Thursday, December 9, 2010

NASA and Arsenic: Perhaps They Should Take Some

As someone who worked decades ago on NASA programs and who has expressed his concern that perhaps NASA has outlasted its usefulness, the latest flap in Science brings to the fore some key questions. This is the issue regarding the paper on life based on arsenic. Before reading it I thought that they had demonstrate that ATP and ADP were now ATA and ADA. Nope, not quite.

The explosion came when a researcher posted on her blog a rebuttal. She states:

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.

She ends with:

I don't know whether the authors are just bad scientists or whether they're unscrupulously pushing NASA's 'There's life in outer space!' agenda.  I hesitate to blame the reviewers, as their objections are likely to have been overruled by Science's editors in their eagerness to score such a high-impact publication.

I believe that this is spot on. This incident will just add another blotch on NASA and its Government employees.