NASA Mars Phoenix Team Opens Window on Scientific Process, NASA
"The Phoenix project has decided to take an unusual step" in talking about the research when its scientists are only about half-way through the data collection phase and have not yet had time to complete data analysis or perform needed laboratory work, said Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. Scientists are still at the stage where they are examining multiple hypotheses, given evidence that the soil contains perchlorate. "We decided to show the public science in action because of the extreme interest in the Phoenix mission, which is searching for a habitable environment on the northern plains of Mars," Smith added. "Right now, we don't know whether finding perchlorate is good news or bad news for possible life on Mars."
Editor's note: This is, of course, a wonderful thing for the team to do and I applaud them for doing so. People - you know the 99.99% of the real world outside of NASA - are really interested in what these Mars folks do - and they pay the bills. The more insight the public has, the more they are inclined to see the value of these missions and feel as if they are participating - albeit vicariously.
Alas, at the press briefing, I asked if the team had already decided to undertake this "unusual step" before the news broke - or if they would have done it had the news not broken. I really did not get a crisp answer. I then asked why it is, after a decade of having the Internet surprise NASA PAO again and again with news getting out ahead of NASA's planned release, that the agency has still not learned to adapt to this ever shifting fact of life in the 21st century. No real answer to that question either - and what I heard had a certain grumpiness to it. Listen for yourself.
NASA PAO is still in denial about how the world works. And so are the scientists who work on these missions, after-the-fact openness notwithstanding. They drop hints to the media and then get indignant when their hints appear online. Perhaps this latest instance will teach a few of them something. Alas, I am not holding my breath.