Arsenic, Astrobiology, NASA, and the Media

Exclusive Interview: Discoverer of Arsenic Bacteria, in the Eye of the Storm, Science Now

"Q: So, NASA approached you about doing a press conference, and you thought that was a good idea? F.W.-S.: I wouldn't say I thought it was a good or bad idea. I'd never been to a press conference, but it made good sense to me that my mom should know what I'd been up to, and I love teaching. So, it made sense to me at that level, in terms of, again, bringing what we did to the public. But we weren't clearly prepared, in terms of understanding how it might be, again, with the new types of media that are really rather amazing, what was exactly going to happen."

Response required, editorial, Nature

Blogs and online comments can provide valuable feedback on newly published research. Scientists need to adjust their mindsets to embrace and respond to these new forums for debate. ... "Purists who hold peer review as the casting vote in such debates will read [Felisa Wolfe-Simon's] words with approval. But the problem is that Wolfe-Simon's reticence is the polar opposite of the fanfare with which NASA trailed her discovery to the public. In an advance press advisory on 29 November, NASA trumpeted an "astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life". At a press conference to coincide with the paper's publication, the authors reported a more down-to-Earth, but nonetheless radical, discovery, claiming that an arsenic-tolerant bacterium had rewritten the rules of life as we know them. Such claims were always likely to bring intensive scrutiny, especially as many scientists think that NASA has form for making extravagant claims in the field of astrobiology."

Something's amiss with aliens and arsenic, LA Times

"I believe in the field of astrobiology ... but I think this was overhyped," said Rocco Mancinelli, a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute based in Mountain View, Calif. "NASA should have known better." Editors at Science did a cursory review of NASA's news release, but with work piling up before Thanksgiving, they didn't give it a thorough read, said spokeswoman Ginger Pinholster. "In hindsight, I surely wish that we had," she said. Dwayne Brown, the NASA public affairs officer who wrote the release, defended it as a "factual statement." "Clearly 'extraterrestrial' is a buzzword, but there was no intent to hype anything," he said."

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on December 23, 2010 12:00 AM.

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