Microbes on a Moonbeam: Disentangling the Meteorite Microbe Claims

Earlier this month, a paper was published in the open access online Journal of Cosmology, claiming to have identified verifiable alien cyanobacteria in rare water-rich meteorites.  The paper, published by Dr. Richard Hoover at the NASA Marshall Flight Centre, was immediately picked up by various news outlets and soon, news of the finding had spread across the public domain causing amazement and outrage in equal measure.

Why?  The claims are controversial enough, but increasingly, all is not as it seems with Richard Hoover, his microbes, and the Journal of Cosmology itself.  Many people have said many things in the week following the announcement, and it is my hope to consolidate some of this, and also to shed some light from a personal perspective – I have a review paper published with the Journal of Cosmology in the same issue.

So, as far as I see it, there are two main questions that should be posed of the Hoover-microbe furore:

  • Is the claim true?  It is good science?
  • Has the paper been properly peer reviewed and published?

Various pieces of evidence may be brought to bear on each of these questions, and the story may change as more facts become available, but addressing each one should help to disentangle the complex issue.

The Science

In summary, Richard Hoover claims to have found filaments of alien cyanobacteria embedded within CI1 carbonaceous meteorites.  These meteorites are exceptionally rare – only nine have ever been recovered – and have an unusual petrology and structure.  They are composed largely of clays and carbonaceous material, held together with salts such that, when the rocks are soaked in water, they disintegrate.  Hoover has taken six samples from two of these meteorites, and tested them geochemically, as well as imaging them using Environmental and Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscopy.  Great pains were taken to reduce the chances of contamination with modern material during the preparation process, and a method developed by the author previously, using comparative nitrogen contents, was used to demonstrate that the imaged structures were not modern contaminants.  Hoover compares filamentous and variously tapering and bulging structures in the rock to forms of modern cyanobacterial genera, before discussing more general implications for life existing in the solar system, and even seeding our own planet in the past.

Hoover's 'Microbial' filaments

Hoover's 'Microbial' Filements

That is what the paper says.  But to the scientist, it does seem to simultaneously say too much, and too little.  It says too much about history, general astrobiology, and meteorite petrology which should have been, or should be, covered elsewhere.  And for such a big and important claim which understandably makes good headlines, the scientific method that supports it is notably lacking in substance.  The Journal of Cosmology picked up on the grumblings of the scientific community fairly quickly, and invited 100 experts to comment on the findings of the paper.  This commentary is now published on the Journal’s website alongside the paper.  At the time of writing, 21 invited scientists have offered comments, and the views are certainly varied.  Many accept Hoover’s findings without question, and use them as a platform for further discussion as to the search for, and implications of, extraterrestrial life.  Some agree with Hoover’s findings, but have qualms with the presentation or weight of evidence for certain of his conclusions.  And some scientists, notably Michael H. Engel of the University of Oklahoma, and Martin Brasier of the University of Oxford, find much of Hoover’s evidence unsubstantiated, and interpretations reached without proper appreciation of the extraordinary evidence needed to prove his extraordinary claim.

My personal opinion is one of scepticism.  Claiming to find life in a meteorite is indeed an extraordinary claim, and given that we have not abundant evidence for life verdantly colonising other planets and bodies within our solar system, we must logically assume that it is rare.  Thus, it is more likely that such structures are abiogenic, than being formed by life.  Biogenicity may only be confirmed by multiple lines of supporting evidence, and convincing disproof of the null abiogenic hypothesis.

While Hoover’s work goes to great lengths to prove that the structures are not modern contaminants – including exhaustive isolation methods during preparation, noting the fact that the filaments are embedded in freshly fractured rock surfaces, and the fact that their elemental and protein constituents do not match with measured modern biological objects – it does fail to acknowledge the likelihood that the structures, while being native to the meteorite, are in fact abiogenic.  As any Precambrian palaeontologist will tell you, identifying cellular fossils in Earth’s rocks is fraught with difficulty.  Disentangling true body fossils from abiogenic structures like carbon chains (as in the 3.4Ga Apex Chert, proposed as biogenic by Schopf and Packer in 1987, and subsequently given an abiogenic explanation by Brasier and others in 2002), and carbonate globules (as in the Martian meteorite ALH84001, proposed as biogenic by McKay and others in 1996, and subsequently given an abiogenic explanation by Golden and others in 2001) is an essential and logical part of the scientific process necessary to confirm life in an otherwise barren rock.  The biological morphology would also need to be supported with multiple other lines of information – contextual, geochemical and elemental, and the much more likely abiogenic null hypothesis for each supposedly biological signature would need to be first disproved.   Only in light of these many lines of robust evidence, could the structures be confidently assigned a biological origin.

Martin Brasier, of the University of Oxford shows compelling images of ambient inclusion trails (included below), which are formed by the migration of a mineral crystal through a lithified substrate (Reported in detail by Wacey and others in 2008).  These purely abiogenic processes create structures that look strikingly similar to Hoover’s trichromic cyanobacterial filaments.

 

Ambient Inclusion Trails

Ambient Inclusion Trails

In a personal communication, Ian Musgrave of the School of Medical Sciences, University of Adelaide, drew my attention to magnesium sulphate nanotapes that closely resemble the tape-like structures reported by Hoover (Zhou 2006).  Further, Gounelle and Zolensky demonstrated in 2010, that magnesium sulphate bacteria-like structures do occur in CI1 meteorites due to post-landing changes in water content.

Magnesium Hydroxide Sulphate nanobelts

Magnesium Hydroxide Sulphate nanobelts

The general outcry by scientists and the informed public since publication of Hoover’s paper, not only in the official Journal of Cosmology commentary, but also on countless blogs and social media discussions bears testament to the fact that the science is not as robust as it could be.  An official statement from Dr Paul Hertz, chief scientist of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, seems to be trying to put distance between NASA and the paper:

“NASA is a scientific and technical agency committed to a culture of openness with the media and public. While we value the free exchange of ideas, data, and information as part of scientific and technical inquiry, NASA cannot stand behind or support a scientific claim unless it has been peer-reviewed or thoroughly examined by other qualified experts. This paper was submitted in 2007 to the International Journal of Astrobiology. However, the peer review process was not completed for that submission. NASA also was unaware of the recent submission of the paper to the Journal of Cosmology or of the paper’s subsequent publication. Additional questions should be directed to the author of the paper.”

Even though Dr. Rocco Mancinelli, Editor of the Journal of Astrobiology later says that the manuscript was rejected after peer review, the whole affair remains suspicious.

But it is the job of the publication process to pick up on any problems, so now the Journal of Cosmology itself is coming under scrutiny.

The Publication

The Journal of Cosmology website, as the first encounter, does not inspire confidence.  In these days of easy website hosting, creation, and design, the unprofessional look of the page is jarring, and harks back to a MySpace age, where fourteen-year-old musical wannabes with very little design taste could make a page that looked surprisingly like this.

Journal of Cosmology home page

Journal of Cosmology home page

But look is not everything.  Giving the benefit of the doubt, and taking the Journal at its word, one can assume that its concern is more with good, peer-reviewed science, and not with superficial appearance.

Any paper published by an academic journal must first go through what is known as the ‘peer-review’ process.  An author, or group of authors submit a manuscript to a journal for consideration.  The journal first decides whether they are interested in publishing the paper, based on the topic, and then they send the manuscript out to at least two experts in that particular field – the peers.  The experts are asked to assess the paper on the basis of relevance to the field, international importance, and the robustness of the science carried out.  The peers will then either recommend the paper for publication, and advise ways in which the paper could be improved, or reject the manuscript, giving reasons.  The peers remain anonymous throughout.  After correction and redrafting of a recommended manuscript, the journal will accept it, and it will move into the ‘proof’ stage.  Here the text is typeset by sub editors of the journal, and returned to the authors for final error checking.  It is the job of the subeditors and the authors together to ensure that all typographical, grammatical and subject errors are picked up and corrected before the paper is published.  Only after this has been completed, will the paper appear on an online or in print, and may be cited by subsequent papers.  The publication process can be extremely lengthy, often taking months or even years from initial submission to publication.  It is a rigorous and thus time-consuming process to ensure that the science is as good as it could be, and potential queries and qualms are addressed premptively.

Given that the peer review process is specifically aimed at making the science in a paper as robust as possible, it is then reasonable for non-specialists to interpret the results at face value, as being the best they can be.  Disagreements with the interpretations may be subsequently made, but the assumption is that results were reached in a way that is generally accepted and respected by other experts. This should be the case for the Hoover paper in the Journal of Cosmology, just as it is the case with every paper in every academic journal.

Now, I am in a bit of a special position, in that I have a paper published in the Journal of Cosmology in the same issue.  This was an invited submission, passed on to me by my supervisor, and the paper is a broad theoretical review of the potential for life in our solar system.  It is nothing groundbreaking, but was intended as part of my PhD thesis conclusions.  The chance to publish it was an added bonus, so I submitted it on a wing and a prayer, on 1st February, for publication in the March issue.  I should add at this stage, that the Journal of Cosmology is one of many ‘open-access’ journals – requiring no payment or subscription in order to read the articles within.  It is also exclusively an online journal, so printing related publication times are unsurprisingly significantly reduced.  Still, I was somewhat surprised that they expected just a month-long turnaround from all reviewers, authors and subeditors.

Along with the manuscript, I was asked to recommend five potential experts who would be a position academically to review my work.  This is normal for academic publication – as often the authors themselves will have the best idea of who the experts are in their field.  The journal may not use these recommendations (obvious problems of the author only choosing people who will review their work favourably apply here!), but they are often used as at least a starting point.  I selected reviewers from a range of fields, from space science to microbiology.  On the 24th February, I received an email from the Journal of Cosmology, informing me that my paper had been seen by two reviewers and that they had both recommended it for publication… and this is where the process became a little irregular.  Normally, the reviewers would write a few short paragraphs confirming their thoughts on the manuscript and directly advising changes and additions.  No such comments were included in my communication with the editors.  They merely said:

“Your article has been reviewed by two referees, both of whom recommend publication without need for significant revision.

However, both felt that many of your references were outdated, and that if you included, or at least mentioned, some of the recent research and theories which have been published, RE: Europa, Titan, Enceladus, it would make for a much stronger paper.

SEE FOR EXAMPLE:

http://journalofcosmology.com/Contents5.html

This was reasonable feedback, and there were several references that I had inadvertently missed – not difficult when you are reviewing a large amount of literature.  Even so, I thought it odd at the time that no reviewers comments were included.  Nevertheless, I revised my manuscript, and resubmitted it on the 27th February.  I received an email from the Journal confirming receipt, and saying it was being ‘processed’.  I assumed that this meant it was being sent back to the reviewers for approval, but didn’t hold much hope for it being ready in time for the March issue.  It was to my great surprise, therefore, that I received an email on 1st March:

“Your revised article has been reviewed, accepted for publication, and can be viewed at this link: http://journalofcosmology.com/SearchForLife131.html Your article, with links, has also been added to the Table of Contents for volume 13.”

And so it was.  I was amazed – how efficient!  But, no proofs?  As a bit of a pedantic proof reader, I was quite looking forward to seeing proofs and being able to check my own writing for errors, and was very surprised that the Journal did not do this.  Perhaps it is because it is online, I thought, perhaps because it is open access.  I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

But when Richard Hoover’s paper in the same issue started to make a stir in the scientific community, my doubts were resurrected.  I decided to do a little prying.  So I contacted all five of my suggested reviewers to ask if they had, in fact, reviewed my paper.  To my astonishment, none of them had even seen a sniff of it.  As I said before, the recommended reviewers are not always used, but as the Journal is primarily about Cosmology, and my manuscript was mostly about astrobiology, I was more than a little surprised that none of my suggestions, even one who had previously published in the Journal of Cosmology, had been approached.

There was also a small matter of me being credited with a PhD I do not yet have.  Not something to cause complaint from someone like me, on a relatively un-ground breaking paper like mine, but still something completely unfounded.  It now appears that they have done the same with Richard Hoover.  On all NASA Marshall Flight Centre (his employer) sites he is listed as Mr, and yet, the Journal of Cosmology have given him a Dr., as they did with me.  Some critics suggest that this is Hoover himself trying to overstate his position, but I can attest that it is, in fact, coming straight from the journal.

I read the Hoover paper.  Now, I am not senior enough to offer heavy weight criticism about the scientific methods, although I do still have my opinions (expressed above).  But I am a freelance editor, and I know an edited piece of writing when I see one.  Or rather, I know a not-edited piece of writing when I see one.  In my experience and opinion, Richard Hoover’s paper is just not very well written.  In overall content, it is not the concise and exact writing that is normally used to report important paradigm-changing claims such as this (see every paper published in Science and Nature for the desirable format for ground-breaking research papers).  There is historical perspective, and direct quotes, which could be just as easily cited as references in the text.  We are told that a falling meteor broke a branch from a tree, and are quoted the philosophical musings of nineteenth century scientists for nearly six pages before the author’s contributions are even broached.  The discussion following the reported results are not relevant to the major finding of the paper, and fail to identify any of the possible alternative interpretations of the microbe structures, other than discounting the fact that they are modern contaminants.  Typographically, the manuscript is riddled with errors.  Fractured and nonsensical sentences, such as:“It should be noted that one seriously Murchison sample was found to be contaminated…” are frighteningly common.  Symbols and units are erratic too – ‘H2O’, ‘SiO2’, and ‘200oC’ are errors that I would expect to find in a an undergraduate essay.   I do not blame Richard Hoover for this.  We all make a mess of our sentences when editing, but it is the job of reviewers or proof readers to pick this sort of thing up.  Formatting is odd as well – not all figures have their own figure caption, making interpretation of the data difficult without intense reading.  This is just not what I would expect from a professionally peer reviewed and edited journal.  How did they let it slip through unless, and this is just a logical conclusion to draw from the weighty evidence in its favour, the Journal of Cosmology are not doing what they say they are?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not casting unfounded aspersions on the basis of my own biased opinion, and if the reviewers of the Hoover paper, or indeed my paper, come forward and say they did their job to their accepted standard, I will not doubt it.  If the Journal of Cosmology can stand up and say they have done all that is expected of a respected academic journal in terms of presenting good science in a good way, and provide robust evidence in support of it, then my qualms will only lie with the reviewers.  Until that time the Journal is unavoidably sitting under a black cloud of suspicion.

Clearly, the Journal is aware of the criticism coming its way – as evidenced by this official statement preceding Hoover’s paper on the website.  In itself it is not that odd, and is a natural defence against the press’ and public’s scepticism of the paper.  But when I first came across it yesterday (10th March), it read very differently, and not so objectively:

“Official Statement The Journal of Cosmology,

Have the Terrorists Won?

The Journal of Cosmology is free, online, open access. Free means = No money.

Our intention has always been to promote science and this means, particularly in this case, stepping on the toes of the “status quo” who have responded with a barrage of slanderous attacks. They are lying to you.

The Journal of Cosmology is a Prestigious Scientific Journal Two of NASA Senior Scientists Science Directorates have published in the Journal of Cosmology (JOC). A NASA Senior Scientist Science Directorate served as a “guest” Executive editor and repeatedly referred to the Journal as “prestigious.” Four astronauts, two who walked on the Moon have published with JOC. Over 30 top NASA scientists have published in JOC.

Top scientists from prestigious universities from around the world have published in the Journal of Cosmology, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, and so on. Sir Roger Penrose of Oxford and who shared the “Wolf Prize” in physics with Stephen Hawking is Guest editing the April edition.

Peer Review NASA Senior Scientist Science Directorate Joel Levine, while participating in a NASA press conference, remarked about how his papers were peer reviewed and he was required to revise all of them, even though he was the editor for that edition of JOC!

As every editor, and guest editor will attest, all articles are subjected to peer review. We reject over 30% of invited papers and over 70% of those which are not invited. Over 90% of all papers are sent back for revision following peer review. Every editor, and Guest editor, has had their work subjected to peer review, and every editor has been required to revise their articles after peer review. Even the executive editors have been required to revise their papers after peer review. We believe in peer review. Peer review provides wonderful feedback which can help make a paper better, or which can explain why the paper is hopeless and must be rejected. However, we do not reject great papers because we disagree with them as is the habit of other periodicals.

Richard Hoover’s paper was received in November. It was subjected to repeated reviews and underwent one significant revision.

Selling JOC The Journal of Cosmology has no income, a small staff, and is overwhelmed with submissions from scientists around the world. A decision was made in early February to stop publishing in June. A buy out offer was received in mid-February. Terms were agreed to in late February. The offer was made public in February. Hoover’s paper was received in November of 2010 and published in March.

We were well aware we would suffer profound, slanderous, attacks by those who would do anything to destroy our reputation. If Hoover’s paper were a factor in this sale, we would have never published it. They are lying to you.

Have the Terrorist Won? Only a few crackpots and charlatans have denounced the Hoover study. NASA’s chief scientist was charged with unprofessional conduct for lying publicly about the Journal of Cosmology and the Hoover paper. The same crackpots, self-promoters, liars, and failures, are quoted repeatedly in the media. However, where is the evidence the Hoover study is not accurate?

Few legitimate scientists have come forward to contest Hoover’s findings. Why is that? Because the evidence is solid.

But why have so few scientists come forward to attest to the validity? The answer is: They are afraid. They are terrified. And for good reason.

The status quo and their “hand puppets” will stop at nothing to crush debate about important scientific issues, and this includes slander, defamation, trade libel… they will ruin you. Three hundred years ago, they would burn you for questioning orthodoxy. Has anything changed?

The scientific community must march according to the tune whistled by those who control the funding. If you don’t do as you are told, if you dare to ask the wrong questions, they will destroy you.

JOC offered the scientific community a unique opportunity to debate an important paper, but for the most part they have declined.

The message is: Be afraid. Be very afraid. Or you will be destroyed.

Why is America in decline?

Maybe the terrorists have won.”


By all means attack me for being small minded, call me a crackpot and a charlatan, but to me, and to the many people who also read it during its brief period on the website, this is not reasonable scientific debate and defence, but is the stuff of hysterical conspiracy theorists.  I am not even sure what point this statement is trying to make – and the fact that the Journal have since removed it, is testament to  the fact that they themselves don’t know either.  What is going on?

Only time and further developments between NASA, Richard Hoover (who has remained surprisingly silent throughout) and the Journal of Cosmology will eventually reveal the twisted processes behind this suspicious publication.  It may be that we will never get to the bottom it.  But given that the scientific world has been shaken by the strong viewpoints in play and the many apparent inconsistencies, how have the press and the public reacted?

Sensibly, for once, it would seem!  I will put together my views on how the press has dealt with this report in a separate post.  But in summary, many of the official news and comment outlets – Yahoo news, CBSTIME, Philip Ball at Nature and many many others, carried stories that emphasised the scepticism shown by scientists about the report.  Some, most notably and disappointingly, Fox News in their initial ‘exclusive’ report, and the Guardian newspaper, show very little caution in using the story to crash the headlines (leaping head first into the churnalism snake pit), but in general, the mixed reception of the paper has been well represented.

Curiously though, in his own blog post, P. Z. Myers, a biology Professor at the University of Minnesota questions why it is almost exclusively him who is quoted as debunking the Hoover findings.  In his own words: “I know I don’t have much clout with the academic establishment, and I certainly don’t control the funding…”.  Few other expert academics have commented, or at least are being quoted as commenting, other than this very nice summary from Rosie Redfield.  While I am fully in support of the media showing a bit of hysteria mitigation, I am in agreement with Prof. Myers, and disappointed in the resourcefulness of the journalists.  But that is another story.

So, is there a conclusion?  Is there a definitive answer which can be reached?  Right now – no.  A lot of things seem fishy about Hoover’s science, and about the Journal of Cosmology, and it will take much time, official statements, and academic rebuttals before it is sorted out.  I for one, however, hope that this issue does not just fizzle into obscurity, as there are important lessons to be learnt by scientists, publishers, and the public alike, about scientific transparency and open debate.

And readers, please, if you know more, if you have heard whisperings that can shed any light on this suspicious situation, please get in touch.  I will happily post links to blogs, articles or web pages that can give insight.  Croudsourcing exposed the problems with the research, let’s see if it can provide a solution.

References

Battison, L. (2011) Niche Habitats for Extra-Terrestrial Life: The Potential for Astrobiology on the Moons of Saturn and Jupiter. Journal of Cosmology, 13.

Brasier, M. D., Green, O. R., Jephcoat, A. P., Kleppe, A. K., Van Kranendonk, M. J., Lindsay, J. F., Steele, S., and Grassineau, N. V. (2002) Questioning the evidence for Earth’s oldest fossils.  Nature, 416, 76-81.

Golden, D. C., Ming, D. W., Schwandt, C. S., Lauer, H. V., Socki, R. A., Morris, R. V., Lofgren, G. E., and McKay, G. A. (2001) A simple inorganic process for formation of carbonates, magnetite, and sulfides in Martian meteorite ALH84001. American Mineralogist, 86, 370-375.

Gounelle, M., and Zolensky, M. E. (2010) A terrestrial origin for sulfate veins in CI1 chondrites. Meteoritics and Planetary Science, 36, 1321-1329.

Hoover, R. B. (2011) Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites. Journal of Cosmology, 13.

McKay, D. S., Gibson, E. K., Thomas-Keprta, K. L., Vali, H., Romanek, C. S., Clemett, S. J., Chillier, X. D. F, Maechling, C. R., and Zare, R. N. (1996) Search for Past Life on Mars: Possible Relic Biogenic Activity in Martian Meteorite ALH84001. Science, 273, 924-930.

Schopf, J. W., and Packer, B. M. (1987) Early Archaean (3.3 billion to 3.5 billion-year-old) microfossils from Warawoona Group, Australia. Science, 237, 70-73.

Wacey, D., Kilburn, M.,  Stoakes, C., Aggleton, H., and Brasier, M. D. (2008) Ambient Inclusion Trails: Their Recognition, Age Range and Applicability to Early Life on Earth. In: Links Between Geological Processes, Microbial Activities & Evolution of Life, 113-134, Springer.

Zhou, Z., Sun, Q., Hu, Z., and Deng, Y. (2006) Nanobelt formation of Magnesium Hydroxide Sulfate Hydrate via a Soft Chemistry Process. Journal of Physical Chemistry B., 110, 13387-13392.

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32 thoughts on “Microbes on a Moonbeam: Disentangling the Meteorite Microbe Claims

  1. What a fantastic piece of journalism! I commend you for having the boldness and integrity to call out a journal in which you recently published on their shenanigans.

    Hopefully that was your last publication in the JoC. I wouldn’t want my name associated with these pretend scientists.Do you know if it’s possible for authors to retract a published article on the grounds that they suspect the peer review process was not followed? If so, I would strongly consider that if I were you.

  2. Very enjoyable review, thanks. I am, however, somewhat surprised that you thought to publish in the journal in the first place – The Journal of Cosmology isn’t listed in ISI and is not considered for an impact factor. It is therefore not the kind of place anyone should be bothering to publish, particularly not someone at the start of their career. Your supervisor should have advised you against publishing in the JOC.

    • I would echo this, don’t lend your name to this type of journal. Many people will just ignore it as a “no IF” journal they don’t know, but the ones that know it is a crack-pot journal will look upon it as a negative. There are plenty of decent journals that don’t factor novelty into account, so if you have something that you don’t think will make it into the high IF journals, go to one of these, like PLOS One. And above all, if you have something you think is decent (which should be everything you are willing to submit), aim for an established print journal in your field.

  3. Pingback: Apropos cranks « Skepsisbloggen

  4. •SORRY, BUT I NOT AGREE WITH YOUR OPINION.
    THE HOOVER PAPER IS QUITE CONSISTENT AND PROPERLY DOCUMENTED: INDIGENOUS BIOGENIC FORMS EXIST AND THIS IS NOT A NEW. AS REGARD AIT INTRUSIONS, I BELIEVE THAT THEY ARE DIFFERENT IN SHAPE AND STRUCTURE. SIMILITUDE TO CIANOBACTERS IS CONVINCING.
    BESIDES I WOULD REMEMBER THAT STRUCTURES SIMILAR TO THOSE OF STROMATOLITE WERE ALREADY OBSERVED ON MARS SEDIMENTS.
    •THE SCIENCE IS NOT A GRAMMATICAL/EDITORIAL PRACTICE OR A PROPERTY OF SOME PEER REVIEW.

    • I also would wonder if you would expand upon “AS REGARD AIT INTRUSIONS, I BELIEVE THAT THEY ARE DIFFERENT IN SHAPE AND STRUCTURE.”

      In what way do you think they differ? It is not very convincing to just indicate you do not think they are similar.

    • Thank you for your comment. However, I must stress that I am not expressing opinion – merely pointing out fact. The paper did not consider abiogenic interpretations, something that I would expect to see in any paper documenting as-yet unreported fossils, terrestrial or otherwise.

      In relation to you observation of ‘stromatolites’ in Martian sediments, I would point out that convincing evidence for a layered or domal structure in the fossil record on earth actually being a bacterially produced stromatolite is difficult enough to establish. On Mars, the problem is even greater.

      • Your opinion on stromatolites is a general sentence: it based on the idea that “…. for extraordinary evidence needed to prove his extraordinary claim” . …But the modern scientific thought not considers our planet as the exhaustive center of biological Universe. Such idea leads to the unacceptable condition that results in this field are always inadequate. In fact shoul be the contrary: the absence of life, also in our solar system, should be hardly demonstrate ….by convincing disproof of the null biogenic hypothesis. I have a question: Have you never been on Mars or around in our solar system in order to study adequate samples? Have you a convincing disproof?
        Then claiming to find life in a meteorite is not an extraordinary claim. The opinion “ that we have not abundant evidence for life verdantly colonising other planets and bodies within our solar system” it is a no-proved assumption. At the same time to start from a no-proved assumption to affirm ….” such structures are abiogenic ” is scientifically unacceptable.
        Likewise I believe that biogenicity may be confirmed by enough convincing data and that is not necessary a convincing disproof of the null abiogenic hypothesis. I especially reject the idea that such “null abiogenic hypothesis” could come from an “artificially induced natural environment “. Because at the same time we have to assume that a null abiogenic hypothesis should be associated to a disproof of the null biogenic hypothesys….and this is not the case. Besides in my study of rover imagery I have found: films, intertwined filaments of microspherules, incapsulated bodies, examples of “internal growing”, and other complex structures/microstructures at different scales similar to those of stromatolites. there is also occurrence of more complex and developed structure as are tube with collars, chambered microfossils and lothers: have you never seen the pictures show on my paper?
        Please look at the end of the paper: http.//www.lascienzainrete.it/node/1618 “C’e’ vita su Marte? Rizzo and Cantasano, possible organosedimentary structures on mars. International Journal of Astrobiology 8 (4) : 267–280 (2009).

  5. On Thursday morning, I checked the JOC websites and saw their “Have the Terrorists Won?’ article. Later taht day, I went back to recheck some information and saw that it had been rewritten. Since, I see that it has been altered once again.
    Also, there is a new article
    “Open Letter to the Editors of Science & Nature
    The Journal of Cosmology Proposes a Scientific Commission,
    Established Co-Jointly with Science and Nature,
    To Investigate & Confirm the Validity of the Hoover Paper”

    The title is self explanatory. I found the last paragraph particularly interesting.
    “If Science and Nature decline, then any refusal to cooperate, no matter what the excuse, should be seen as a vindication for the Journal of Cosmology and the Hoover paper and an acknowledgment that the editorial policies of the Journal of Cosmology are beyond reproach.”

    Now, there is a perfect way for the JOC to prove they are correct. They ask Science and Nature to join in. There may be any number of reasons why Science and Nature may decide this is not the best use of their resources. However, that does not matter. If they don’t join in—the JOC wins by default. Wow–that’s very logical and scientific, isn’t it?

  6. On behalf of the editors of Cosmic Sansology,the intermural journal of typeface semiotics, I would like to invite Professore Rizzo to contribute a long review paper to our inaugural issue, to appear as soon as our page fee income allows the Editors to buy enough meteorite fiber to manufacture the necessary reams of hand-
    laid paper .

    His scientific acumen speaks loudly for itself , and we further approbate his taste in typeface size, as we charge by the column inch for peer review.

  7. A few comments—

    You can’t draw any conclusions from what happened with your literature review article. You made suggestions about referees, but the editors may well have selected someone else. Moreover, a literature review article doesn’t need refereeing in the sense that an article reporting scientific results does. Since there is no experiment or observations, there is no application of the scientific method. The editor might review it him or herself, if it is in the right subject area. It does sound the like your paper was closely read and that the reviewer, whoever it was, did make some useful suggestions.

    The complaint about the poor writing does speak to the quality of the paper, but reflects more on the state of the publishing world than the credibility of the paper. It is nice to picture a protege of Kate Turabian at every publication, but the fact is, even larger publishers do not provide basic copy editing services, never mind editing for style. If the referees can make sense of what an author has said, even if it is inelegant or not in well formed sentences. The task of editing falls to the author almost entirely. The same goes for the web site design.

    The author’s feelings about terrorists is irrelevant to what’s said in the paper. Even if the author is psychotic, paranoid, or an extremist of some kind, focus should be on whether the evidence and arguments of the paper warrant the conclusions reached.

    The paper does seem to have had a salutary effect, since it’s generated comment.

    I was referred to this posting by the author’s tweet, not PZ Myers, by the way.

  8. The message is: Be afraid. Be very afraid. Or you will be destroyed.

    Was this seriously meant to convinced the international scientific community that the JoC has the Truth(TM)?

    While both Hoover and the J of Cosmology share the fatal omission of not seeking expert peer-reviewers, Hoover should have concluded that the morphology (which is all he has) “suggest” microfossils, and not a “proof” of it.

    Following the 1996 ALH84001 meteorite fiasco, a consensus emerged, and is now seen as a critical requirement, the demand for further lines of evidence in addition to any morphological data. So Battison is quite correct in remarking that biogenicity may only be confirmed by multiple lines of supporting evidence.

    It is not that biologists do not want extraterrestrial life to be found and acknowledged – even if it was prokaryotic. We would love to find it and celebrate it. But enthusiasm should not get translated into wanting to see evidence.

  9. “If Science and Nature decline, then any refusal to cooperate, no matter what the excuse, should be seen as a vindication for the Journal of Cosmology and the Hoover paper and an acknowledgment that the editorial policies of the Journal of Cosmology are beyond reproach.” -Rudolf Schild, editor of J of Cosmology

    Perhaps Rudolf Schild, should consider this quote:

    Debating with you would look great on your resume, and not so good on mine.
    -R. Dawkins

  10. If you google “vincenzo rizzo science”, there are a few relevant citations (other than for an artist & a neurologist with the same name) . One, from Cambridge Press’ International Journal of Astrobiology concerns a proposed biogenic source for the “blueberries” found by the Mars Rover Opportunity.

    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=6157572

    There are simple non-biogenic sources probable for such hematite “blueberries”.

    http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-bib_query?bibcode=2007LPI….38.1922B&db_key=AST&data_type=HTML&format=&high=44fdafdf2530369

    http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-bib_query?bibcode=2005LPI….36.2026G&db_key=AST&data_type=HTML&format=&high=44fdafdf2530369

    http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-bib_query?bibcode=2007LPI….38.2053A&db_key=AST&data_type=HTML&format=&high=44fdafdf2530369

    The only other relevant citation of Vincenzo Rizzo occurs on a crank site, AboveTopSecret.com

    “There are fossil microorganisms on Mars! From geologist I would know astonished if they had not seen them”: it comments so the news Vincenzo Rizzo, of the department of Sciences of the Earth of the university of Florence and the National Research Council (Cnr)”

    http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread522254/pg1

    At this site you can find such “science” as:

    Analysis of Sample From ‘Miraculous’ Stairs in Santa Fe Found Unknown Species of Wood

    Here Is Proof of Moon Shift!!!! View PDF before it “Disapears”.

    Eyewitness accounts of ET technology are now emerging in government research and in the marketplace.

      • To all, sorry the links don’t work to the Harvard papers above. You can download PDFs of all 3 papers via Wiki.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martian_spherules

        To vincenzo rizzo. Which papers should I read? I have read the 3 listed papers re. “blueberries” that provide a simple non-biogenic process for this phenomenon.

        Perhaps I should read some more of the articles on the same page as your “above top secret” quotation. Maybe the one on “Quantum Jumping”, where we, “Discover Why Thousands of People are “Jumping” to Change Their Life.” Or the one where the, “Anti-Gravity & Zero Point Energy Device Confirmed by Measurements in Morningstar Energy Box.” Or one of the many perpetual motion or cold fusion or anti-gravity devices presented there?

        Just which crank “science papers” do you suggest reading?

  11. Try to read
    1) “Coleman, M.L., Hubbard, C.G.., Mielke, R.E. & Black, S. (2005). Chemical and Isotopic Characterization of waters in Rio Tinto, Spain, show possible origin of Blueberry Haematite in Meridiani Planum, Mars”. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting.
    2) Di Gregorio, B.E. 2010. Martian sheen: life on the rocks. New Scientists, 2747, 40-43.
    3)Parro, V., Rodriguez-Manfredi, J.A., Briones, C., Compostizo, C., Herrero, P.L., Vez, E., Sebastian, E., Moreno-Paz, M., Garcia-Villadangos, M., Fernández-Calvo, P., González-Toril, E., Pérez-Mercader, J., Fernández-Remolar, D., & Gómez-Elvira, J. 2005. Instruments development to search for biomarkers on Mars: terrestrial acidophile, iron-powered chemiolithoautotrophic communities as model systems. Planetary and Space Science 53(7), 729-737.
    … put on glasses for short-sightedness and read my papers with an open mind. You can find a way !

  12. I had already read the New Scientist article, but see no evidence in it that Martian “varnish” is biogenic in source.

    I couldn’t find the first listed article online, but read several (most with Marjorie Chan as co/author) on “varnish” formation. Still not convinced of any biogenic source necessary for Martian “varnish”.

    The third article, when I google searched for it, only links to various versions of your own article

    Nice Snark though.

    • Yes I know: Vicking experiments were proved but nobody is spiking about; morphological biotic parallels are evident but cannot proved at all, Coleman et alii said that blueberries are similar to those biogenic of Rio tinto? no proved; biochemical compopsition of chondrites is spiking noise but it is not a proof, etc..etc..). All data are convergent, but each ones is not proved.
      Then you are need good glasses ! Could I help you? will you debuting seriously my “probable” results (the others are already know) ?
      I posed such questions:
      Could a blueberry grow inside another ones ?
      Why blueberries show a comnplex structures made by the join of littler microspherule?
      Why microspherules aggregations shows spiralled forms, regolarly growing?
      Why aggregations sometime assume the shape of intertwined filaments, giving a testure similar to the terrestrial stromatolites?
      What are the transparent/translucid films that somewhere cover the bodies?
      Why some forms are so complex in the structure, remembering sheated colony of cianobacteria?
      Why so much parallels at all scales of observation?
      Naturally I know your reply: coincidences!

  13. Hi.
    Interesting discussion.
    The journal doesn’t matter. The Sun occasionally publishes things that are true, and even Darwin first published in a gardening magazine. I once met Hans Krebs and he was full of joy about how nature had refused his citric acid paper, and what had been published because they could not include him.

    Peer review can be very incestuous in a small field.

    I didn’t quite understand the comment about the terrorists, but I suspect it means when authority wins.
    No I still don’t understand.

    We have lost when everyone, including those we feel are lunatics, cannot contribute.

    Best wishes
    Anthony

  14. I have reached the conclusion that Richard Hoover was right about the alien microbes. No mineral crystals resemble his alien microbes in both shape and size, except mineral crystal growths found in the permineralization/casts (a kind of fossils) of long-dead microbes.
    The microbes could not have come from Earth, because:
    1. One of his microbes is never found on Earth before, so it was not a modern microbe;
    2. The meteorites landed on Earth less than 160 years ago and were never soaked in water.
    3. The following remotest scenario has been considered and judged as impossible:
    After the meteorites landed on Earth, some unheard-of Earthly microbes moved into the meteorite, died in the meteorite, went extinct for its species. Their organic elements, including nitrogen, were eaten by other microbes, which then went away from the dead microbes. In this case, small holes would form in the dead microbes. Such holes are not seen in the SEM. Such holes could not be filled up by other mineral crystals to form casts, because no water soaked the meteorites on Earth in order to bring the inorganic elements to form the casts.

  15. Richard Hoover’s alien microbes were compared against blood vessel remains

    After Journal of Cosmology published Dr. Richard Hoover’s article Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites, the journal also published 24 commentaries on the article. One of the commentaries– No. 9 (http://journalofcosmology.com/Life101.html#9 )—includes this figure:

    http://www.wretch.cc/album/show.php?i=lin440315&b=22&f=1472468106&p=96

    The commentator, Dr. Martin D. Brasier, mistook actual blood vessel remains (marked in above figure) for minerals and compared them against Dr. Richard Hoover’s alien microbes.

    That’s a classic mistake of geologists.

  16. Hmmm… now the JoC has withdrawn the text of the Hoover paper, because of (in their words) “ongoing cyber attack”.

    If you now want to read Hoover’s paper, the JoC recommends that “The Hoover paper, commentaries… have been bound in an inexpensive book… [which] can be purchased from Amazon.com” (to which they link).

    This “inexpensive book” is $49.95

    To me, it looks awfully like the whole thing was a marketing ploy for a book, rather than the paradigm-shifting open-access publication that it briefly claimed to be.

    So much for the JoC statement that “Papers published by the Journal of Cosmology will be available, online in their entirety, within the JournalofCosmology.com website, for perpetuity, and can be viewed by the public and other scientists at no charge. ”

    And the JoC can’t afford to buy decent bandwidth for their website (for which visitors do not pay, of course), yet they can afford to bind the paper and commentaries into a book, which they then sell?

    Hmmm indeed.

  17. I had the exact same problem you did, in that same issue, had the same complaints, and had the same results.

    The “peer review” process seemed non-existant, the obvious typos and formatting errors on the web are numerous, and I also have been credited as “Duane W. Hamacher, PhD”, although I will not submit my doctoral thesis for a few months (I even e-mailed the editors and told them this, but they didn’t change it).

    Afer doing some fact checking on the editors of the site (less Kim Malville, who is quite good), many of them are the fringe crackpots they denounce (pot calling the kettle black, anyone?). I was recently “asked” to provide a review of a paper linking early man to archaeoastronomy by comparing 30,000 year old rock art with Greek constellations. The paper was just aweful… it was poorly written, full of wild speculation where the author (Rhawn Joseph) heavily referenced his own body of fringe work, and was generally reminiscent of an undergrad term paper. It had lots of pretty pictures, few of which were referenced or even had captions, and non of them were mentinoed in the text. It’s quite evident Joseph (a self-promoting fringe “scientist”) has no background in astronomy and I felt ripped off after reading the paper for having wasted my time… it was like getting Rick-Rolled, only much less amusing.

    I also think it’s in bad taste for the journal to buy the domain name http://www.cosmology.com then offer it for sale at the nominal fee of $250,000. Dumbfounding. Does that horrible, garish web-template come with that?

  18. I’m not a scientist, but what do you make if the year-old discovery of an arsenic-based bacterium in Lake Mono California? I have read of no controversy regarding the certainty scientists have that this microbe didn’t originate on the earth.

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