Monday, March 07, 2011

From the Origin of Life to 2012: Pseudoscience on the Loose

By Prof Rowan
Have alien bacteria fossils been discovered in a meteorite by a NASA scientist?

*drumroll please*


Recap: On Friday night the “Journal of Cosmology” published an article entitled “Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites: Implications to Life on Comets, Europa, and Enceladus,” attributed to one Richard B. Hoover of the NASA/Marshall SFC [1], claiming such a discovery. Extraordinary claims, however, require extraordinary evidence, which is nowhere to be found in the paper. While I am trained in and have worked in scientific fields, I am admittedly not a scientist, so I refer you to the blogs of PZ Myers [2], David Dobbs [3], and Rosie Redfield [4] for detailed analysis/straight-up debunking. In sum, per Redfield: “Executive Summary: Move along folks, there's nothing to see here.”

Look, there's nothing wrong with alternative theories – and certainly nothing wrong with leveling a critique at the scientific establishment – provided that they are supported by data and arguments that meet the epistemic criteria for scientificity. Even then, to propose an alternate theory of the origin of life is to propose a new creation myth – and as such any denunciation of the mythic nature of the consensus theory/narrative also denounces itself. And the “journal” in which Hoover's paper appeared is rife with them – whether in articles or in press releases.

So. When the controversy erupted, I found myself less interested in this article and its claims than in the “journal” itself. First red flag: the “Journal of Cosmology” is only published online on amateurish site that looks like GeoCities circa 1997 – just like every kook and conspiracy theorist's site. Second red flag: they claim to be a legitimate, peer-reviewed academic journal – and yet they demand a $35 “processing fee” to “cover costs for processing and managing the peer review process” as well as a $150 “article publication fee.” [5] No legitimate journal charges ANY such fees. Furthermore, their submission guidelines require authors to list five scientists who would be qualified to review the submitted paper. Again, unheard-of – and even more suspicious. Need I go on?

Clearly, there is an agenda. A little research into the panspermia creation myth led to the discovery that its chief proponent, Fred Hoyle, rejected the Big Bang on the same logic as his rejection of abiogenesis. Which leads me to an essay (if it can be so called) on the “Big Bang myth,” or “Big Bang Theology” that argues for an eternal universe in which black holes, which the author prefers to call “gravity holes,” recycle the universe ad infinitum. [6] Sure, the Big Bang is a modern creation myth. Big deal. However, Occam's Razor dictates that Conformal Cyclic Cosmology or a Big Bang-Big Crunch cyclic model would be vastly preferable – as infinite time infinitely multiplies entities! There are so many misunderstandings and misinterpretations of relativity, physical cosmology and even fundamental physical concepts such as inertial frames, that one doubts that the author – one Rhawn Joseph, PhD (Emeritus of the “Brain Institute” - address: Northern California (can you be more vague?)) – had any credibility before reading this joke of an article.

Does this man look like he's about anything but self-aggrandizement?

Of course, our buddy Rhawn was the first to defend Hoover's argument in a “Commentary,” which concludes: “There is no evidence life began on Earth. Life was present on this planet from the very beginning. Life on Earth has a cosmic ancestry. The preponderance of evidence demonstrates life on Earth, came from other planets. Our ancient ancestors journeyed here, from the stars.”

Why is it no surprise that a simple google search turned up an intriguing connection between this debate, ostensibly over cosmic and biological beginnings, and the only apocalyptic scenario today that is at once both more absurd and more popular in our culture than the Zombie Apocalypse: the 2012 “end of the Mayan calendar” phenomenon. The following video appeared under the by-line of Rhawn Joseph, PhD and his "institute."

To be continued... (Also see this previous post on conspiracy thinking by James Curcio.)

[1] “Richard Hoover is an engineer at Marshall Space Flight Center, and not a biologist by training. In fact, there are professional microbiologists at Marshall conducting ISS monitoring but I don't believe they were in any way involved with this work. From what I can tell, all of Mr. Hoover's assertions about life in meteorites are in non-peer reviewed journals and that his awards are in engineering.” Lynn Rothschild to R. Redfield,

Is Hoover really the author of the JOC article? While I can only speculate, I have my suspicions. In the first place, the article by-line includes a “PhD,” while a related book chapter, published in 2008 by Springer, “Comets, Carbonaceous Meteorites and Biosphere Origin,” ( does not. In the second, the acknowledgments at the end of both the article and the chapter are virtually identical – raising the question as to whether any new research took place in the intervening years. Only one new acknowledgment added, while many omitted.

I express gratitude to Gregory Jerman and James Coston of NASA/MSFC for electron microscopy support and William Birch, Victoria Museum (Murchison); Paul Sipiera, Dupont Meteorite Collection (Orgueil, Ivuna); Martine Rossignol-Strick and Claude Perron, Muse´e Nationale d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris (Orgueil) for the meteorite samples used in this research. I also thank Elena V. Pikuta, NSSTC for cultures of extremophiles and Alexei Yu. Rozanov, N. C. Wickramasinghe, Max Wallis, Academician Georgi Zavarzin, Academician Erik Galimov, Rosemarie Rippka, Ludmilla Gerasimenko and the late Sir Fred Hoyle for many helpful discussions regarding cyanobacteria, bacterial paleontology, comets and carbonaceous meteorites.

I want to thank Gregory Jerman and James Coston of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center for FESEM and EDS analysis support and Dr. Claude Perron, Musée Nationale d’Histoire (Paris) for samples of the Alais and Orgueil meteorites and Dr. Paul Sipiera of the Planetary Studies Foundation and the Field Museum for samples of the Orgueil and Ivuna CI1 meteorites. I also thank Academician Alexei Yu. Rozanov the Paleontological Institute (Russian Academy of Sciences), Academician Erik Galimov of Vernadsky Institute, (Russian Academy of Sciences), Prof. John F. Lovering of the University of Melbourne; and Dr. Rosemarie Rippka of Pasteur Institute, Paris for many helpful discussions concerning meteorites, bacterial paleontology, and cyanobacteria.






Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

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