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War Over Arsenic Based Life

Unknown Lamer posted more than 3 years ago | from the sewer-shark-comes-true dept.

NASA 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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155 comments

Evolution is false (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36267904)

Because I got First Post

Re:Evolution is false (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36267986)

Moderation censorship is proof that evolution is false.

Re:Evolution is false (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36269978)

Ah, Proof by First Post. Clever move, but not clever enough. I rebut with Proof by Downmod.

Can't we all just get allele? (1)

AlienIntelligence (1184493) | more than 3 years ago | (#36267968)

Fighting? Sigh... bruised egos? What?

-AI

Re:Can't we all just get allele? (1)

statusbar (314703) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268640)

How does the "scientific method" apply here? Are all the scientists involved using the "Scientific Method [wikipedia.org] ?"

--jeffk++

Re:Can't we all just get allele? (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268840)

How does the "scientific method" apply here? Are all the scientists involved using the "Scientific Method [wikipedia.org] ?"

That's the Short Form Scientific Method; it leaves out the part about lawyering up and trying to beat the other side to the first press release.

Scientific Method (4, Insightful)

NFN_NLN (633283) | more than 3 years ago | (#36267988)

One of the basic principles of the scientific method is the ability for peers to independently reproduce results. If this is not the case, then this is not science.

Re:Scientific Method (0, Troll)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268050)

if that's the case then global warming is not a science.

Re:Scientific Method (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268082)

That, or you are too ignorant of the science of global warming to know that you don't really have a point.

Re:Scientific Method (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268582)

Or that you're completely ignoring the entire basis (data) for questioning much of the "science" surrounding global warming.

Re:Scientific Method (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268084)

If that's the case, neither is String Theory.

Re:Scientific Method (1)

Coldmoon (1010039) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268280)

Get the wax out of your ears and listen to the music...oh the lovely music of the spheres...

Boo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268088)

Care too elaborate...? If not, then I take it this is a troll?

Re:Scientific Method (4, Informative)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268092)

Multiple teams have confirmed global warming. What are you talking about?

Re:Scientific Method (1, Interesting)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#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:Scientific Method (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268350)

Fortunately multiple groups using different methods have confirmed this. You're objection probably made sense fifteen years ago. Now, it's just anti-science FUD.

Re:Scientific Method (1)

dmiller (581) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268374)

It's a good thing we did that before banning ozone-depleting freons.

Re:Scientific Method (3, Informative)

empiricistrob (638862) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268384)

I'm so tired of people saying this -- if you can't replicate an experiment with the same starting conditions then it's not science -- that it total and complete bullshit.

Science works like this:
Step 1. Formulate a hypothesis.
Step 2. Test the hypothesis.
Step 3.
If hypothesis checks out, repeat step 2. After sufficient iterations call it a theory.
If hypothesis doesn't check out, throw it out and formulate a new hypothesis.

*no where* in the above does it require you to have the same starting conditions. In the case of global warming the hypotheses are of the form "Higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to higher temperatures". There are *many* ways you can test these hypotheses -- you don't need to have a model earth to play with.

Re:Scientific Method (1)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268428)

*no where* in the above does it require you to have the same starting conditions.

Not defending GP's erroneous claim (while I think there are legitimate criticisms of AGW as it's being fed to us, not having a "Control Earth" isn't one of them), but the point could be argued that, in many cases, step 2 would imply "under similar conditions" (since "exact same conditions" is nearly impossible even in a controlled experimental environment.)

Re:Scientific Method (2)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268468)

Well, the fact that we never get identical conditions is covered by the theory of errors. Don't see how similar conditions are not present in climate science. The basic point is, after all, to make a prediction and see if it comes true. That's what is happening.

Re:Scientific Method (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#36269146)

Well, the fact that we never get identical conditions is covered by the theory of errors. Don't see how similar conditions are not present in climate science. The basic point is, after all, to make a prediction and see if it comes true. That's what is happening.

While the basic point may be "to make a prediction and see if it comes true", part of that prediction has to be the null hypothesis if you are going to do real science. That's the part that is NOT happening.

It's really easy to predict that "if Mindcontrolled is alive on this planet the temperatures will go up" and gosh, look it came true! Using current global climate change science, I've just proven that YOU are the cause of global warming, and all we need to do is get rid of you to solve the problem.

The real scientist has to be able to predict "if Mindcontrolled IS NOT alive on this planet the temperatures will not go up" and see if THAT comes true. Now, if you want to donate yourself to science, that would be great. I've done my part by predicting that you are the cause of global warming, please do your part by disproving that hypothesis. In fact, either way, you die -- either because we all get rid of you as a result of my proof of your involvement, or you get rid of yourself to prove you aren't the cause. It's a no win situation for you, but not so bad for the rest of us. Kind of like the problem we face trying to get rid of CO2. Pretty bad for those who produce CO2, not so bad for the people and countries that don't have large outputs.

If you want an automobile analogy, try this. A remote tribesman is introduced to an automobile. He gets in, turns the key, and the radio starts playing. He puts it in gear and it goes. His hypothesis: the radio has to be on for the car to go. That's trivial to disprove. Simply turn the radio off. Car still goes. (Not an unrealistic hypothesis. I once had a car that ran great only when the headlights were on. It had been miswired so that some engine controls were connected to the lights. ) Now, show me the experiment where we remove all the CO2 from the atmosphere and the temperature doesn't go up. That's a critical part of "testing the hypothesis" that is not possible.

Yes, the small differences in initial conditions for real scientific experiments can often be dealt with by treating them as errors. But to try to pretend that you can go from a sealed three foot box sitting on your lab bench all the way up to an unenclosed 8000 mile diameter sphere and treat it under the "theory of errors" is just ludicrous.

Re:Scientific Method (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36269210)

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? 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? I can measure the IR spectrum of CO2, actually, I, personally DID measure it. Physical chemistry lab II, back then, before the war. We also know the mechanism of radiation equilibria. As to the Mindcontrolled causes global warming hypothesis - first, you cannot propose any mechanism. Second, you cannot deliver any correlation - global warming started before I was born. So, you have no grounds to propose this hypothesis on at all. Dismissed. Try harder.

Re:Scientific Method (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36269750)

Plus, a mechanism that can be seen/measured on a "Control Earth": Venus, which is much hotter than Mercury, even though Mercury is much closer to the source of heat for both worlds. Or would Earth be the "Control Venus"? : |

Re:Scientific Method (2, Interesting)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Scientific Method (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#36269590)

So what you're saying is that we need to do what defenders of AGW are saying we should do - cut back significantly on CO2 production - in order to test for the validity of the hypothesis?

Re:Scientific Method (2)

empiricistrob (638862) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268522)

But what do you mean "under similar conditions"? Over interpreting "under similar conditions" is equivalent to throwing away induction.

And if you're willing to throw away induction then we need to say goodbye to all of science. Past experiments show that apple's fall to the ground, but none of these experiments have been conducted in the year 2012. Therefore saying that apples will continue to fall to the ground in 2012 is an unscientific statement.

I'm sorry, but I prefer all of the knowledge that science has gotten us, and that includes empiricism *and* inductive reasoning.

Re:Scientific Method (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268600)

Pretty much sums it up. I gotta ask, though - did you make your username just in the hope to get that post in one of these days? ;)

Re:Scientific Method (1)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 3 years ago | (#36269664)

I think you're the one over-interpreting it. :)

By "Under Similar Conditions" I mean, for example, two sealed test chambers, one for the "control" and one for the "experimental." Even if designed, engineered, and built to identical specifications, the "universal human imperfection law[0]" says that there is going to be *some* difference between the two chambers, no matter how small.

[0] Metaphorical and not a real law, though it totally should be. :)

Exactly, not science (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268542)

Since the models based on hypothesis cannot predict the future, nor the past without a lot of tweaking, they are not therefore valid.

Yet they are being claimed valid and final - hence current GW studies are mostly not science, but political PACs.

Re:Exactly, not science (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268746)

I guess some people are just stupid...

CO2 has been shown to be a greenhouse gas... by John Tyndall in a laboratory... in 1859.

http://www.aip.org/history/climate/co2.htm [aip.org]

I guess, it's all propaganda to you... facts, if you don't like them, you will will them away! Sadly, reality cannot be willed away.

Re:Exactly, not science (2, Interesting)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 3 years ago | (#36269408)

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 (5, Informative)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268390)

Nice way of showing that you didn't remotely follow the science there. Protip: Watts is not part of it. There are multiple data sets, multiple models, a strong, controversial discussion about the building of said models - and still, a consensus on the basic facts, because they are bloody obvious by now. If you think reproducibility means "taking two different earths", you don't have the slightest grasp about what science actually is. This is actually so exceedingly dumb that i fail to grasp how someone can come up with that argument.

Re:Scientific Method (3, Insightful)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268532)

blah blah scientific theory blah blah taking two different planet Earths blah blah reproducable manner blah blah scientific method blah blah

You don't have a clue. You don't need a different planet to figure out that increasing CO2 concentrations in an air sample increases its absorption of IR wavelengths. Plenty of tests that can verify that.

Your standard of what constitutes science is so ridiculously far out there that it would be impossible to figure anything out about anything that is bigger than a science lab. Thankfully, most scientists have figured out that lab experiments provide a nice basis with which to predict larger phenomena.

And if you really think that that's the only way that discoveries can be made about planet-wide phenomena, please ignore weather reports, tsunami warnings, volcano warnings, earthquake reports, oil discovered through seismic evidence.... yeah, scientists who don't have a second earth to work with have really not contributed anything to society.

Re:Scientific Method (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268962)

You don't have a clue. You don't need a different planet to figure out that increasing CO2 concentrations in an air sample increases its absorption of IR wavelengths. Plenty of tests that can verify that.

Data point: Arrhenius figured out the physics of greenhouse gasses a hundred years ago.

But GWDs don't want to discuss mechanisms that are long established facts; they want to identify some model that they think they can cast doubts on.

Very like creationist rhetoric, actually: Avoid the core issues, offer arguments where you think you can cause a few to doubt.

Re:Scientific Method (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#36269244)

You don't have a clue. You don't need a different planet to figure out that increasing CO2 concentrations in an air sample increases its absorption of IR wavelengths. Plenty of tests that can verify that.

If all the entire earth/atmosphere/ocean/sun system is to you is "an air sample with some CO2 in it", then you've missed the point entirely and there is nothing I can say that will make any difference to you.

People who oversimplify a complicated system so they can understand a small part of it often get it wrong on the larger scale.

yeah, scientists who don't have a second earth to work with have really not contributed anything to society.

The people who blather such ridiculously twisted interpretations of what someone else has said are the ones who fail to contribute. You'll find nothing like what you said in anything I've ever written.

Re:Scientific Method (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268890)

Running the same code to get the same model results is not "duplicating scientific results".

I guess your code tells you that the world's glaciers aren't really melting.

Maybe you weren't aware that we've got more evidence for global warming than someone's plot of historical temperatures.

For global warming, it means taking two different planet Earths, adding CO2 to one and not the other, and then measuring the temperatures.

You sound like a creationist: regular science is OK (and works), right up until it concludes something you don't like, and then you start demanding the impossible so you can convince yourself that regular science isn't really science, and your beliefs trump the evidence.

Re:Scientific Method (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#36269372)

You sound like a creationist: regular science is OK (and works), right up until it concludes something you don't like,

I'll point this out just once and then let you ramble on. I neither like nor dislike the conclusions coming out of "global climate science", I merely accept them as hypotheses that are not truly tested to the degree science demands. I have no problem with a scientist who says "I think" or "we believe". What I dislike are the "scientists" who claim "it is proven, there is no further debate necessary."

Now please proceed with your rants about things I didn't say. Knock yourself out. Keep throwing in a personal insult to two when it makes you feel better about yourself.

Re:Scientific Method (1)

BergZ (1680594) | more than 3 years ago | (#36269970)

Scientists have never, in a laboratory, observed a strain of single cellular organisms gradually mutating into a complex multi-cellular animal.
Does that mean you consider Evolution to be "not truly tested to the degree science demands" too?

Re:Scientific Method (3, Interesting)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 3 years ago | (#36269252)

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 [realclimate.org] , 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 [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Scientific Method (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268140)

Climatology is field of science, global warming is a theory.

duuuuhrrrr.

Re:Scientific Method (1)

BadPirate (1572721) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268192)

Oh really? http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/IAC_report/IAC%20Report.pdf [www.ipcc.ch] "Independent Judgment. When requested to provide advice on a particular issue, the IAC assembles an international panel of experts. Serving on a voluntary basis, panel members meet and review current, cutting-edge knowledge on the topic; and prepare a draft report on its findings, conclusions, and recommendations. All IAC draft reports undergo an intensive process of peer-review by other international experts. Only when the IAC Board is satisfied that feedback from the peer review has been thoughtfully considered and incorporated is a final report released to the requesting organization and the public. Every effort is made to ensure that IAC reports are free from any national or regional bias", But then again, THAT report was only signed by 2500 scientists...

Re:Scientific Method (1)

JayBean (841258) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268712)

Oh really? http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/IAC_report/IAC%20Report.pdf [www.ipcc.ch]

"Independent Judgment. When requested to provide advice on a particular issue, the IAC assembles an
international panel of experts. Serving on a voluntary basis, panel members meet and review current,
cutting-edge knowledge on the topic; and prepare a draft report on its findings, conclusions, and
recommendations. All IAC draft reports undergo an intensive process of peer-review by other
international experts. Only when the IAC Board is satisfied that feedback from the peer review has been
thoughtfully considered and incorporated is a final report released to the requesting organization and the
public. Every effort is made to ensure that IAC reports are free from any national or regional bias",

But then again, THAT report was only signed by 2500 scientists...

Right, nothing ever gets past the IPCC...

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6991177.ece [timesonline.co.uk]

Re:Scientific Method (2)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268790)

Global warming isn't a science. Climatology is a science.

Re:Scientific Method (2, Interesting)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268116)

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 (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 3 years ago | (#36270650)

Peer review has seemed to of went form

Syntax error: Doesn't parse.

Re:Scientific Method (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268132)

From the Washington Post article:

"Further, Wolfe-Simon has provided samples of the supposedly arsenic-loving microbes to “four or five” independent scientists, she said, who are now trying to prove her wrong — or maybe just show that she was right."

This looks to me the scientist is giving out samples of the said bacteria to other scientists to try reproducing the findings.

Re:Scientific Method (4, Insightful)

Ruke (857276) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268174)

In this case, it looks like Wolf-Simon published her results, and some peers fired off some immediate critiques of her methods, while others raised questions based off of what is already known of molecular biology. Wolf-Simon is responding to 8 of these criticisms in the latest publication of Science. As far as I can tell, no one has attempted (and succeeded or failed) to reproduce Wolf-Simon's results. There hasn't been a whole lot of time to do the necessary studies.

As far as I can tell, this is science, as she is performed. You publish controversial/novel results, people immediately try to pick your results apart, and you respond to them. In an ideal world, everything would be done with the same level of rigor as these results are being handled, not just the "hard sciences".

Re:Scientific Method (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268638)

Pretty much how it works. At this point, you do methodological criticism. Everyone gets hit with that - in most cases it doesn't get that public, though. That's the price you pay for doing press releases in that scope. I personally just got my publications ripped apart in pretty much closed conferences. Reproducing it comes later - establishing a system to work with weird extremophiles takes time. The tests for reproducibility will take a couple of months more and burn up some PhD candidates, as usual... Then we'll see.

Re:Scientific Method (1)

i.am.delf (1665555) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268786)

This whole affair is an example of peer review gone wrong. It is clear that Science in their haste to publish this article probably didn't do the best job of picking reviewers of this paper. Had they sent this article to even one critical reviewer, none of this would have happened. The paper would have been delayed for publication for a few months while the authors did some more rigorous experiments.

Re:Scientific Method (3, Interesting)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#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 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268188)

This is just once again proof that women are too emotional to practice sound science.

Re:Scientific Method (5, Insightful)

DRJlaw (946416) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268260)

One of the basic principles of the scientific method is the ability for peers to independently reproduce results. If this is not the case, then this is not science.

You presume that the critics have attempted to independently reproduce the results. They have not. They are merely identifying potential sources of false positives. While the original team would be wise to explain how these potential sources of error were already addressed, and if necessary to run additional experiments addressing lapses or unconsidered factors, hypothetical arguments as to why an experiment cannot have worked do not prove that the results cannot be reproduced and/or are actually caused by other mechanisms.

"The exchange does not put forth new data on the matter, but centers on the original experiments in which Wolfe-Simon isolated bacteria from arsenic-laden Mono Lake, California, and then tried to grow them in cultures with large amounts of arsenic and no phosphorus, which is typically required for growth."

Nobody has tried to reproduce the result.

"University of British Columbia microbiologist Rosie Redfield, the blogger most critical of Wolfe-Simon both personally and professionally, asserts in one of the Technical Comments that Wolfe-Simon did not go far enough in purifying DNA from GFAJ-1 before testing it for its arsenic components."

Valid criticism, but not proof of irreproducability or alternate mechanism.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. On the other hand, scientists claiming that things are impossible have routinely been proven wrong. Unless something is shown to violate well established laws, hypothetical criticism is usually far less valuable than actual experimentation and reproducible alternate explanation.

Re:Scientific Method (0)

Krokus (88121) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268624)

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.

Re:Scientific Method (3, Interesting)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 3 years ago | (#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 (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268664)

You can be sure that they are trying to reproduce it - it just takes time. Establishing a completely new system takes not weeks but months or years and leaves some PhD candidates along the road. We'll see more definitive data next year or so.

Re:Scientific Method (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36269470)

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. On the other hand, scientists claiming that things are impossible have routinely been proven wrong. Unless something is shown to violate well established laws, hypothetical criticism is usually far less valuable than actual experimentation and reproducible alternate explanation.

Except that many of the criticisms are perfectly valid and, to use a phrase often applied to a different debate, the burden of proof is on the believer.

It doesn't matter whether criticisms are hypothetical if they are reasonable. The scientific method dictates that you have a hypothesis and a null hypothesis, and that you do experiments which, all being well, allow you to reject the null hypotheses until only the hypothesis seems reasonable. The null hypothesis here is that the bacteria don't use arsenic/still use phosphorus. Their own supplementary information shows their "phosphorus-free" culture medium could have as much as 3.7 uM phosphate present. I don't work with arsenic, but I do work with marine bacteria in phosphorus-starvation conditions, and I have bacteria which show comparable amounts of growth at corresponding time points with around 8 uM phosphate in the medium. Who is to say that the "arsenic bacterium" hasn't just developed a super-efficient P scavenging technique? Well, there is other data in their paper which supports their hypothesis, but that also seems to have been called into question by other researchers.

True, hypothetical criticisms aren't as valid as conflicting experimental evidence, but that doesn't mean you can ignore them. The point in science is that you collect experimental evidence up to the point where only the hypothesis seems to be a reasonable explanation of the observations, and I don't think they've quite hit that point yet.

Re:Scientific Method (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36269554)

"University of British Columbia microbiologist Rosie Redfield, the blogger most critical of [fellow female scientist, Felisa] Wolfe-Simon both personally and professionally...

Everything is always personal when women are involved. This is evident in all areas of life, not just science.

Re:Scientific Method (2)

i.am.delf (1665555) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268812)

It is not even a matter of reproducible results. This whole affair is a logic exercise, the experiments performed cannot rule out other trivial explanations for the results. Science does not only require an experiment showing the plausibility of one explanation, but also the implausibility of alternative reasonable explanations.

Re:Scientific Method (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36270292)

As far as we know, the existence of the universe is a single, once ever event.
As such, peers can not independently reproduce the result.
Scientifically the universe does not exist.
And of course, science itself can't exist then.
You can't exist, either.

Where are the scathing critiques of climatology? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268012)

Any healthy science has this type of debate going on. It weeds out the incorrect conclusions while strengthening the correct ones.

Yet, when it comes to climate science there is almost none of it at all. It is as though nobody is interested in challenging the conclusions of anyone else. I never understood this.

Re:Where are the scathing critiques of climatology (3, Insightful)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268026)

You might want to try to read the literature?

Re:Where are the scathing critiques of climatology (-1, Offtopic)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268086)

That is because climatology is a religion, not a science. Those who speak out against its generally falsified findings are vilified by the political left and held up as the anti-Christ (with Al Gore, of course, being Christ himself).

Climatology has no credibility and is not worth the time to debunk. It is flawed by inspection, like saying 1 + 1 = 4.

Re:Where are the scathing critiques of climatology (1, Offtopic)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268410)

Your wit is scalding. Now how about learing some facts, so you can use it to some useful end? Starting point: The scientific community does not give a rats arse about Al Gore or the left. Don't burn yourself on those strawmen.

Re:Where are the scathing critiques of climatology (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268098)

Because challenging them is very dangerous to the challenger.

Re:Where are the scathing critiques of climatology (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268508)

They're over there with the scathing critiques of Relativity and Evolution.

It could be worse... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268040)

It could be a war WITH arsenic-based life!

Head and Shoulders (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36269988)

Don't worry, if we did have a war with arsenic-based lifeforms, we could just kill them with head and Shoulders shampoo. It's their cyanide, afterall.

Invasion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268058)

Imagine an arsenic-based microbe invasion. How would a 'host' native to Earth fare?

This could get interesting.

Re:Invasion (1)

eleuthero (812560) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268248)

I think that I would fair fairly well, as the microbe in question would have only a small amount of resources to colonize me. Arsenic based life requires a substantial amount of arsenic to exist--same with sulfur based life or anything else (though there is much more free sulfur available than arsenic in the earth's general environment). This reference may be helpful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abundance_of_elements_on_Earth#Abundance_of_elements_in_the_Earth [wikipedia.org] (there's also a section on the human body on this page).

I am happy to live on a planet where carbon is one of the most abundant elements--it means I have to put up with carbon-based bugs, but then, I am used to most of those I am ever around.

Re:Invasion (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268684)

True. Small nitpick, though - they wouldn't compete against carbon, but against phosphorus. They are still carbon based, but supposedly work with As instead of P in their DNA and in their energy metabolism.

Just a hunch (0)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268062)

But I would venture a guess that the scientists who are so vocal about her findings are the very same scientists that rationalize silly things like God and Creationism in their own minds. After all, the existence and viability of arsenic-based life would be an affront to their own distorted views on the origins of life as we know it today.

Re:Just a hunch (2)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268200)

Actually, my son the recent PhD in Biophysics, and an atheist, believes the research is flawed in detail and in conclusion. He has no agenda other than truthiness.

Re:Just a hunch (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268440)

It's a normal part of the scientific process. Holding a PhD in Biochemistry myself, with focus on Biophysical Chemistry, and I kinda agree with your son there. Interesting data, but needs some more rigor. But, well, that is not unusual - works like this all the time. We'll see more papers on this soon, then we'll learn more.

Re:Just a hunch (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268270)

They are just doing their job as scientists. Science is supposed to embrace new ideas slowly. Otherwise we'd be running around believing in N rays [wikipedia.org] and whatnot. Granted, this is a cruel environment to come up with new ideas in, but it's still very much a necessity.

Re:Just a hunch (3, Interesting)

pnot (96038) | more than 3 years ago | (#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:Just a hunch (1)

Savantissimo (893682) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268870)

That's how it should work, but sometimes there is a premature hardening of consensus and the whole scientific community may believing nonsense for decades on end. Commonly believed theories need to be tested and challenged, too - but funding and social/ peer review concerns often make thatt difficult, particularly in the softer sciences.

Re:Just a hunch (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268368)

I really, really, doubt that. I'm a Ph.D. biologist who concentrates on molecular biology. She did some interesting work, and if it turns out arsenic can be viable in DNA, I think it would be great. It would open up a lot of new doors for exploration. New findings are cool and exciting. That said, I'm very critical of her.

My problem with her is her overreaching declaration of what she found. She concluded things you just can't conclude from the experiments she did. There are further experiments that could be done to prove it. She hasn't done them yet. Her experiments point towards arsenic based life being a possibility. They give good reason to do further research exploring the theory. The do not prove the theory by any means. Not by a long shot. There are numerous examples given by others of possible explanations of what she found using standard current biology, Claiming she proved it when she hasn't is why people are jumping on her.

Re:Just a hunch (1)

Spykk (823586) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268490)

Which book of the bible was it that stated that no life form could subsist of elements outside of Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus, and Sulfur? I must have glossed over that part...

Re:Just a troll (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 3 years ago | (#36269062)

But I would venture a guess that the scientists who are so vocal about her findings are the very same scientists that rationalize silly things like God and Creationism in their own minds. After all, the existence and viability of arsenic-based life would be an affront to their own distorted views on the origins of life as we know it today.

I fixed the subject line for you.

Blah blah (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268078)

We're not, because the organisms are just a variant on the same theme as other life. It was an over-the-top unsustainable claim, a bunch of molecular biologists who actually are experts in the field caught it, and that's that.

There's your problem; man making rules about life. (1)

Stumbles (602007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268146)

The original article presented an exception to one of the fundamental rules of life on Earth. To survive, microbes, plants, and animals all require six essential elements: oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus.

So please answer this questions:

How many of those elements are used by the life forms found at the hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean?

What is the make up of their DNA?

Oh and I must say; life does not give a shit about man made rules and how we think it should be.

Re:There's your problem; man making rules about li (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268642)

You are correct, we are the ones who are searching so we should be chary of making any rules about what we should find.

Re:There's your problem; man making rules about li (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 3 years ago | (#36270050)

Not to mention the iron breathing bacteria in blood falls [wikipedia.org] .

Really? (1)

smbell (974184) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268168)

Scathing critiques, building of allies and preparation for WAR!!!11!1!!

Because 'Scientists question results of experiment, suggest other possible conclusions and additional tests' doesn't pull enough eyeballs? And we all know there's nothing we need more than over the top sensationalism in the news.

Re:Really? (5, Funny)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268348)

What is best in science?

To crush your colleagues, see them refuted before you, and to hear the lamentation of their post-docs.

Re:Really? (1)

Stumbles (602007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268408)

Besides... remember the smart ass that got lynched for creating the Heart of Gold when all other scientists failed.

Re:Really? (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268494)

You do win the internets, good Sir. I salute you. I need to have this made into a t-shirt.

Re:Really? (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268772)

Jesus Christ, Where the FUCK are my mod points!!!!

Re:Really? (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 3 years ago | (#36269078)

What is best in science?

To crush your colleagues, see them refuted before you, and to hear the lamentation of their post-docs.

LoL.

But you forgot the part about bonking their women.

Arsenic and the lace of life (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268222)

Come on! Spock had copper-based blood and his vulcan father and earthan mother were able to combine DNA and produce him.

Better Science Through TOS

Re:Arsenic and the lace of life (1)

eleuthero (812560) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268272)

This has bugged me for a while--creatures on earth with copper blood don't bleed green (you end up with a blue tint--think certain kinds of seafood). ...

Re:Arsenic and the lace of life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36269100)

Well, there is a condition in humans that can turn blood green (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sulfhemoglobinemia)...

Re:Arsenic and the lace of life (1)

r0b!n (1009159) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268274)

Oh yeah! I watched that "Star Trek" documentary too.

Sagan Standard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268276)

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" -Sagan
The claim of arsenic based life form is fairly extraordinary, it is normal to expect critique.
Although arsenic based life form isn't "that" extraordinary (compared to string theory). I think NASA/media blew it up out of proportion.
Only time will tell if the claim will withstand the test.

Moot point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268282)

Because It's judgement time!!!!! Everyone here ( including me ) will have VIP tickets to hell:) So why pander over important topics anyhow.?

Replicate it or shut up. (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268328)

If anyone else can replicate it, she's vindicated. If nobody else can, it never happened.

Not arsenic based (1)

SteveW928 (2030878) | more than 3 years ago | (#36268552)

Arsenic adaptable

Replication not the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36268606)

All the comments about reproducing the results are classic misdirection. The problem is not that the results are miraculous, it is that the conclusions drawn from them are excessive. I read this paper when it came out, and the issue can be reduced to this: If you are going to make an extraordinary claim, you better give extraordinary evidence. X-ray crystal structure or GTFO!

To paraphrase: (1)

dev_sda (533180) | more than 3 years ago | (#36270182)

Extraordinary results require extraordinary evidence. Disregard personal attacks on Wolfe-Simon, consider comments and considerations on the methods, etc of the work itself, and allow a few years for additional research to support or refute. Most of all keep calm, it's not war, it's just science.
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