Courtesy CECAR - Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation R (adapted by Mark Ryan)Several months back there was a lot of hoopla revolving around the so-called "Climategate" scandal. Climate scientists' emails were hacked, posted online and taken out of context as they were disseminated around the internet and through the news channels. Some researchers were charged with manipulating climate data to bolster their own point of view, and indignant investigations were launched against them. As the story fermented in the media, the blogosphere, and political circles, it grew into an over-inflated bag of hot-air. But, eventually, the truth prevailed, and those accused were exonerated by the facts. Michael Mann, a climate change researcher at Pennsylvania State University, was one of key figures in the "scandal", and has written (both here and in a new book) about his experience dealing with the kind of smear campaign that was hurled his way. He terms it the "scientization" of politics. It's involves some of same anti-science tactics used by the tobacco industry and creationists: mainly to cast doubt on the facts, and fabricate controversy where there is none.
It seems that there has been a bit of a kerfuffle about this paper in the Journal of Cosmo
Courtesy Microbial Diversity, Rolf Schauder and David Graham, © 1997logy, an online-only publication apparently known for publishing controversial points of view endorsing, among other things, the hypothesis that life began outside of the Earth. The paper in question, by NASA researcher Richard Hoover, discusses structures found in three meteorites that visually and chemically resemble bacteria. If these meteorites really contain bacteria whose origins are extraterrestrial (rather than plain old Earth bacteria that contaminated the meteorite samples), it's clear that Hoover has made the kind of discovery that will represent a revolution in scientific thinking.
But that's an awfully big "if". Critics suggest that contamination is vastly more likely (see a nice collection of comments here), and generally criticize the research, the publication, and various other facets of this story.
This whole affair can be read a number of ways: as an illustration of the rule of thumb that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"; as an example of the politics that sometimes surround scientific research and publication; or even as evidence that people have a way of seeing what they want to see given ambiguous evidence.
But despite all the criticism, I confess that anything suggesting the possibility of extraterrestrial life sets my little heart a-flutterin'. Very few ideas have the same power to catch the imagination as that of alien life: that something so impossible might actually be possible, that science fiction might have some truth, that our understanding of the universe might still be completely and profoundly overturned by something so simple as a few cells inside a space rock. Remember when NASA teased this story about a revolution in astrobiological thinking? I was on pins and needles for days, hoping that they were going to announce definitive evidence of alien life. And, admit it, when you saw this story's headline you were secretly hoping for the same thing...
Courtesy liebedichThe committee investigating climate scientist Phil Jones, central figure in the so-called "Climategate" controversy has released a 60-page report clearing him of charges that he had manipulated climate data. It appears the storm brewing since the release of hundreds of hacked emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at Great Britain's University of East Anglia last November will now dissipate.
In January, Harvard President Lawrence Summers created quite a stir when he suggested that one reason why there are fewer women than men working in math and science is that there are inherent differences between male and female brains. (Summer's full speech can be found here.
The comments created quite a controversy. Enter "Summers Harvard women math speech" into Google and you'll get about 28 thousand hits. Many people are reluctant to accept the idea that men and women are inherently different.