As anyone knows who has been given directions and told “you can’t miss it,” sounding easy and being easy can be entirely different things.  Reporters sometimes make the most difficult step in evolution – the origin of life – look like a cinch through the use of suggestive metaphors, like the commonly-invoked phrase, “building blocks of life.”  The directions in their articles usually lead to dead ends at worst, or, at best, baby steps on a long march, most of the route TBD, a TLA (three letter acronym) meaning “to be determined.”

Tool kit:  This metaphor was presented by PhysOrg in an article entitled, “Meteorites: Tool kits for creating life on Earth.”  The main idea was that nucleobases could have been formed in meteorites and come to earth special delivery.  (Science Daily and New Scientist identified these nucleobases as adenine and guanine.)  “The earliest forms of life on Earth may have been assembled from materials delivered to Earth by meteorites,” PhysOrg said.  Jim Cleaves (Carnegie Geophysical Laboratory) added, “This shows us that meteorites may have been molecular tool kits, which provided the essential building blocks for life on Earth.”

Plausible precursor:  This metaphor was offered by Science Daily, “Study Builds On Plausible Scenario for Origin of Life On Earth.”  The study, conducted at Scripps, attempted to find precursors to RNA.  The article repeatedly spoke of RNA precursors, not RNA itself, which depends on the difficult-to-synthesize sugar ribose (“Did borax evolve into 20-mule teams?”,01/09/2004).  What these precursors are was not identified, but the very word precursor uses the power of suggestion to invoke images of progress.

Evolutionary force driving simple to complex:  “Is this how simple life got complicated?” an article PhysOrg teased.  Within the article, Andrew Murray invoked the image of an “evolutionary force” that led single cells to leap to multicellular life forms.  But what he studied was how living yeast cells seem to do better in clumps than individually.  Yeast cells already have the cellular machinery that challenges theories of the origin of life….

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