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Friday, March 25, 2011



I have run across a new controversy concerning fossils from outer space, this time about structures that resemble Cyanobacteria. These structures were found in a meteorite by a Richard Hoover, a NASA scientist. His paper was published by the Journal of Cosmology, an online journal. The official NASA word has been negative, apparently, and the same can be said for the opinion of the scientific elite that has gotten wind of this paper. I am very skeptical of some of the claims that the paper’s supporters have made, but I thought that many of my readers might want to take a look for themselves. I am enclosing two items below. One is an open letter to the editors of Science and Nature, the top two general science journals in the world, by the editors of the Journal of Cosmology. The other is a synopsis of Hoover’s presumed discovery. By going to the journal’s website you may also view several commentaries by people with PhD’s in science, some sensible and some not. The materials can also be found in the newsletter

Journal of Cosmology, 2011, Vol 13, March, 2011

Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites
Richard B. Hoover, Ph.D. NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center


Richard Hoover has discovered evidence of microfossils similar to Cyanobacteria, in freshly fractured slices of the interior surfaces of the Alais, Ivuna, and Orgueil CI1 carbonaceous meteorites. Based on Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscopy (FESEM) and other measures, Richard Hoover has concluded they are indigenous to these meteors and are similar to trichomic cyanobacteria and other trichomic prokaryotes such as filamentous sulfur bacteria. He concludes these fossilized bacteria are not Earthly contaminants but are the fossilized remains of living organisms which lived in the parent bodies of these meteors, e.g. comets, moons, and other astral bodies. Coupled with a wealth of date published elsewhere and in previous editions of the Journal of Cosmology, and as presented in the edited text, "The Biological Big Bang", the implications are that life is everywhere, and that life on Earth may have come from other planets.

Members of the Scientific community were invited to analyze the results and to write critical commentaries or to speculate about the implications. With one exception as it was off topic, all commentaries received were published between March 7 through March 10, 2011. By far, most of the commentaries were positive and supportive of the evidence.

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

March 11, 2011

Dear Dr. Bruce Alberts and Dr. Philip Campbell:

In 1584, Giordano Bruno published "Of Infinity, the Universe, and the World" and wrote: "There are innumerable suns and an infinite number of planets which circle around their suns as our seven planets circle around our Sun." According to Bruno, we are unable to see these planets and suns "because of their great distance or small mass." On February 19, 1600 Bruno was tortured and burned at the stake by the Inquisition for publishing these claims which contradicted established "scientific" dogma.

The publication of Richard Hoover's paradigm shattering discovery of microfossils within carbonaceous meteorites, unleashed an ugly storm of violent, histrionic invective not seen since the Middle Ages when they burned scientists for making discoveries that threatened the established order. Charlatans and quacks quickly emerged, and the media unabashedly published their ravings, recklessly casting delusional filth upon the reputations of the Journal of Cosmology and its editorial board, and the hundreds of esteemed scientists whose peer reviewed work we have published; a roster which includes two Senior Scientists Science Directorates at NASA, over 30 top NASA scientists, and four astronauts.

How can science advance if the media and NASA administrators promote frothing-at the-mouth-attacks on legitimate scientists and scientific periodicals who dare to publish new discoveries or new ideas? Skepticism is natural. Doubt is healthy. But science cannot progress under a cloud of intimidation and fear.

The Journal of Cosmology (JOC) has reviewed its editorial policies and peer review procedures and determined they are sound. The media has been provided a sample list, the names of nearly 100 top scientists who have served as referees in the past; a veritable "who's who" of the top experts in the world have reviewed papers for JOC.

Hoover's paper was received in November and was repeatedly peer reviewed. After months of careful analysis, it was published on March 5 of 2011. Of the 24 commentaries received, almost all have been supportive of the findings. The results are valid. We have been provided with no evidence they are not.

The implications of Richard Hoover's discoveries are profound. However, given the slanders and paranoid ravings designed to crush all rational discussion of these findings, naturally the public, the media, and the scientific community would be skeptical. They deserve to know with absolute certainty if these findings can withstand the scientific scrutiny of esteemed experts and if his results should be accepted or dismissed.

How can this issue be successfully resolved? Who can the public trust? Science magazine which published the "arsenic-life" study which proved to be untrue? NASA's chief scientist who backed the bogus "arsenic" paper, and has made a number of grossly inaccurate and untruthful remarks about the Hoover issue? The Journal of Cosmology whose reputation has been besmirched by reckless slanders? Nature magazine which has rejected Nobel prize winning research?

Given the ugly climate which now prevails, the validity of the Hoover paper must be resolved as a cooperative effort, through an unprecedented collaborative peer review, monitored and mediated by the Journal of Cosmology and its critics and competitors (Science and Nature), thus guaranteeing a balanced approach and so all points of view are represented. Therefore, the Journal of Cosmology proposes that:

1) JOC, Nature, and Science each appoint an expert-judge who has a background in astrobiology.

2) These 3 expert-judges will appoint and unanimously agree on a panel of 12 esteemed experts who will be guaranteed anonymity if they desire.

3) This expert panel of 12 will have 30 days to review the Hoover paper, ask for supplementary material, and to question Richard Hoover and to call upon the expertise of additional experts, if they so choose. Each of these experts will issue their reports to the 3 expert-judges.

4) The 3 expert-judges will issue their own report(s) summarizing these findings, and issue a verdict on or their opinion of the validity of Hoover's paper as based on the reports issued by the 12 expert panel.

5) Science, Nature, and JOC, will publish the reports of the 12 member expert-jury, and the expert-judges.

6) If the weight of opinion is that Hoover's findings are not valid, the Journal of Cosmology will withdraw the paper.

7) If Hoover's findings are validated, we ask not for a apology, but congratulations.

We believe our proposal is scientifically sound and eminently reasonable. We are completely open to working out the fine details with the editorial boards of Science and Nature

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. The very fact that we have made this proposal, coupled with all our previous efforts to open this issue to scientific discussion and debate, is, itself, testament to the integrity of JOC whose mission has always been to promote and advance science.

Rudy Schild, Ph.D.
Center for Astrophysics, Harvard-Smithsonian
Journal of Cosmology

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Serendipity of Astrobiology

Chapter 6E

The Serendipity of Astrobiology

Two remarkable developments in biology are worth mentioning in connection with the serendipity of astrobiology. Let us remember that a key objection to the possibility of Martian fossils in meteorite AL84001 was that the worm-like features could not be bacteria because they were one hundred times smaller than real (terrestrial) bacteria. The controversy, however, spurred interest in the possibility that the Earth itself may contain bacteria that small. The interest increased when it was realized that the methods for looking for bacteria would not have detected such terrestrial “nano-bacteria” even if they existed. Lo and behold: biologists soon claimed to have found many such varieties of bacteria, even smaller than the presumed Martian bugs, right here on our own planet! This discovery, however, seems to have been short lived. More recent investigations revealed that some candidates to the title of nanobacteria are non-living mineral structures, e.g. calcium carbonate crystals, that do mimic bacteria in some respects and even reproduce.[1] Although not as exciting perhaps, this finding is nevertheless quite interesting in its own right. Moreover, it has some practical importance, since those nano structures are apparently in the formation of kidney and other stones.

This serendipitous result of astrobiology, as valuable as it has been in giving us a new understanding of life on Earth, may pale in comparison with the creation in the laboratory of life forms that incorporate a 21st amino acid and others with non-standard DNA codes![2]

It is clear that much needs to be done in this field, and that space science is particularly well poised to nourish its advance. At the same time we should beware of placing unfair demands upon the field, particularly where it concerns the search for the origins of life. We should beware especially of the carefree use of probabilities in trying to settle this important issue. The most notorious is the estimate of the probability that all the constituent atoms of a cell may come together to form the cell. Even for a strand of DNA the probability would be extremely low. And so it would be for any complex arrangement of matter, as long as we assume that it started from scratch. As Fred Hoyle put it, what is the probability that a Boing 747 will arise spontaneously from a tornado-swept junkyard? Of course the probability is nil. But cells are not formed from scratch. Some elements combine together more easily than others, and if they are abundant then we will find many of their compounds. Such is the case with carbon and hydrogen. Once those compounds are formed, more complex compounds can form using them, and so on. The rising complexity of molecules can give rise to very complex molecules indeed -- and then the very long process of organic evolution can begin.

Robert Shapiro, a critic of the field, tries to impose two requirements that deserve special comment. He claims that the thesis that the origin of life was an accident is not scientific. Apparently he feels that a truly scientific approach would explain why life was inevitable, given the Earth’s early environment. And he also objects to laboratory simulations of hypothetical early terrestrial environments in which the experimenters manipulate the environment to determine whether certain complex molecules can be produced from certain others. He wants the experiments left alone, to see whether the molecule so produced is capable of evolving on its own (otherwise we are not really dealing with organic evolution, I presume). His suggestion is that much of the work in the field fails to meet these two requirements and he concludes that the field is in disarray.[3]

The first thesis is rather strange coming from a biologist. If organic evolution is evolution at all, it is subject to the vagaries of natural history. The evolution of mammals, for example, may have well depended on extraordinary accidents (such as the Alvarez asteroid, which made available to our ancestors the niches previously ruled by dinosaurs).

It seems that Shapiro is unhappy because the search for the origin of life does not demand the sense of inevitability that we expect from physics. But that is one of the differences between physics and historical sciences like geology or biology. But even if we wish to use physics as a model, it seems that either chaos theory or Prigogine's dissipative structures would serve us better. A very small change in initial conditions may lead to radically different outcomes. A tiny amount of a catalyst can produce an oscillating reaction (say where the color of the solution keeps changing from red to blue). At the time of the Cambrian Revolution (about 650 million years ago) there was a great explosion in the forms of life that began to populate the planet. An observer could not have predicted then that human beings were sure to come along millions of years hence, unless he had knowledge of all the accidents that would take place in the ensuing years, and of all the ways in which complex environmental relations were going to change. Nevertheless, this particular outcome of evolution (humans) is an accident, and so is any other particular outcome. If life is the outcome of organic evolution, life itself could be said to be an accident too.

A compromise position may be defended. We need claim neither that life (as we know it) is an accident, nor that such life was inevitable. For example, we may hope for an explanation of origins that makes it look as if some accident of this sort (life) was likely to happen (e.g., a self-reproducing molecule that can protect itself from most typical, short range, environmental dangers, even though its genetic code is very different from ours).

As for Shapiro's second requirement, it seems to me that we should want to create in the laboratory a molecule that can reproduce in the sorts of environments that we think may have existed long ago. It would be unreasonable to demand that such a molecule should reproduce in any environment that might develop if we leave the apparatus unattended. We must remember that most species that ever lived are now extinct. As the environment changed, only those organisms to which the change was not unfavorable were able to leave progeny. Thus, by a similar reasoning, a molecule may be of the right sort and still fail to reproduce under the conditions required by Shapiro instead of conditions similar to those that an evolving Earth made available to its complex organic molecules.

In its own ways, astrobiology thus illustrates how space science preserves the dynamic character of science in general. Its vigorous pursuit would inevitably lead to the profound transformation of our views of the living world. And since those views are linked to our understanding of the global environment, the resulting theoretical adjustment would be of great magnitude — and so eventually would be the change in the way we may interact with the universe. The justification of astrobiology is, then, ultimately much like that of the other space sciences, and in line with the general philosophical position of this essay, whether or not we ever find a single extraterrestrial specimen!

[1] Martel, Jan, and Ding-E Young, John. “Purported nanobacteria in human blood as calcium carbonate nanoparticles.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. April 8, 2008. vol. 105, no. 14, 5549-5554.

[2] See, for example, R. F. Service, “Researchers Create First Autonomous Synthetic Life Form,” Science, Vol. 299, 31 January, 2003, p. 640.

[3] R. Shapiro, Origins: A Skeptic’s Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth, Bantam Books, 1987.