Remember the claim in 2010 that living organisms were discovered using arsenic instead of phosphate?  Further tests show it was not the case.

The announcement of alien life on our own planet captivated the media briefly in December 2010 (see “Arsenic and Old Lake, 12/02/2010).  This week, though, PhysOrg, National Geographic, Live Science and Astrobiology Magazine were among news outlets announcing Felisa Wolf-Simon’s claim was wrong.  If true, it “would have revolutionized how we think about life,” NASA’s Astrobiology Magazine noted, but two subsequent studies have apparently confirmed that the organism does require phosphate, not arsenic, in its genetic code.  This undercuts the main claim of “arsenic-based life.”

National Geographic said the life-form named GFAJ-1 (after Felisa’s initials) does not represent a “second Genesis” of life on Earth.  Astrobiologist Paul Davies, however, contends that one falsification does not invalidate his quest to continue looking for alien life on our own planet.  Wolf-Simon is not conceding, though.   She thinks that if the organism ingests tiny amounts of arsenic, it will still validate her claim.  Most of the other scientists looking into it say she will have to provide much stronger evidence.

Isn’t this a good example of science at work?  Doesn’t this show that science is a self-correcting process, like the late positivist Carl Sagan emphasized?  Aren’t scientists showing themselves to be unbiased truth-seekers, willing to debunk an idea even if they prefer it were true, if the facts do not confirm it?  Aren’t they setting a good example of intellectual integrity?…

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