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NASA Science

War Over Arsenic Based Life 155

Antipater writes "Slashdot readers may remember the announcement and ensuing controversy six months ago over the NASA discovery of microbes that can supposedly incorporate arsenic into their DNA. Now, The Washington Post reports that Science has published a collection of eight scathing critiques of astrobiologist Felisa Wolfe-Simon, her methods, and her conclusions. Wolfe-Simon is starting to fire back and gather her own allies — one wonders if we're in for another cold-fusion style science war."
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War Over Arsenic Based Life

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  • Re:Scientific Method (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Friday May 27, 2011 @06:07PM (#36268116) Journal

    It's easier to shoot the messenger then the message. But it's even easier to shoot the message then carry it on if you don't like change. Peer review has seemed to of went form, "Yes, we did it too", or "no, it didn't work for us", or even a "we saw something a bit different when we tried it", to an "I agree or disagree, let's take a vote on it". At least in some things anyways.

    While you are right, that's how science works and if it isn't working that way, it isn't science, but this non-science is happening within the science arena by people claiming to be scientists doing doing science. For a vast majority of people, what is real science or not will be subject to who has the loudest opinion similar to how history is always written by the victor.

    In other words, the vast majority of people will end up reading it in a text books somewhere based on who gave up for whatever reason last.

  • Re:Scientific Method (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Friday May 27, 2011 @06:25PM (#36268286)
    Running the same code to get the same model results is not "duplicating scientific results". It's running the same program and getting the same output. Ditto for plotting the estimated average temperatures for the last 200 years. Running gnuplot or matlab on someone else's data and getting the same plot isn't science.

    Duplicating a scientific result would mean that you take the same starting conditions, do the same process, gather your own data, and get the same result -- with different objects. And it includes a control so that you know the result is due to what you change, not something you haven't taken into account. For cold fusion, it means taking the palladium (or was it Pt?) metal and making the electrodes and putting them into a different beaker and getting the same unexplained temperature rise. If you see that result, then you need to start eliminating alternative causes.

    For global warming, it means taking two different planet Earths, adding CO2 to one and not the other, and then measuring the temperatures. Can you show me the referreed journal article that describes that experiment being done even once, much less in a reproducable manner as required by the scientific method?

    But no, just observing a correlation in one set of data isn't a scientific experiment. Having two scientists look at one set of data and say "there is a correlation" doesn't mean there have been two experiments. It can lead to hypotheses that can be tested using experiments, but until then you haven't completed the scientific method.

  • Re:Just a hunch (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pnot ( 96038 ) on Friday May 27, 2011 @07:03PM (#36268570)

    Thank you; I was about to point this out. Mod Parent Up, as the saying goes.

    This is how science works, and how it has always worked. You hang your theory out and the rest of the scientific community goes for it with machetes and chainsaws, which either kills it or makes it stronger. That's how we sift the truth from the wishful thinking (and, more rarely, deliberate fraud). That's also why the idea of a "vast conspiracy of scientists" occasionally mooted by (cough) certain persons is so hilarious. It's about as feasible as throwing a dozen pissed-off cats into a large sack and finding that they all decided to enter into a conspiracy.

    And thanks for reminding me about the N-rays; I read the famous Nature paper the other week, and (being a scientist) had great fun watching the poor bastards' theories being shredded in deceptively bland scientific prose.

  • Re:Scientific Method (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Friday May 27, 2011 @07:39PM (#36268854)
    At this point, I would not conclude that anything is wrong with the original research - only that more experiments are needed. Pretty standard. No peer reviewer tries to reproduce experiments, usually. They just offer methodological criticism. And the criticism offered so far could pretty much be overcome by some discussion with the reviewer. The original research is not the strongest, but neither is the criticism. It is interesting enough stuff to publish it, if only to get the discussion going and more people interested in picking up the subject. I see no failure there. Business as usual.
  • Re:Scientific Method (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Friday May 27, 2011 @08:00PM (#36269048)

    This conduct on the part of the science community is pretty non-scientific, IMHO. If you have doubts, attempt to reproduce the original results. In doing so, you will either reproduce them and if not, you may stumble upon scientific proof of precisely why the original experiment is flawed. If the original research stands to overturn a century of accepted theory, then you had *better* bloody well attempt to verify or contradict the original research using the *scientific method* instead of using 100 years of possibly flawed theory as a shield against new knowledge and insight. Personal attacks? Are you kidding me? Are these people children?

    Carl Sagan is turning in his grave.

    Peer review does not normally involve attempting to replicate someone's results. It involves reading carefully to see whether they did their homework, whether the (purported) observations support the claims, whether they forgot to take something important into account, etc.

    If you do publish something that is new or surprising, other researchers will jump all over it. But everyone has more to do than they can finish in one lifetime, so no one is going to run out and try to replicate results until some case has been made that they are plausible.

    You could waste lifetimes trying to reproduce results you have doubts about.

  • Re:Scientific Method (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Friday May 27, 2011 @08:21PM (#36269252) Journal

    For global warming, it means taking two different planet Earths, adding CO2 to one and not the other, and then measuring the temperatures. Can you show me the referreed journal article that describes that experiment being done even once, much less in a reproducable manner as required by the scientific method?

    So according to your logic, Newton was just bullshitting when he said the Moon causes the tides because he did not have a control version of the Earth, not only that but every scientist since the 1600's has unquestioningly swallowed Newton's unscientific theory about tides.

    But even if your "logic" made sense, it is moot since there are many independent data sets [], and there is a physical explaination that you can test yourself with some cheap lab equipment. If the physical explaination is wrong then it means spectroscopy is wrong, which in turn means much of quantum mechanics is wrong, astronomy is wrong, ect. And if you really want to look at other planets (as climate scientists such as Hannsen already have), then please explain to us why the surface of Venus, (AKA our sister planet), is hot enough to melt lead.

    The other major faw in your post, is that you don't seem to realise the physics came first (Fourier 1824), then the prediction of AGW based on the physics came in the 1890's, then strong evidence of increased CO2 forcing was found in the temprature records in the late 50's. Then computer models started making many other predictions about the effect of increased CO2 such as polar amplification and stratospheric cooling that have since been confirmed by observations.

    I put it to you that you are acting no differently to a creationist when you choose to denigrate an entire branch of science based on ill informed assumptions and your own personal definition of the scientific method, or perhaps your just further evidence of the Dunning-Kruger effect [].

  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Friday May 27, 2011 @08:42PM (#36269408) Journal

    Since the models based on hypothesis cannot predict the future

    Get out of your armchair and actually look at examples of the models predicting unknown phenomena, I'll give you a head start, polar amplification, stratospheric warming.

    current GW studies are mostly not science, but political PACs.

    Give me one example of a political PAC actually creating a model, I would be especially interested in seeing an anti-AGW PAC's computer model since AFAIK no such beast exists. Hint: The IPCC is not a PAC nor does it do any reasearch beyond assesing the published litrature.

  • Re:Scientific Method (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Friday May 27, 2011 @09:46PM (#36269888)

    You are aware that there is not only a statistical connection between CO2 concentration and temperature, but also a physical mechanism that you can test in the laboratory?

    I'll take it from this question that you disagree with my proven hypothesis that you are the cause?

    Yes, I am well aware that in the laboratory you can prove quite a lot of things. What you cannot do in the laboratory is test all of the competing and counteracting systems involved in something as large as the earth. A three foot sealed box in the lab does not map well into an experimental domain as large as the planet.

    In your analogy - the tribesman actually took a look at the wiring of the car and found that the radio is not wired into the starter circuit?

    He didn't have to. It was trivial to fully test the hypothesis that the radio had to be on for the car to run. Simply turn it off. Being able to do that is a critical part of proving or disproving the hypothesis that "radio must be on for car to run", just as being able to measure any potential temperature rise is a critical part of proving that CO2 is the cause of global warming. Simply saying that "I see no possible connection between the radio and the other operations of the car" isn't proof, and could easily be overlooking any of a number of things, some of which you have no idea exist. E.g., if you have no idea what a CAN bus is and that the radio may be connected to one that communicates with the car's computer, and that there may be a computer bug that includes "radio on" as part of the starting sequence, you'd spend a year looking at the wiring and not see what was wrong. The only way to truly test your hypothesis is to perform the control experiment. Does the car start with the radio off?

    I can measure the IR spectrum of CO2, actually, I, personally DID measure it. Physical chemistry lab II, back then, before the war.

    I've run IR spectrometers a few times, myself. Very nice rotational and vibrational lines from CO2. But that does not prove a hypothesis that "increased CO2 concentration in the upper atmosphere will cause increased temperatures". That's only one tiny part of an immense system.

    If you think we know everything there is to know about the earth/air/ocean/sun system, then we're wasting our time doing further research, right? If you want to claim that there is no other possible mechanism for any observed global warming than CO2 trapping IR, then you must know what all possible mechanisms are, and all possible counteracting mechanisms that would balance that effect.

    As to the Mindcontrolled causes global warming hypothesis - first, you cannot propose any mechanism.

    Of course I can. You gave me the mechanism. You emit CO2. You also emit infrared radiation. There has to be something special about your CO2 emissions, just like there is something special about anthropogenic CO2 that makes it the cause and not any of the other CO2 sources on the planet.

    Second, you cannot deliver any correlation - global warming started before I was born.

    1. So your parents are also to blame.

    2. It has gotten worse since you were born. We're in the upward part of the "tricky" hockey-stick, you know.

    3. I predict it will go critical if you live another year. Are you really telling me you'd risk the entire planet just so you can keep reading /.?

    Please step into the disintigrator chamber, it is the only way to protect the planet and all of the life (other than yours) thereon. If you don't, the other side will start sending real bombs and all kinds of bad things will happen. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, don'tcha know? Please don't make me come up with even more ST references.

What is algebra, exactly? Is it one of those three-cornered things? -- J.M. Barrie