September 28, 2011

#ArsenicGate updated

It's now clearer than ever that NASA's hyping of some alleged arsenic-based life several months ago (with arsenic allegedly replacing phosphorus) was a big PR hype by NASA, as this extended piece shows. See page 3 to get the details on NASA's PR blitz. On page 4, NASA tries to justify this:
Because NASA is dependent for funding on Congress, and therefore its constituents, it needs to project an ongoing sense of relevance. But the agency also needs to maintain its scientific credibility. The controversy over GFAJ-1 demonstrates the risks inherent when a scientific institution assumes a media role. NASA’s publicity blitz created expectations that weren’t matched by the paper’s data, and this vastly amplified the criticism that followed.
Dwayne Brown, the NASA spokesman, has said that the agency is comfortable with how it handled the affair, particularly the use of the term “extraterrestrial life.” In a story posted on the Embargo Watch blog, he said, “It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback. However, the statement was accurate. The real issue is that the reporting world has changed because of the Internet/bloggers/social media, etc. A ‘buzz’ term like ET will have anyone with a computer putting out anything they want or feel. NASA didn’t hype anything—others did.”

I stand by what I first said about this, re Congressional funding. With the end of the shuttle, and Congressional GOPers in a budget-cutting mood, NASA needed a "splash." So, it created one.

And, while not all of the PR hype was directly or indirectly lead scientist Felisa Wolfe-Simon's fault, much of it was. I do feel sorry that NASA and the overseers of the research group she was in at the time have made her a scapegoat; but, she bought her ticket months before the official announcement.

Hey, Greg Laden? Still buying the NASA company line?

Hat tip to my friend Leo Lincourt for the story link.

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