Yesterday, the 5th of March, Fox News released an article on their blog where they announced that Richard Hoover, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre, thinks he has found evidence for extraterrestrial life. And since Fox News published this article I’ve seen this crop up on more and more places on the internet.
What Hoover found were structures inside a rare type of meteorite, a CI1 carbonaceous chondrite – the one Hoover analysed fell in France in 1864 – and it contains something that looks very much like remains of microbes.
But such a claim is hard to substantiate, as a similar claim was also made for the meteorite ALH84001. Which in 1996 hit the news when David McKay, a NASA scientist, announced that this meteorite may contain evidence for traces of life from Mars. Till this day the debate is still continuing if these structures are biological in origin, and if these are, if they aren’t caused by contamination from terrestrial bacteria.
And this is the reason I take this news with a very big grain of salt. It’s extremely difficult to rule out contamination of the sample. And as such it is wise to wait to get independent confirmation that this indeed might be remains of extraterrestrial life. As Hoover has already made a similar claim during a presentation in 2007 which has not been confirmed.
But this is just me being sceptical about an article that announces a possible find of remains of extraterrestrial life in a meteorite. There is one part that raises really big red flags with this find, and that is where it was published.
The paper written by Hoover where he discusses his find is published in the Journal of Cosmology. A journal with the following rules for a submitted paper (emphasis mine):
Make your article interesting, informative and to the point. A short article of around 3,000 words is more likely to be read than a longer article of more than 5,000 words. All articles must avoid jargon, and must be written to be understood by a wide range of scientists specializing in areas of science other than those addressed by the author.
Do NOT Use Footnotes.
Yes a journal that actually discourages the usage of jargon and footnotes in articles that are submitted to them. I hope everyone realises that there is not a single respectable journal out there that discourages this, it is actually expected that you do use jargon and footnotes.
Also one of the odd things that you’ll notice about this journal is that it’s website is not exactly a looker. This website is the entire journal, and as far as I can tell and confirm, is that they do not publish an actual journal. Also the total peer review process with publication will set you back $ 185. With of course PayPayl being the only way of paying for these services.
How it handles the papers itself and payment is the least of the points that bothers me. What really bothers me is a remark in the article about the possible discovery of the “9th planet Tyche” which was published on February the 16th:
The torches and pitchforks crowd, led by astronomer-wannabe Phil Plait claims its not so. But then, Plait’s most famous discovery was finding one of his old socks when it went missing after a spin in his dryer.
This is an actual quote from a paper published by this journal. Nobody during the review process picked this up and marked this down as unacceptable. You don’t say these things in an article you publish. Especially if you read the original article this was in response of on Phil Plait’s blog, where he states:
I read their papers, and thought the data were interesting but unconvincing. The sample size was too small. A bigger study was done, but again the effects weren’t quite enough to rise to the level of breakthrough. I’m not saying the astronomers are wrong — the data were certainly provocative, and potentially correct! Just not firm enough.
A remark that was well argued and polite, and definitely does not deserve such a response. If you combine all of the above with articles like the “Myth of the Big Bang” you do well to wait for the responses of other scientists, organisations and journals before you accept anything from the Journal of Cosmology.