Reports of bacteria from space mildly exaggerated

March 8, 2011

By now you may have heard that we’ve found evidence that we’re not alone in the universe. It was reported several days ago that alien microbes born in outer space had been found in meteorites on Earth. However, according to NASA, that story is not entirely accurate…which is to say, it’s not at all accurate:

The US space agency formally distanced itself from the paper by NASA scientist Richard Hoover, whose findings were published Friday in the peer-reviewed Journal of Cosmology, which is available free online.

“That is a claim that Mr Hoover has been making for some years,” said Carl Pilcher, director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute.

“I am not aware of any support from other meteorite researchers for this rather extraordinary claim that this evidence of microbes was present in the meteorite before the meteorite arrived on Earth and and was not the result of contamination after the meteorite arrived on Earth,” he told AFP.

“The simplest explanation is that there are microbes in the meteorites; they are Earth microbes. In other words, they are contamination.”

This response at least seems far less political than their sheepish initial response, which PZ Myers harshly criticized. But I am glad that Myers took a moment to acknowledge his desire to see the discovery of life from elsewhere other than Earth as one of the tough things I’ve experienced in the three plus years since I abandoned my belief that aliens have already visited Earth is always being viewed as someone who doesn’t want to find evidence for life elsewhere in the universe. Nothing could be further from the truth. Statistically, the odds of other life–even other intelligent life–are almost certain and as Carl Sagan said, if it is just us, it seems like an awful waste of space.

And now that we’ve detected water elsewhere in our own solar system, that increases the odds significantly that we’ll find evidence that at least single-celled life live or once lived not far from us. And given such discoveries, I’ll even speculate that I wouldn’t be surprised if such evidence emerged within the next five years. Of course that’s just my baseless speculation and time will tell if it proves accurate.

Also check out Phil Plait’s more detailed piece on this non-news story here.

And just for fun, here’s what you get when you mix Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot with an Old Spice commercial:

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News From Around The Blogosphere 10.26.09

October 26, 2009

1. Walt Disney refunds parents for not making their kids geniuses – Disney is refunding parents for all those “Baby Einstein” videos. Come to think of it, my niece watched them. I wasn’t aware that these videos promised to make kids smart anymore than I was aware Baby Van Gogh promised to turn kids into great artists.

2. The zombie apocalypse has been prevented. . .for now – An Iowa man accused another man of being a zombie, and then punched him…twice. I can only imagine this was because he was following Rule #4, which calls for a “double tap”:

3. Felicia Day does a NASA PSAFelicia Day, best known for her role in Joss Whedon’s hit internet musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and less known for her starring role in the never-aired episode of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse (and possibly the show’s best episode), has now she’s managed to somehow up her geek cred even more:

4. Inland Empire Atheists take their ads into the coffee shops

Part of the International Space Station may soon be democratically named after a certain Firefly-class space ship

February 26, 2009

NASA is letting the public vote on a name for part of the International Space Station, specifically Node 3. And right now it’s looking like Node 3 will almost certainly be named Serenity after the ship in Joss Whedon’s popular television series Firefly. I guess they really can’t take the sky from Joss.

News From Around The Blogosphere 12.11.08

December 12, 2008

Obama picks his Nobel Prize Winning Physicist Steven Chu as Energy Secretary – Apparently the Obama administration is trying a radical new direction, being pro-science.

But not everyone in the science community is happy with Obama – Mike Griffin, NASA’s Administrator, is rumored to be butting heads with Obama, because due to some poor decisions on his part, he may not be working for NASA for much longer. More on this rumor here.

Update: The Hugh Laurie interview on Conon O’Brien I mentioned yesterday can be seen here.

Brian Dunning visits Area 51 – The photo on the left just about sums up the excitement of their visit. This was a great companion piece to Phil Plait’s criticism of Stanton Friedman from yesterday.


My favorite atheist holiday display finally went up in Philadelphia –  My brother and the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia have erected their 2nd annual “Tree of Knowledge” display on Tuesday.

I actually think this is a far better atheist display than the now “infamous” Washington display because the focus is on knowledge and diversity of ideas instead of being as divisive as the religious displays we fight against. The Tree includes photocopies of book covers including not only atheist books but what makes this display especially unique is that it also includes the Bible, Koran, etc. pushing the diversity of ideas angle. And although it gets criticized as much as any other atheist display, it’s a much less divisive and I think more productive way of pushing our overall message. I also have felt that the Washington display hasn’t been defended very well. I love Dan Barker but I don’t think in this particular case he’s done a good job defending what is essentially a negative holiday campaign in interviews lately. The Tree of Knowledge seems like more the direction we should be going in.

Festivus pole being added to holiday displays in Washington’s capitol – This is frakkin’ awesome! Not only that but the Westboro Baptist Church is also demanding to put up a sign reading, “Santa Claus will take you to hell.” Now someone of even below average intelligence might have figured out the lesson of this is that there’s a good reason our government is designed to make no laws respecting the establishment of religion. And that’s because if you respect one of them, you have to respect all. . .and there are a lot. Of course that doesn’t include Bill Donohue, who seems to have missed the point entirely:

Gov. Gregoire is responsible for this mess. Having first acceded to the requests of atheists to attack Christmas, she is now confronted with the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church, a viciously anti-American, anti-Catholic and anti-gay group. There is a way to deal with this situation in a manner that is legally acceptable and morally defensible, but neither the Washington governor, nor her lawyers, have figured it out.

Nor have you figured it out yet, Bill. You just need to go one display farther. We would not have been in this mess in the first place if Christians hadn’t insisted that the government pay for their holiday ornaments.


Merry Christmukah

Continuing the current trend of large-scale mergers and acquisitions, it was announced today at a press conference that Christmas and Hanukkah will merge. An industry source said that the deal had been in the works about 1300 years.


scientist-use-in-case-of-emergencyLast Neandertal Contact With Modern Humans? – “It is widely accepted that Upper Paleolithic early modern humans spread westward across Europe about 42,000 years ago, variably displacing and absorbing Neandertal populations in the process. However, Middle Paleolithic assemblages persisted for another 8,000 years in Iberia, presumably made by Neandertals. It has been unclear whether these late Middle Paleolithic Iberian assemblages were made by Neandertals, and what the nature of those humans might have been.

New research, published Dec. 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is now shedding some light on what were probably the last Neandertals.”

How The Brain Thinks About Crime, Punishment – “In a pioneering, interdisciplinary study combining law and neuroscience, researchers at Vanderbilt University peered inside people’s minds to watch how the brain thinks about crime and punishment.”

. . .  “The researchers found that two distinct areas of the brain assess guilt and decide penalty.”

For some reason I’ve got the Virgin Mary on the brain lately:

News From Around The Blogosphere 7.29.08

July 30, 2008

TV watching possibly linked to autism –  “Cornell University researchers are reporting what appears to be a statistically significant relationship between autism rates and television watching by children under the age of 3.” This is the kind of thing you get when you confuse correlation with causation. You could make the same claim about the rise of the internet correlation with the rise of autism except for the fact that there is no proven rise in autism at all. We’ve broadened the definition of autism and made it more visible, but there still is no proof that autism is on the rise or that it is “an epidemic.”

NASA turns 50 Today! – On this day in 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law legislation creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This is another example of why it’s important for a president to have an understanding of science. Just like presidential administrations have foreign policies, they have science policies. Presidents often make major decisions that have lasting effects on the direction of science.

City Workers in Birmingham are not reading this right now -The Birmingham City Council has installed blocking software on their computers that block out atheist websites. And atheist content isn’t alone on the blocked list. The following subjects are blocked: “witchcraft or Satanism” and “occult practices, atheistic views, voodoo rituals or any other form of mysticism”.

How YOU can put evolution back into museums -Colin Purrington provides a list of helpful ideas on how the average person can help promote further emphasis on evolution in museums. Remember: only you can prevent creationist nonsense! (Note: This is less likely to work in art museums)

Evolve-Eyes on History Channel Tonight -Okay, I’m a bit late in reporting it but I’m sure they’re rerun it. And I’ve already seen creationists slam it before seeing it, so it’s gotta be good! Biologist PZ Myers’ running commentary of the program.

NY Times op-ed calling for closer monitoring of UFOs -Oh yeah, we’ll get right on that. [rolls poorly evolved eyes]

An English Holocaust Denier In New York -Infamous Holocaust David Irving after being released from Austrian jail for the crime of “trivializing the Holocaust” (that for the record, is something I don’t think should be a crime), is touring the U.S. to spread his unique brand of nonsense and Anti-Semitism. Along for the ride is his friend and partner in crime, Michael Santamauro (owner of the New York-based roommate service, who specifically aided Irving in tricking a church’s priest into hosting the lecture by claiming the speaker was the leader of an anodyne “book club.” This news even managed to get The Huffington Post to take time away from their busy anti-vaccine propaganda, usually provided by David Kirby to publish an article by Max Blumenthal about David Irving’s recent visit.

Another important part that’s necessary to comment on is the role Christopher Hitchens plays in the story. Hitchens had in the past published what some have called a favorable article on Irving and Irving has himself claimed that he and Hitchens are friends. Apparently though, nobody told Hitchens this, as he’s written an essay where he rips Irving apart.

And now a moment of science:

Amazon Insect Diversity Due To Ice Age? -“Ice age climate change and ancient flooding–but not barriers created by rivers–may have promoted the evolution of new insect species in the Amazon region of South America, a new study suggests.”