lunes, 6 de diciembre de 2010

Heavy fire on Science paper

The following has been extracted from "The Guardian"´s website today.

12.42pm: David Dobbs, blogging at Wired Science, reacts to the backlash from sceptical scientists:

"If the paper is as weak as these critiques hold, Nasa appears to have been not just overzealous but reckless — and Science not only went along for the ride, cheering wildly, but put all the gas in the car."

He also points the finger at the research embargo setup as it stands:
"Here's the problem: When a paper is still under embargo and we journalists call an outside expert to get comment on it, the expert has often not actually seen the paper yet, since, well, it's under embargo. If time allows (often not, since one usually has only a few days and everyone is busy) then you can send the expert(s) the paper, and they can read the paper and get back. But as the experts usually lack time to compare impressions with peers, few will go out on a limb and really lay into a paper under those circumstances. You usually get either "This looks interesting, with a few caveats I'd like to note" or "I'd rather not comment."

You'll rarely get an outright dismissal. They lack the time and probably the taste for the trouble it'll make."

He neatly sums up Nasa's media-baiting press release and the subsequent disappointment of science writers and journalists:
"We thought we were getting cupcakes. Some of us wanted cupcakes. Who doesn't want cupcakes? Now everybody's got humble pie in front of them, quite a bit to eat yet, and no dessert on the menu."

Monday 12.08pm: Lots of stern criticism of the research and Nasa's PR over the weekend. Microbiologist Rosie Redfield at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, says the paper in Science, "doesn't present any convincing evidence that arsenic has been incorporated into DNA (or any other biological molecule)". Blogging at RRResearch, Redfield analyses the methodology of the research in detail. Her conclusion?

"Bottom line: Lots of flim-flam, but very little reliable information. The mass spec measurements may be very well done (I lack expertise here), but their value is severely compromised by the poor quality of the inputs. If this data was presented by a PhD student at their committee meeting, I'd send them back to the bench to do more cleanup and controls."

People commenting on the post have encourage Redfield to submit her analysis to Science for publication as a letter, which she says she will do.
There appears to be a lot of support for Redfield's view. Under the headline "Alien biology hype" on his blog, palaeoanthropologist John Hawks at the University of Wisconsin-Madison focuses on the lack of controls in the research.

"I'm no microbiologist, but I read the paper carefully because it seemed to be such an interesting result if true. And the paper simply does not include the controls to show that arsenate has been taken up as part of the DNA. All the other claims in the press accounts of the discovery – for example, the idea that the organisms could substitute arsenate for phosphate in ATP – were complete fiction."


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