I'm posting here a comment from Lynn Rothschild, a genuine astrobiologist at NASA (she's also at Brown):
Great job once again. However, between this and the recent arsenic paper fiasco I feel obliged to speak in defense of NASA. NASA is not a monolith but more like a large university with ten or so campuses. Richard Hoover is an engineer at Marshall Space Flight Center, and not a biologist by training. In fact, there are professional microbiologists at Marshall conducting ISS monitoring but I don't believe they were in any way involved with this work. From what I can tell, all of Mr. Hoover's assertions about life in meteorites are in non-peer reviewed journals and that his awards are in engineering. His papers may not have been approved by the Agency prior to release, and even if so, there is no guarantee that they were reviewed by biologists, micropaleontologists, or other relevant professionals.
In contrast, the arsenic paper was not authored by NASA scientists at all but rather was supported by NASA funding, a distinction not made in most press reports. The specific conclusion of the paper is not an official NASA position that we have all bought into. We are not told to give a party line on any scientific discovery just as presumably you are not by your institution.
Bottom line: there ARE many distinguished scientists at NASA, including some microbiologists, one or two evolutionary biologists, geologists, and astrobiologists. But I for one would prefer to go the traditional peer-review route rather than science by weekend blogs. I may not go viral that way, but in the long run, it is the right way to conduct science. So please, don't tar all of us with the same brush as you would hope others would not besmirch your reputation because of the papers of others in your institution.
But that begs the question of why all the excitement and passion with this particular story? Because the the search for life elsewhere is one of THE most compelling questions in biology, and surely the discovery of extra-terrestrial life will revolutionize our understanding of the origin and evolution of life. Of course a few well-placed stories (again note by non-biologists or geologists) and twitters on Friday night is really what made this story go viral.
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