Friday, January 25, 2013

More astrobiology junk science

From the Telegraph:
'Strongest evidence yet to there being life on Mars' 

Martian rocks from a crater hit by a meteorite may contain the strongest evidence yet that there is life on Mars.

Prof John Parnell, 55, has co-written a theory with Dr Joseph Michalski, a planetary geologist at the Natural History Museum, that suggests they have discovered the best signs of life in the huge McLaughlin Crater on the surface of Mars.

The document, published today in Nature Geoscience journal, describes how they assessed the crater, created by a meteorite which smashed into the surface of Mars, flinging up rocks from miles below.

The rocks appear to be made up of clays and minerals which have been altered by water - the essential element to support life.

Speaking from his laboratory at the University of Aberdeen, geochemist Prof Parnell said: "We could be so close to discovering if there is, or was, life on Mars.

"We know from studies that a substantial proportion of all life on Earth is also in the subsurface and by studying the McLaughlin Crater we can see similar conditions beneath the surface of Mars thanks to observations on the rocks brought up by the meteorite strike.

Yea. That's all they have. We know already that there is water on Mars. Mars has polar ice caps. Obviously some of the water is in the ground as well as on the surface. These scientists have found clays and minerals altered by water, which would happen if... Martian water were present to alter the clays and minerals, all of which we know.

So what's the headline about? Where's the evidence for life?


Astrobiologists (practitioners of an odd scientific discipline that studies things not known to exist) make the bizarre inference from things known on earth to be associated with life-- subsurface water and clays and minerals-- to the existence of life.

But there is no evidence for the existence of life on Mars. 

Perhaps we will find evidence someday. It would be an extraordinary discovery. But there is no evidence now. And this science-by-press-release brings us no closer to finding it.

The degradation of scientific professionalism is remarkable. Scientists used to be cautious prudent professionals, their own most severe critics. They could be trusted. Now they resemble the frauds hocking skin rejuvenators on infomercials, or crazy preachers proclaiming the apocalypse. Instead of prudent responsible research, we get headlines touting the missing-link-fossil-that-finally-proves-evolution of the week, and the new date for the heat death of Gaia, and the latest evidence for life on Mars that isn't evidence for life on Mars.

The damage done to real science is incalculable.


  1. I bet they're still looking for evidence of life in a woman's womb. Not looking that hard, obviously.


  2. And this science-by-press-release brings us no closer to finding it.

    That's an interesting thing to say, since the only "science" your buddies at the Discovery Institute do is pseudoscience by press release. But you don't seem to be able to identify them as charlatans and hucksters.

    1. No, you didn't. You keep saying that, but within a year or two you will be desperately trying to explain away the actual data, rather than the fantasy version you've concocted in your head.

    2. Anon,
      could you explain how they got it wrong?
      Egnor says "we did get it right" and you reply, "No, you didn't".

      If you could, please flesh that out abit.

  3. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyJanuary 25, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    Well, at least they got the headline right. :-)

  4. The discovery of life or fossils on Mars would be huge. It’s certainly worth looking.


  5. Astrobiology: a "scientific" "discipline" without an object of study.

  6. We know already that there is water on Mars. Mars has polar ice caps.

    And the Martian polar caps are almost entirely made up of frozen carbon dioxide, not water. Once again, you make yourself look like an idiot by not doing your research before opening your mouth.

    1. Well, Wiki says otherwise. I don't know if Wiki is the most reliable source, but it says:

      "The polar caps at both poles consist primarily of water ice. Frozen carbon dioxide accumulates as a comparatively thin layer about one metre thick on the north cap in the northern winter only, while the south cap has a permanent dry ice cover about eight metres thick."

      By the way, the southern polar ice cap has a thickness of three kilometers. The first eight meters are carbon dioxide, everything else beneath that is water.

      I think liberals are obsessed with proving that they are smarter than everyone else. They think they have a sound grasp of science but really they're just big-mouth know-it-alls.


    2. Anon says,

      "almost entirely"...
      which is it, Anon? Almost or entirely?
      But either way, you are wrong. Because water crystals have been discovered in them as well.
      So yes, we already knew there was water on the surface of Mars.

  7. Here's the abstract of the Nature Geoscience paper:

    By the time eukaryotic life or photosynthesis evolved on Earth, the martian surface had become extremely inhospitable, but the subsurface of Mars could potentially have contained a vast microbial biosphere. Crustal fluids may have welled up from the subsurface to alter and cement surface sediments, potentially preserving clues to subsurface habitability. Here we present a conceptual model of subsurface habitability of Mars and evaluate evidence for groundwater upwelling in deep basins. Many ancient, deep basins lack evidence for groundwater activity. However, McLaughlin Crater, one of the deepest craters on Mars, contains evidence for Mg–Fe-bearing clays and carbonates that probably formed in an alkaline, groundwater-fed lacustrine setting. This environment strongly contrasts with the acidic, water-limited environments implied by the presence of sulphate deposits that have previously been suggested to form owing to groundwater upwelling. Deposits formed as a result of groundwater upwelling on Mars, such as those in McLaughlin Crater, could preserve critical evidence of a deep biosphere on Mars. We suggest that groundwater upwelling on Mars may have occurred sporadically on local scales, rather than at regional or global scales.

    Egnor, did you bother to look up this paper? It's behind a pay-wall, but the taxpayers footed your bill, so you have no excuse.

    Nowhere in the paper do the authors claim to present any evidence for life on Mars. They just present a geological analysis which which may be useful in choosing good locations on Mars to look for evidence of past or present life.

    Your lazy and sloppy smear job may score some cheap points with creationists, but you should be ashamed. I hope you're not peer-reviewing papers by your colleagues in the same cavalier manner.

    1. To quote Dr. Egnor: "So what's the headline about? Where's the evidence for life? Nada."

      The paper doesn't say that there is life on Mars and Dr. Egnor didn't say that the paper said there was life on Mars. What he was saying is that even the paper doesn't show evidence, yet the headline hinted as much.


    2. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyJanuary 25, 2013 at 4:59 PM

      They found some rocks. Having said that, the authors go on with the following:

      "could potentially have"
      "may have"
      "conceptual model"
      "lack evidence"
      "contains evidence [...] probably formed"
      "could preserve"
      "We suggest"
      "may have occurred"

      I don't need to step in shit to know it when I see it, Troy. Nature should be embarrassed, not Egnor.

      But, come to think of it, they have about as much evidence for their bullshit as you had that the Judge's interpretation of the 2nd Amendment would lead to private armies, air forces, and navies.

      I thought it was paranoia. Maybe it's just simple stupidity.

    3. "could potentially have"
      "may have"
      "conceptual model"

      Modern western science has replaced evidence with "magic words" and "promissory notes". Every great secular endeavour ends in decadence.

      Sic transit gloria mundi!

    4. TRISH

      The paper doesn't say that there is life on Mars and Dr. Egnor didn't say that the paper said there was life on Mars. What he was saying is that even the paper doesn't show evidence, yet the headline hinted as much.

      If Dr. Egnor had just complained about the headline being a misrepresentation of the content of the paper, I would have no beef with that at all. But instead of criticizing the writers of the newspaper, he calls the scientists frauds. If Egnor had an honest bone in his body, he would list the fraudulent claims in the paper, with explanation why they are fraudulent.

    5. Admiral Boggs

      I don't need to step in shit to know it when I see it, Troy. Nature should be embarrassed, not Egnor.

      You seem to think there is no place for speculation in a paper in Nature. Why is that? If you think the paper is otherwise inaccurate, don't be shy, Admiral, and point out where it fails to meet your standards of rigor.

    6. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyJanuary 25, 2013 at 7:38 PM

      I think there is no place for unbridled speculation with no empirical basis whatsoever in Nature, whether it's aliens, spirits, or angels.

  8. Astrobiologists study living matter in space. As of yet, we haven't found any. It might exist. Yet there's a whole field dedicated to studying something that we have never seen and can't prove exists.

    Sound familiar, anti-theists? We can't prove the existence of God. What would you think about a scientific discipline that studied the existence of God? Godologists. What if they were merely looking, merely asking questions?

    Your adherence to "science" is more religious than you think.


    1. "We can't prove the existence of God."

      Actually, we can. We've proved it dozens of ways. and did so hundreds of years ago.

      What we can't do is compel God-haters to admit that God's reality has been proven.

    2. llion,

      Care to list the dozens of ways the existence of God has been proved hundreds of years ago?

      You can't hate something that doesn't exist.

  9. "I thought it was paranoia. Maybe it's just simple stupidity."

    There is a third option: intellectual dishonesty.

  10. Water on Mars is a big problem for the 'science is settled' crowd. Consider the latest tidbit courtesy of Mars Express.
    We are shown images of a perfectly cut, deep, and obviously recent riverbeds flowing from a shed and over the lip of an ancient and weathered crater. We are told it is tens or hundreds of millions of years old. Why? Because there can be no recent flows of this size.
    We are expected to buy that because THEORY says there can be no surface water on Mars. Because the 'science is settled', which translates to: 'We have already printed the textbooks and hung our careers on this speculation.'

    Pressure and air temperature are cited as the reasons and we are treated to a wonderfully complex legend about the history of a planet we have never set foot on.

    But let's compare this to what we do know about Mars and our own world. Mars is treated to planet wide sandstorms. It is pocked with craters. But somehow - by some miracle - the Reull Vallis area has avoided ALL that for millions and millions of years. The perfectly cut banks, wash, and water erosion have not been wiped out by constant wind and dune action that takes place ALL around it. Further, there is no craters in it's bed that have not been washed out.

    Compare the images of these river beds to the keyhole images of the ancient Nile. While we can detect the old path of the Nile through the (now) Western Desert - it is clearly covered in dunes and even boulders. The desert has all but erased this once mighty flow - and in less than 10,000 years.

    The images relate an inescapable fact. There has been, fairly recently, a flow of liquid on the surface of Mars.
    A significant one, too...and that is just a single region.
    Evidently, the 'rules' we use to determine how nature works on Mars are flawed.

    Why should we expect the search for life to be any more honest.
    Finally, consider the fossils found in rocks thought to be from Martian ejecta. Why is there not more fuss made about them? Perhaps because they seem to follow the same 'design' or 'plan' that life on earth does. That little thought destroys over a century of speculation sold as science. Who's plan? Why?
    There is a lot more to Mars than meets the eye, and what is know in form of data is forced through a filter of dogma.
    Could there be life on Mars? Could there have been in ancient times? I would not be surprised at all.
    The problem is that Mars does not fit into the conceptual model of modern scientism. The real science that could determine this is avoided, and instead we get 'earth shaking news' from the folks at Jack Parson's Laboratory.
    So we are left wondering....

    PS: A MSM article on the riverbeds.

    1. CrusadeRex,

      What makes you think the anyone claims that 'the science is settled'? We wouldn't be sending probes and vehicles to Mars if it were. And we do know that there's surface water on Mars. What do you think the polar ice caps consist of?

      What is the nature of the fossils in the Martian ejecta? My understanding is they might be bacteria. Or they might not be. A rod shaped structure is fairly nonspecific. Without being able to look at the biochemistry, it's impossible to know if it's similar or identical to Earth bacteria. If they're bacteria.

      I suppose you have an explanation for these Martian images. What is it?

    2. Bach,

      Good for you!
      Glad you can think outside the box, at least when it comes to another planet.

      Of course, plenty of people DO say the science is settled on the matter. They have invested so much in their conjecture that they have literally created a history of that world. The reason for the probes is ostensibly to collect new data and form new hypothesis. The de facto uses of the probes are to confirm what they have already asserted. Thankfully, not all the professionals involved are 'team players', and we occasionally get a glance of the raw data that enables us to draw our own conclusions.

      Surface water (liquid) is said by the experts (who ignore contrary evidence) to immediately sublimate.
      Obviously this is not always the case.
      This sumblimation, according to their legends, is all due to various planet wide catastrophes that occurred hundreds of millions of years ago and destroyed the hypothetical ancient Martian climate cycle and atmosphere. Look into the literature (the official stuff) and you'll see what I mean.

      As for the ejecta: The analysis of the trails/patterns left by the fossilized microbes are identical patterns to those on earth.
      You're quite right that these samples are merely unnerving to the 'random' crowds; and that may explain the serious (and failed) attempts at debunking the origins of these rocks, as well as the lack of interest in them by the agencies that should be engrossed. It could just also be a lack of vision and incompetence... probably a combination of like factors, IMO.

      The images? I have a bit of experience with this field. Not an expert, but I sure do work with them. After a while of examining imagery of known and unknown features, one eventually begins to recognize defining characteristics. Ancient riverbeds as opposed to far more recent flows, for example.

      What these images indicate to me is that we are looking at a seasonal flood and wash/flats.
      God knows how long those seasons may be, but the photographic evidence indicates to my eyes (and my colleagues) that this bed has not been dry and subject to the surrounding environmental conditions for tens or hundreds of millions of years; hence my comparison with the ancient flow of the Nile which has been all but obliterated in less than 10,000 years in a much more forgiving environment (ie earth).

    3. CrusadeRex,

      I'm not certain that you can take your experience on Earth and apply it directly to Mars. The environment on Mars is completely different; one third Earth's gravity, hardly any atmosphere, much colder etc.

      The Earth's environment isn't much more forgiving than Mars' - for geological features that is. Impact craters on Earth get eroded away much faster than on Mars. The Moon offers us an indication of how many impact craters would be expected (because none are eroded away). How recent do the Martian impact craters appear to you?

    4. Bach,

      I do not claim a direct relation, just a broad comparison/contrast.
      It's easy to tell which kind of erosion created those beds, It is also easy to tell that the areas surrounding them are subject to the ongoing sand action of Mars while the bed seems somehow immune.
      As for the age of the craters, I would say they vary greatly - and I am unsure of exactly when they occurred. Truthfully, nobody knows. We make guesses.
      But it is clear by the erosion patterns on them some are older than others. Some seem only patterned with wind erosion, while others seem to to indicate they have been weathered by some other (fluid) force.

      What we can tell is that the craters surround the area and some of the flow seems to emanate from at least one large one (a crater lake or some sort of seasonal/volcanic spring?).
      That would indicate that the flow is more recent (and constant) that the impacts.
      Those two factors combined tell us that the riverbeds are as recent as the sandstorms. If they were not, the riverbed would be at least partially covered by shifting sands and their banks would slope. This would be to a far greater degree than they in these recent images.
      I think these images are clear evidence of surface water where there should be none.
      That means we have to reassess the models we have for Mars.
      Far from suggesting we should use earth as a model, I am pointing out that when we do - we see great contrasts. Earth as a reference or contrast sure, but Mars just doesn't work quite the same way as Earth; and that raises a LOT of questions about assumed 'universals'.

    5. CrusadeRex,

      This morning's episode of 'the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe' podcast had a discussion of these images. The riverbed according to best estimates formed about 2 million years ago, which is virtually yesterday compared to the age of the solar system (4.54 billion years).

      The estimates are based on the presence or absence of meteorite craters and their size and the power law (there are many smaller than larger meteorites).

      I think you're relying too much on your Earth experience. A sandstorm on Mars, with its low gravity and extremely thin atmosphere, just won't have the power of an Earth sandstorm. With a Martian sandstorm, you can still see the ground after looking through its entire thickness. With an Earth sandstorm, you mightn't be able to see objects within a few metres of you.