t see how this is relevant. The burden of proof is on Hoover to support the claim he makes. He has failed to do this.

    Many true things were initially debunked only to be shown to be true. For example, the fact that most stomach ulcers are caused by a bacterium and even the idea of plate tectonics both found difficulties in being accepted as did Jenners vaccination work. Keep an open mind but have a good gatekeeper for it.

    Quite correct. Many of these things were dismissed initially and subsequently – once the evidence was convincing – were accepted. (Although, to be frank, the evidence for the efficacy of vaccination was pretty good at the outset, but that was perhaps a less open-minded era).

    I think that Hoover did a reasonable (but not perfect) job of addressing the problem of recent contamination. What he does a poor job of, IMO, is demonstrating that these structures were ever anything to do with living organisms. His entire evidence for this is based on their resemblance to some bacteria when viewed under SEM. When dealing with a putative form of life that is entirely alien, I do not consider a visual resemblance to be a good criterion for whether or not something was ever alive.

    As I have said in a previous comment, if Hoover is right, it is by luck, not by judgement.

  111. ABooth

    I find it amusing that biologists and geologists apply their extensive knowledge of life on Earth, to determine what alien life would constitute and how to categorically prove it.

    It’s even funnier, considering the diversity of life in Earth’s oceans that would not meet their criteria, because it hasn’t been discovered yet and doesn’t fit their model.

    I guess it would literally take a space ship landing in their yard and a little green man to pop out before they’d begin to accept the possibility that life may not be defined, solely by the rule books they live by.

  112. Fry-kun

    Whatever happened to Bad Universe? Did poor ratings kill the show?

  113. Nigel Depledge

    @ Fry0kun (137) –
    No, that should be “Bad Ratings”.

    ;-)

    (sorry, I couldn’t resist)

  114. Nigel Depledge

    A. Booth (136) said:

    I find it amusing that biologists and geologists apply their extensive knowledge of life on Earth, to determine what alien life would constitute and how to categorically prove it.

    It’s even funnier, considering the diversity of life in Earth’s oceans that would not meet their criteria, because it hasn’t been discovered yet and doesn’t fit their model.

    I guess it would literally take a space ship landing in their yard and a little green man to pop out before they’d begin to accept the possibility that life may not be defined, solely by the rule books they live by.

    You seem to have been living in a cage when biologists have been discussing the various topics to which you allude.

    There is plenty of discussion about (1) how to universally define “life” and (2) how we might recognise alien life.

    What – in particular – makes you think that biologists and geologists consider these questions resolved?

  115. Numerous alien fossils have been found in numerous meteorites. Just visit the website Wretch Fossil.

  116. Nigel Depledge

    I said (139) :

    You seem to have been living in a cage …

    Stupid lack of touch-typing skills!

    I meant “cave”, not “cage”.

  117. ABooth

    139. Nigel Depledge Wrote: –
    “What – in particular – makes you think that biologists and geologists consider these questions resolved?”

    How about their applying their knowledge of Earth organisms and geology to debunk evidence submitted by someone else of a non Earth organism in a non Earth substance.

    I’d say, for all their pompous drivel, they are completely unqualified as they do not have evidence themselves of alien life and geology from a planet sustaining alien life, to compare to his finding.

    He may be fishing in the dark, but for others to dismiss his findings when they really don’t know what to look for either, is pretty ridiculous. That’s not science, that’s an inquisition.

  118. Kent Torch

    By the way, is there a biologist in the house? I love the petty assumptions to questions such as these without hearing a word from those who made the alleged discovery.

    There’s a whole lot of facts we as unleaned scientists my need to brush up on before casting these claims asside.

  119. Moonsword

    145. I’d say, for all their pompous drivel, they are completely unqualified as they do not have evidence themselves of alien life and geology from a planet sustaining alien life, to compare to his finding.

    This effectively removes all possible experts – including Hoover – from consideration because we have no known and accepted samples of alien biology. Once you make that claim, you have removed all possibility of scientific inquiry due to the lack of evidence. At that point this is no longer science and we’re reduced to untestable hypothesizing in the dark.

    However, there are a few things that you’re not accounting for. First, physics and chemistry are not dependent on the peculiarities of a given set of organisms. This means that if process A has result B under conditions C on Earth, it will have that exact same outcome under conditions C anywhere else and we do have enough knowledge of extraterrestrial geology and geochemistry to get some idea as to the conditions on other solar system objects. There has also been proof that some of the same processes from Earth occur on other bodies, particularly the Moon and Mars. This means that geologists are not completely unqualified to question the evidence.

    Second, as noted above repeatedly, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. It has not yet been proven that these formations are the result of the processes of extraterrestrial life.

    Third, in addressing this need for proof, you need microbiologists not to answer the question of extraterrestrial life’s possible results but that of terrestrial life’s possible effects. You cannot state unequivocally that something is extraterrestrial in origin until you deal with all possibilities of terrestrial origin. Thus they are not at all unqualified to answer the question because they’re dealing with their actual specialty. Once they rule that out, then you can start debating whether or not the field’s involvement is necessary. They haven’t done so yet.

    Fourth, if life operates under similar processes, there remains the possibility of both terrestrial and extraterrestrial life leaving similar traces. The possibility is difficult to rule out and raises the burden of proof on the person making the claim considerably. If it can be proven that they’re biogenic, disproving terrestrial origins becomes the real challenge.

    Fifth, the geologists are necessary to address the open question of whether these features are biogenic in the first place. As more evidence (including meteorites of the same type) is gathered, their ability to address that gets better. However, the laws of physics are the same, so they’re not coming at this completely in the dark and are therefore not “completely unqualified” to do this.

    Sixth, science is built on evidence. The available possible evidence is (t0 the best of my understanding) fairly scanty in the case of these meteorites, making drawing any conclusion more difficult. Once again this goes to burden of proof for the person making the claim.

    Personally, I don’t know what to think about this though I lean heavily toward skepticism. I think the question “Could this be the result of extraterrestrial life?” needed to be asked and answered. The process of answering that question for various specialties could, even if the answer is negative, lead to either new discoveries or new understanding of the phenomena in question. Being forced to examine things closely is a good thing.

    That said, the evidence certainly suggests that Hoover was hasty in publishing and apparently jumped to a conclusion unsupported by the evidence he actually had in hand. If he’s proven right, the hero of the story will be whoever goes back and does all the fact checking required to accumulate the necessary proof to support the claim. In the end, that might well be Richard Hoover anyway… but it’s not Richard Hoover yet.

  120. Nigel Depledge

    A Booth (145) said:

    139. Nigel Depledge Wrote: –
    “What – in particular – makes you think that biologists and geologists consider these questions resolved?”

    How about their applying their knowledge of Earth organisms and geology to debunk evidence submitted by someone else of a non Earth organism in a non Earth substance.

    I’d say, for all their pompous drivel, they are completely unqualified as they do not have evidence themselves of alien life and geology from a planet sustaining alien life, to compare to his finding.

    He may be fishing in the dark, but for others to dismiss his findings when they really don’t know what to look for either, is pretty ridiculous. That’s not science, that’s an inquisition.

    Quite clearly you failed to read what I wrote.

    I was referring to the questions of how to define life and how to detect ET life.

    However, a comment I made further up the thread is relevant to your attempt at a response.

    The burden of proof for this claim was on Hoover for making the claim. His evidence was not adequate to support his claim.

    The end.

    If you think that there is a substantial difference between science (as routinely practiced) and an inquisition, you really do not know much about science. When a paper makes a dramatic claim (any dramatic claim), it will be rigorously dissected by all of the people working in that field. Some scientists might publish a detailed rebuttal of the paper’s reasoning, while others might attempt to replicate the result. Either way, every scientist knows that to publish is to open your work to the most detailed criticism on the planet.

    This level of criticism is necessary to winnow out poor experiments from good ones, and to winnow out poor theories from good ones.

  121. Nigel Depledge

    @ A Booth (145) –
    An additional thought occurs to me.

    Your argument cuts both ways. Hoover’s claim rests on the resemblance of the microstructures to earthly microorganisms. He says “these look like microbes, therefore they are fossil microbes”. So, terrestrial microbiologists do indeed possess relevant expertise.

  122. Nigel Depledge

    Moonsword (152) said:

    That said, the evidence certainly suggests that Hoover was hasty in publishing and apparently jumped to a conclusion unsupported by the evidence he actually had in hand. If he’s proven right, the hero of the story will be whoever goes back and does all the fact checking required to accumulate the necessary proof to support the claim. In the end, that might well be Richard Hoover anyway… but it’s not Richard Hoover yet.

    True. If he is right, it is by luck, not by judgement.

  123. ABooth

    @Nigel Depledge: “Your argument cuts both ways”

    I did state “He may be fishing in the dark”. The real problem is that while he is trying to present evidence he has found extra terrestrial life, completely unqualified people are stating he is categorically incorrect, based on their knowledge of life and geology on Earth.

    He may be right, he may be wrong, but anyone categorically claiming he is wrong are absolutely wrong themselves, because they simply don’t know the definition of alien life.

  124. tear down those red flags

    to Phil. what would lay credibility to your blog is if you followed up Hoover’s claims with rational comments instead of commenting on external things like the nature of how this paper got to the public, which is irrelevant to the main thing being discussed here– hoover’s findings. it would be even better if as true scientists, people directly contacted hoover to ask him about their doubts and see what he has to say, instead of blindly rejecting it at the first thought skeptical in nature. raise those red flags to hoover, who is also a renowned astrobiologist. see if he can tear them down.

    But then again, who says blogs are credible? They are more opinionated than scientific anyway.

  125. DRB

    The skepticism expressed is justified here, in my personal opinion. But we’d be wise to leave this door open just a crack. I have vivid memories of my high school geography/geology science text from the 60’s, written by mainstream academics with properly impeccable peer-reviewed plumage, who took clear delight in belittling, ridiculing, berating, debunking, and downright flushing any misguided notions about so-called “continental drift.” The “evidence” was nonexistant, those esteemed scientists assured me, the science was fringe, the reasoning process flawed, yadda, yadda, yadda.

  126. eric elledge

    i found a meteorite from vesta,hed with one fossil and i found another lunar with a bunch of fossils and i can prove it i found a lot of evidence but no one will help me if their is a geoligist that want to see some amazing and unbelievable but 100% true even found pure nickle with all the fossils and different lunar meteorits in the edge of my pond in one spot in the mud e-mail me earthworks3484@sbcglobal.net

  127. Bob

    I would like to point out that there is no scientifically valid proof that life actually originated on earth. The mere fact that life is here erroneously leads many to assume that life must have begun on earth. It seems to me the most scientific position is to admit that we simply do not know where life originated and how came to be on earth and that all hypothesis should be treated on an equal basis. In fact, most scientists misuse the concept of Occam’s Razor to preferably weigh the earth origin of life but that is more bias than science. Occam’s Razor fails in this case because the assumptions used are biased and flawed.

  128. Bob

    I would like to point out that there is no scientifically valid proof that life actually originated on earth. The mere fact that life is here erroneously leads many to assume that life must have begun on earth. It seems to me the most scientific position is to admit that we simply do not know where life originated and how it came to be on earth and that all hypothesis should be treated on an equal basis. In fact, most scientists misuse the concept of Occam’s Razor to preferably weigh the earth origin of life but that is more bias than science. Occam’s Razor fails in this case because the assumptions used are biased and flawed.

  129. Bob

    “Hoover is wrong to make the claim he makes because his evidence does not support that claim. Having said that, there is a teeny, tiny chance that he is right. But, if Hoover is right, it is by luck, not by judgement.”

    By luck? So if you don’t like someone’s conclusions you say their work is shoddy then if they turn out to be right they never can get credit since it must have been luck? Convenient.

    Sound more like a rational to give credit if due to the “right” people.

  130. Bob S

    I come from a long heritage of Colorado pioneers in the mining and geology community…

    And I spent my entire life working with and for engineers, geologists, soils experts , and chemical and process engineers…. I am an educated man who has all my life chosen to surround myself with very very intelligent people to reinforce and strengthen me…. And I chose to associate myself with Steve Curry for the same reason…

    I have never been so impressed with the work ethic of anyone to learn and become expert on a subject such as Steve…. His knowledge makes most others and myself included look like amateurs…

    I am sad to see that his mission to educate the non scientific public about meteorites is being attacked…. My hope is that he survives and the we the common collector of possible meteorites have Steve to go to for advice and research…. This is not an invite for you all to attack me too… just one mans opinion….. Bob

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