After the PR hype NASA seemed to purposely promote around “arsenic bacteria” research published by Science (see NASA and old lace) there has been quite a critical reaction. Critical of the way the story was hyped by NASA, but also critical of the work itself.
The whole story does raise issues of how science is done, how it is published and reviewed, and how it is reported in the media. It also raises issues about the sometimes negative role institutions like NASA can play in all this.
There is a useful discussion of this on the latest Guardian Science Weekly podcast (see Science Weekly podcast: Global criticism of the arsenic bacteria study; plus, we expose some dating myths).
A panel of “those in the know,” including astrobiologist Dr Zita Martins from Imperial College London and science writer David Dobbs who has been blogging and tweeting about this specific research, discuss the issue. David writes for the Atlantic Monthly, New York Times Magazine, Slate, National Geographic, Audubon, and Scientific American Mind, where he is a contributing editor. There is also a clip from Carl Zimmer speaking on NHPR (New Hampshire Public Radio).
The discussion gives a good idea of how science is actually done – warts and all! It looks behind the sometimes ideally presented public image and considers the problem of scientists own emotional agendas, the reality of peer review and new issues arising from the way science is conducted in the internet age.
The panelists see any problems with the “arsenic bacteria” research being resolved over time by the normal process of science and stress that the issues discussed are more general.
As an extra, and for light relief, the podcast also contains comments from Dr Petra Boynton from UCL exposing four key myths about dating.
The Guardian Science Weekly recently won an award for the best science podcast. It is well presented and informative. Worth subscribing to and following.