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No, Life Has Not Been Found In a Meteorite

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the microbial-hide-and-seek-continues dept.

Space 68

The Bad Astronomer writes "News is going around the web that a scientist in the UK has found life (in the form of microscopic diatoms) in a meteorite, and has even published a paper about it. However, there are a lot of reasons to strongly doubt the claim. While the diatoms appear to be real, they are certainly from Earth. The meteorite itself, on the other hand, does not appear to be real. Many of the basic scientific steps and claims made in the paper are very shaky. Also, the scientist making the claim, N. C. Wickramasinghe, has made many fringe claims like this in the past with little or no evidence (such as the flu and SARS being viruses from space). To top it off, the website that published the paper, the Journal of Cosmology, has an interesting history of publishing fringe claims unsupported by strong evidence. All in all, this claim of life in a space rock is at best highly doubtful, and in reality almost certainly not true."

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But the Higgs Boson--still good on that, right?? (1, Offtopic)

crazyjj (2598719) | about a year and a half ago | (#42596919)

Please, it's all I've still got left to believe in at this point!!!

Re:But the Higgs Boson--still good on that, right? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42597011)

Just say it causes autism, and there will be swarms of people trying to prove it real.

Re:But the Higgs Boson--still good on that, right? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42597017)

It's called the God particle, you insensitive clod!

Re:But the Higgs Boson--still good on that, right? (3, Funny)

plover (150551) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597081)

It's actually called the God-damned particle, you insensitive physicist!

Re:But the Higgs Boson--still good on that, right? (1)

jadv (1437949) | about a year and a half ago | (#42598205)

The person who coined the "God particle" meme was an insensitive journal publisher. On the other hand, the nickname was kind of supported by a Nobel-winning insensitive physicist named Leon Lederman, apparently...

Re:But the Higgs Boson--still good on that, right? (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about a year ago | (#42661789)

Sorry "crazyjj", belief in anything is a waste of time.

Stop wasting your mental effort trying to "believe" in things. Learn to find and understand evidence and either challenge it's validity (in which case, present contrasting evidence) or accept it's veracity.

If you do not enjoy the idea of your inevitable death and permanent cessation of existence, then feel free to contribute to an alternative reality either by getting involved in aging/ longeivity research. Or find a counter-example of a lifeform that doesn't individually age and die, and we'll study it's differences to us. Or take an end trip around the whole question by learning how to duplicate "consciousness" (whatever that means) into computer hardware and software (or even wetware) so that the inevitable senescence of the human body no-longer means the end of the consciousness (whatever that means) that lives in those several kilogrammes of watery fat.

Enjoy, and have a nice(-r) day!

Next thing you know, you'll demand peer review (2)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597029)

You know, at the rate those questioning this discovery are going, they'll next demand peer review.

If I wanted to be questioned by a bunch of nobility appointed by the Queen, I'd live in England. Or maybe Wales.

Re:Next thing you know, you'll demand peer review (3, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42598043)

Hah! If you live in England, "peer review" is The Sun pouring scorn on the private lives of the members of House of Lords.

Re:Next thing you know, you'll demand peer review (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a year and a half ago | (#42598145)

Hah! If you live in England, "peer review" is The Sun pouring scorn on the private lives of the members of House of Lords.

What's the half-life of scorn?

Re:Next thing you know, you'll demand peer review (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about a year ago | (#42661997)

What's the half-life of scorn?

In the UK's Sun emergency arse-wipe supply, it's variable but inversely related to the tit size of the woman on the opposite page.

Have they considered all possibilities? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42597169)

Maybe the rock is alive, and you know, one with the universe? And maybe this world is only a dream (or nightmare) paid for by the people and being robbed by the corporate fat cats? We're really in the Matrix dude, and HSBC is in charge.

Re:Have they considered all possibilities? (1)

Antipater (2053064) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597257)

Not one with the universe, one with Gaia! It's one of the spirits! Quickly, use the spirit within yourself to stabilize it before the evil general destroys us all with the Zeus Cannon!

Re:Have they considered all possibilities? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about a year and a half ago | (#42600005)

Gaia [wikipedia.org] was what James Lovelock (the "father of earth sciences") called the biosphere before the word biosphere was invented. It was hijacked by new age types who read spiritual meaning into it where none existed, to this day anti-science shills deliberately conflate the two groups in an effort to discredit rational environmental concerns.

Re:Have they considered all possibilities? (1)

Antipater (2053064) | about a year and a half ago | (#42603625)

How can you read "before the evil general destroys us all with the Zeus Cannon" and not realize that that's a probably a fictional reference you're not getting? If someone says "Beam me up, Scotty", do you try to start a discussion on whether or not real-world teleporters would use beams? After all, if they're wrong, Star Trek must be written by anti-science shills!

But it's exciting! (1)

jamesh (87723) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597183)

All in all, this claim of life in a space rock is at best highly doubtful, and in reality almost certainly not true.

But it's exciting, and isn't that what really matters?

Re:But it's exciting! (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about a year ago | (#42662069)

All in all, this claim of life in a space rock is at best highly doubtful, and in reality almost certainly not true.

But it's exciting, and isn't that what really matters?

No.

Next question?

Breaking news (2)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597191)

No life has not been found in a meteorite!!! What's that? There's a comma? Shit.

BUT It's GOT to be true... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42597253)

I saw it on the internet.....

Re:BUT It's GOT to be true... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42597327)

But, it is TRUE - there is no life on the meteorite.
You see, the internet doesn't lie!

I didn't need to read any further... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42597335)

... than the name 'Wickramasinghe', which immediately tells you:

1.) Its probably an Indian
2.) They do what they do best, i.e. bullshitting and trying to look legitimate
3.) Most people don't want to be around his lab/office/equipment/person for more than a few minutes due to the stench of unwashed armpits, so I doubt anyone worthwhile has bothered to pay much attention to his 'results'. Besides the fact that they know its certainly self aggrandising, exaggerated, bullshit, probably served with the laughable pompousness most Indians have, see point 2.

In other words, nothing to see here.

Amazing Prejudice (0)

mynameiskhan (2689067) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597415)

Did you read the paper? Do you know who Wikramasinghe or even who Fred Hoyle is. Have you looked at their past publications? But I have. And I have been following that group's study of exobiology for over 25 years. I do not agree with many of their hypothesis, but it is unfortunate that someone like you who cannot read and comment on scientific publications thought it best to comment about the author's personality and more. Indeed you are an 'anonymous coward'.

Re: Amazing Prejudice (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42597489)

I see your amazingly empty retort and I'll raise it by demanding you to actually support and verify your statements.

Re:Amazing Prejudice (4, Informative)

tragedy (27079) | about a year and a half ago | (#42598029)

The racist attack in the GP post certainly deserved some scorn. As for the people themselves, I don't know much about Wikramasinghe, but I know that Hoyle was brilliant and accomplished and also a bit of an over-opinionated nut. His absurd position on the authenticity of Archaeopteryx attests to that. Wikramasinghe was apparently his student and shared many of his ideas, including the ones about Archaeopteryx. It seems to me that they formed some pretty solid theories about the cosmological origins of various molecules fundamental to known life, along with some less sound, but still compelling theories about the origins of life itself, and then some over the top wild speculation and wishful thinking.

Re:I didn't need to read any further... (1)

ch0knuti (994541) | about a year and a half ago | (#42598263)

Wickramasinghe - Sinhalese (from Sri Lanka)

Wikipedia link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandra_Wickramasinghe [wikipedia.org]

He dosen't seem like a hack scientist by a long shot. But I've got to admit that his views on evolution are rather unconventional.

Re:I didn't need to read any further... (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about a year ago | (#42662139)

He dosen't seem like a hack scientist by a long shot.

Wickramasinghe was a perfectly respectable (junior) scientist until the mid-late 1970s, when he hooked up with the (senior and fully respectable) Fred Hoyle. The two seem to have then got into a mutually-reinforcing cycle of agreeing with each others theories and not worrying about other people's opinions. In short, they became kooks.

But I've got to admit that his views on evolution are rather unconventional.

They're kooks. Hoyle is dead now, long gone, but Wickramasinghe is still around.

Unlike most kooks, he does know what he needs to do to perform useful, respectable work - but he doesn't do it. No ad homenium necessary - he does that to himself by publishing this sort of incredibly sloppy work.

Re:I didn't need to read any further... (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about a year and a half ago | (#42600043)

They do what they do best, i.e. bullshitting and trying to look legitimate

Bigot, heal thyself.

Ho Hum (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42597361)

Why am I not surprised? Yet another fraudulent claim from an incompetent Indian "scientist". Those guys will cheat, lie, stab other in the back, do anything to try and get themselves ahead.

Rule #1: Never trust an Indian.

Re:Ho Hum (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42597569)

Well, there's one thing that this supposedly shifty Indian has got on you: they put their name to what they wrote.
(Yes, I know I'm being a hypocrite.)

Re:Ho Hum (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42601353)

He's Sri Lankan.

Yes, it has: 16 years ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42597377)

Evidence of biological processes was found in martian meteorite ALH 84001 in 1996. Many biologists have questioned the claim (making irrelevant statements like "[Earth] bacteria aren't that small"), but the features found can still not be explained by non-biological processes.

The pattern is similar to the response to the labeled-release experiment on Viking I in 1976: "It doesn't work like life on Earth, so it must not be life". My fellow scientists are often not as open-minded as they would like to believe.

Re:Yes, it has: 16 years ago (1)

Antipater (2053064) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597487)

ALH 84001 is still being studied. Claims continue to be made back and forth. "We have no consensus yet" does not mean "no".

Re:Yes, it has: 16 years ago (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | about a year and a half ago | (#42599939)

Neil DeGrasse gave a nice talk [youtube.com] involving the theory of pan spermia and I have to say it makes a lot of sense. Mars was a wet fertile place for quite a long time before earth was, it was bombarded by large asteroids that threw chunks of mars into space, and bacteria can survive in a lot worse conditions than space and re-entry produce.

Re:Yes, it has: 16 years ago (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about a year ago | (#42662295)

Many biologists have questioned the claim (making irrelevant statements like "[Earth] bacteria aren't that small"), but the features found can still not be explained by non-biological processes.

However, other people have challenged the 1996 assertions on the grounds that there are inroganic processes which can be reproduced by non-biological processes. For example, as a geologist (relevant since the rocks are actually rocks, and geology is the science of how rocks behave and appear), I read the paper in installments on the day of publication (alternating with 150 mile bouts of driving to the next coffee break) and thought carefully about the phenomena described and possible alternative interpretations. Then I arrived at my parents and discussed the paper with Dad (a chemist and amateur botanist, relevant because life is made of chemicals, as are rocks) over a jug of malt whiskey.

Neither of us were convinced, on the contents of the paper and the strength of the arguments made.

The pattern is similar to the response to the labeled-release experiment on Viking I in 1976: "It doesn't work like life on Earth, so it must not be life".

A Saganism - which may predate Sagan - "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". McKay et al's paper provided, at best, weak ordinary evidence. A perfectly respectable paper ; but not an Earth-shattering one by any means.

My fellow scientists are often not as open-minded as they would like to believe.

The trick, citing IIRC Feynman this time, is to have a mind that isn't so open that your brains fall out.

Dad and I would have loved the paper to have been true. But that isn't sufficient grounds to suspend one's critical facilities.

Slow news day, is it? (1)

mark-t (151149) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597393)

I mean, it must be pretty slow if you have to put as one of your news articles that another source mistakenly broadcast something as news when it really wasn't.

This IS important (3, Insightful)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597543)

There have been too many sloppy science news the last decades.

Please, recall when president Clinton was fooled into saying they had found a rock from Mars, on Earth!!! A few days ago, there was another rock from Mars, also found on Earth. The arguments why these terrestrial rocks were from Mars is sadly weak.

Another Clintonian Mars or even a Piltdown Man (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piltdown_Man) is what we all should dread.

Pushing the barrier between bad towards dishonest science is NOT good at all.

If we can once again ascertain that NO extraterrestrial life has been found, the better.

Re:This IS important (4, Informative)

zAPPzAPP (1207370) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597817)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martian_meteorite [wikipedia.org]

Apparently 'they' have found rocks from Mars, many times...

Re:This IS important (0)

ilguido (1704434) | about a year and a half ago | (#42598395)

To be pedant, those rocks are "thought" to be from Mars. What puzzles me the most is the fact that there is a number of these martian meteorites and there's a Wiki article about them and all, but I can't find anything about meteorites from Earth: I mean the escape velocity of Mars on Earth is more than enough to eject a rock into the exosphere, whence it should fall back to Earth (as a meteorite?). Ubi sunt?

Re:This IS important (1)

Dr La (1342733) | about a year and a half ago | (#42601243)

The problem is to recognize them: Mars and Moon meteorites stand out in the lab by their composition. Earth meteorites just look like, well, any common stone on the earth surface. So an analysis will say: "nope, it is just a terrestrial rock, not a meteorite".

A fresh fallen one will have a fusion crust, but it might be dismissed a a weathering crust.

Re:This IS important (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42601807)

Earth has a much thicker atmosphere, has a much higher escape velocity, and a rock from Earth that falls back to Earth wouldn't be nearly as distinct.

You guys are also greatly underestimating the evidence that those so-called Mars meteorites actually are from Mars. The evidence is very convincing. For example, the argon isotope data matches Mars' atmosphere closely. It's hard to explain the features they have by any other mechanism.

Re:This IS important (1)

Dr La (1342733) | about a year and a half ago | (#42601255)

The controversy about ALH 84001 was not that it is from Mars (that is pretty much agreed upon): the controversy was about nanofossils purportedly discovered in this meteorite.

Re:This IS important (1)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | about a year and a half ago | (#42613631)

"The controversy about ALH 84001 was not that it is from Mars (that is pretty much agreed upon): the controversy was about nanofossils purportedly discovered in this meteorite."

Many, including myself don't agree with that it was from Mars. I am am afraid that such an "agreement" by others may have been reached because a president was made a fool in combination with wishful thinking. Look at the analyses, via the Wikipedia link above. They are not persuasive.

Kuhn would have loved to analyze that "agreement".

Re:This IS important (1)

Dr La (1342733) | about a year and a half ago | (#42614587)

That SNC meteorites are from Mars was a main stream notion in meteoritics already well before the ALH 84001 "fossil" announcement. It was NOT with the ALH 84001 announcement that that link was first made. The first suggestions date from 1979. For ALH 84001 it is somewhat different: it initially had been misidentified as a diogenite (because its composition is mostly low-Ca pyroxene) and was found to be a SNC-related meteorite in 1994 (two years before the ALH 84001 "fossil" announcement). Its oxygen isotope fractionation is very similar to SNC's.

True, there are a few scientific dissenters about a Martian origin for SNC meteorites but they are few. Their main problem is to explain what the parent body of these meteorites is if it is not Mars. It needs to be a large differentiated body with active volcanism in the past, volcanism still active less than 1 billion yrs ago (which points to a body of planetary size). It needs to have posessed an atmosphere quite similar in noble gas composition as that measured on Mars by the Viking probes, and another clue is the similar chemical composition of the Mars surface and these meteorites. The Oxygen Isotopes moreover show that this parent body cannot be the earth-moon system, and they also differ in this from HED meteorites (linked to Vesta), as do their "young" crystalization ages.

The idea that scientists worldwide would engage in a 'conspiracy' just to save the face of a US President is ridiculous by the way. Many scientists studying ALH 84001 and other Martian meteorites are not even American - we foreign scientists don't give a rats arse about the reputation of your former President!

Try MY science. (4, Funny)

Kozz (7764) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597401)

I refute the claims by Wickramasinghe due to the fact that his name is an anagram for Kiwi Ashcan Germ.

Q.E.D.

Re:Try MY science. (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597657)

N. C. Wickramasinghe = Magic chin wankers

No life inside (4, Funny)

PPH (736903) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597471)

The top had been unscrewed from the inside and it was empty by the time scientists found it.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Fred Hoyle (2)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597501)

This sounds like the guy who was supporting Fred Hoyle's claims back in the day.

who vets this stuff? (0)

HPHatecraft (2748003) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597547)

Seriously. The guy's name is N. C. Wickramasinghe!... which is fairly common Indian surname.

That was way funnier in my head. Is this the weed thread? Uh, hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Pff. Whatever.

Re:who vets this stuff? (1)

ryzvonusef (1151717) | about a year and a half ago | (#42604195)

You mean common Srilankan name.

Ad Hominem (0)

shaitand (626655) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597643)

"Also, the scientist making the claim, N. C. Wickramasinghe, has made many fringe claims like this in the past with little or no evidence (such as the flu and SARS being viruses from space). To top it off, the website that published the paper, the Journal of Cosmology, has an interesting history of publishing fringe claims unsupported by strong evidence."

Pure Ad Hominem attack. No content here. Invalid content is invalid innately regardless of source, similarly valid content is valid regardless of source. It doesn't matter if the guy stands by the subway station carrying a sign that says magical leprechauns whisper in his ear it has no impact on the validity of his statements. Unless of course you are considering the validity of his testimony as evidence but if you consider the testimony of anyone as evidence you have other problems in your critical analysis.

"While the diatoms appear to be real, they are certainly from Earth. The meteorite itself, on the other hand, does not appear to be real. Many of the basic scientific steps and claims made in the paper are very shaky."

That may or may not be true. One would actually have to read the article to determine if there is substance provided for these assertions and who is going to do that?

Re:Ad Hominem (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597719)

He does point out down the page that the rock in question is unlikely to be a meteorite.

Re:Ad Hominem (3, Insightful)

Shimbo (100005) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597851)

Pure Ad Hominem attack. No content here. Invalid content is invalid innately regardless of source, similarly valid content is valid regardless of source. It doesn't matter if the guy stands by the subway station carrying a sign that says magical leprechauns whisper in his ear it has no impact on the validity of his statements.

Not at all, the guy has a history of making dubious claims. It's perfectly reasonable to assign him a low a priori probablity of being correct. Sure, you could look at the evidence but life is too short to follow up every crank. It's not worth wasting the time reading if it can't even get published in a respectable journal.

Re:Ad Hominem (1)

shaitand (626655) | about a year and a half ago | (#42598463)

"Not at all, the guy has a history of making dubious claims. It's perfectly reasonable to assign him a low a priori probablity of being correct."

No, not it is not. That's why it's a well known and established logical fallacy.

"Sure, you could look at the evidence but life is too short to follow up every crank."

Sure but that is a reason to not personally choose to spend your time that way determining if he is wrong, not a valid basis for asserting that he is wrong.

"It's not worth wasting the time reading if it can't even get published in a respectable journal."

Maybe but views that are popular have a much easier time of getting into 'respectable' journals while views that are unpopular have a much harder time. In no small part because the reviewers tend to apply aforementioned logical fallacy in their evaluations. Those reviewing articles for journals have a tendency to approve research supporting things they agree with because they are subject to the same human failings as the rest of us. Trusting their judgement makes you more likely to agree with the things they agree with as well. Popular views among intelligent and educated individuals have a higher probability of being correct but that doesn't make views that are unpopular in said circles incorrect.

Having a history of dubious claims and not being published in a respectable journal might be a reasonable screen for determining if it's worth your time to investigate but it doesn't make his current claim false or justify the unsubstantiated assertion "No, Life Has Not Been Found In a Meteorite." All it means is that you (for whatever reasons) haven't taken the time to find out.

Re:Ad Hominem (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42597889)

Pure Ad Hominem attack. No content here. Invalid content is invalid innately regardless of source, similarly valid content is valid regardless of source.

So, wait. We take the history of this guy's behavior and his disproven fringe claims in the past, and that's an Ad Hominem attack? We have a distinct historical record of this guy's previous claims and their validity, but that's not good enough to take a ballpark guess at the validity of his latest claim, and what's more, that's Ad Hominem to use this guy's own history in relation to him doing the exact same thing now?

Please tell me you're not in any form of law enforcement employment. "Sure, he's shot eighty people to death in eighty incidents so far, but that's no reason to assume that if we let him go with a warning and put a gun in his hand, he'll do it again! Stop being such a racist!"

Re:Ad Hominem (-1, Flamebait)

shaitand (626655) | about a year and a half ago | (#42598531)

Attacking the credibility of the guy making the argument and not the argument itself is an Ad Hominem attack in every case. It is a logical fallacy. It doesn't matter how you spin it or want to disagree. A valid argument is a valid argument no matter who makes it.

From wikipedia:

"An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man"), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an argument made personally against an opponent instead of against their argument.[1] Ad hominem reasoning is normally described as an informal fallacy,[2][3][4] more precisely an irrelevance.[5]"

I didn't invent or discover the fallacy. It is fundamental logic. The validity of his argument is completely unrelated to his personal validity and entire based on the validity of his premises and whether or not they support his conclusion.

His past history might justify not investing your time in reading his argument and premise but it doesn't support the assertion his argument is invalid without having examined the premises.

Re:Ad Hominem (3, Insightful)

oodaloop (1229816) | about a year and a half ago | (#42598075)

Pointing out past history is not ad hominem; it's part of how we judge reliability of sources. An ad hominem attack is when your retort sounds more like, "Yo momma!".

Re:Ad Hominem (-1, Troll)

shaitand (626655) | about a year and a half ago | (#42598583)

Incorrect.

"An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man"), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an argument made personally against an opponent instead of against their argument.[1] Ad hominem reasoning is normally described as an informal fallacy,[2][3][4] more precisely an irrelevance.[5]"

His argument is either valid or invalid but it's validity isn't related to his personal credibility. Attacks upon his character or credibility are irrelevant. "it's part of how we judge reliability of sources" He is a human, it is safe to conclude he isn't a reliable source. The same would be true if he were a solidly credentialed professor with 60 years of consistent publication. If one were asserting his was correct because of a positive history it would be another logical fallacy known as a plea to authority. If his data is bogus it won't be replicated. If his logic is faulty it should be dismissible with examination of nothing but his argument and premise.

At no point does it become valid logic to dismiss a sound argument on the basis of labeling someone a crackpot or dubious. It might be a valid personal screening criteria for whether or not you care to take the time to examine his argument that would hardly give you grounds for asserting to others that he is wrong which is what the submitter has done.

Re:Ad Hominem (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about a year and a half ago | (#42600157)

At no point does it become valid logic to dismiss a sound argument on the basis of labeling someone a crackpot or dubious.

So how do you know if the claim is sound before investigating it, at some point it becomes a wate of time to investigate every claim from someone with a track record of unsound arguments. That is not an ad-hominem, it's the "boy who cried wolf".

Re:Ad Hominem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42602715)

While you may be correct that it is more practical to behave this way - it is stil an Ad-hominem by definition.

It is not a logical assumption you are making - but an experienced based one.

Sometimes we are required to make use of logical fallacies and assumptions derived from them - but we should never forget that the infomation we are using is derived from a fallacy and is suspect because of this.

Therefore - it may well not be worth your time investigating this claim. But you do not know this with any certainty at all, until you investigate it.

"Boy who cried wolf" (1)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about a year and a half ago | (#42615817)

I believe you need to go back and reread that particular fable. The Boy who Cried Wolf eventually was ignored by everyone else -- and then, when a real wolf came along, they ignored his warning.

The story is, of course, a warning against habitual lying for attention. But it can also be viewed as a cautionary tale against the easy ad-hominem dismissal.

Re:Ad Hominem (1)

Aguazul2 (2591049) | about a year and a half ago | (#42598355)

> Pure Ad Hominem attack.

With added Streisand effect. Yes, Wickramasingh has some interesting ideas that we might find to be true one day.

Re:Ad Hominem (1)

bloodhawk (813939) | about a year and a half ago | (#42598481)

pointing out a history of dodgy behaviour to further back the proposition that this is likely more of the same is not an Ad Hominem attack.

Re:Ad Hominem (1)

lxs (131946) | about a year and a half ago | (#42601291)

When you are judging a man's character, ad hominem seems the only way to go, and when a person has proven time and again to be an incompetent scientist and a kook, the chances of him producing valid results by accident are negligible.

Re:Ad Hominem (1)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | about a year and a half ago | (#42602237)

I'm afraid that it's necessary for logic, and science, to judge the _provenance_ of claims. This can be quite subtle, and dangerous when used to entirely reject claims without any review of actual data. When a a skilled colleague claims that the internal DNS is failing, they've generally earned credence by doing competent work. When the manager who resents your IT budget makes such a claim, and that manger's other claims have been ill-founded, you have to handle it differently or waste endless hours trying to deduce how the DNS was broken, but still works for everyone else. When the real problem was that the manager had connected a VPN to some other site that did not see internal DNS. (In which case, DNS is not broken, it's doing exactly what it's supposed to do.) And yet, on another occasion last year, the manager made a similar claim that was completely correct: an old DHCP server had been reconnected to the network, and given his freshly booted laptop bad DNS settings.

Exactly this occurred last month for me: you have to factor in the provenance of the data being presented, and the character of the claimant or anyone relaying the claim or relaying the data is critical. It's also why you apply different tests to verify the most basic claims from someone who's repeatedly proven unreliable. In good science or engineering, it's also an excellent opportunity to _teach_ the claimant how to do good testing and to safely analyze their data, rather than generating complex fantasies from a few unreliable data points.

Yeah, it's a diatom, but seriously? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42597749)

No question those are diatoms. More specifically, most are pennate ones (Order Pennales), although there is a picture of a filamentous Centrales diatom in the appendix. But why the hell they would base the in-situ interpretation on an elemental analysis rather than identifying the species present and seeing if "coincidentally" they happened to be the same species as ones found in the local freshwater lakes and streams is a bit of a mystery.

The paper isn't exactly rigorous. For one thing they say diatoms date back to the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary. No, they date back to the Jurassic Period -- considerably earlier. Furthermore they attribute them to marine environments. No, they are found in marine and freshwater environments. They are also commonly observed as thin crusts on rocks in moist environments (i.e. it doesn't have to be standing or flowing water, just wet). "Hydrated silicon dioxide polymer"? Well, I suppose. But most people who actually work on them call it opaline silica (which is indeed the same thing, it's just weird terminology to use). I don't know what they mean by "fossilized". Diatoms don't have to "fossilize" in the sense of any mineralization or alteration being necessary. They're already opaline silica. All that has to happen for them to preserve for the long term is not dissolve away, and silica is already pretty low solubility, essentially glass. Diatoms are generally quite durable structures.

Not much of a peer review, that's for sure. It's pretty obvious this is almost certainly modern contamination. They don't provide a speck of useful information showing that it's not. A bunch of EDX chemical analyses merely confirm the composition. So what? It would have been a lot more useful to make a petrographic thin section and figure out the relationship of the diatoms to the mineral grains in the rock.

This is an extraordinary claim, but the case is extraordinarily weak.

Thats a relief (1)

rossdee (243626) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597945)

So the Wildfire alert has been cancelled then.

Re:Thats a relief (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about a year and a half ago | (#42597981)

And nobody has to get blown up.

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