Marshrooms and araneiforms, oh my: the ongoing absurdity of Rhawn Joseph

Rhawn Joseph is back. Two years ago, I posted a comprehensive list of my engagements with that fraud, so if you want, you can review it there. There’s a lot. It’s all very silly. I even made a video about his claim to have found Marshrooms. Last year, I made a post about his latest publication, in which I wrote, “Let’s hope this is the end of Joseph and Wickramasinghe.” Hah! Right.

Here, in May of 2021, he has again published a Martian mushroom paper titled Fungi on Mars? Evidence of Growth and Behavior From Sequential Images in the journal Advances in Microbiology. It’s 63 pages long! Of course, most of it is photos cribbed from NASA that are blown up and processed to make his imaginary point. To quote some legitimate scientists:

Michael Brown, an astronomer at Monash University in Australia, said “there’s some pretty horrible over-interpretation of blurry photos,” while Gretchen Benedix, a geophysicist at Curtin University in Australia, noted “increasing image sizes to investigate the objects of interest does not change the resolution of the image and therefore does not give better analysis of the objects of interest.”

Rocco Mancinelli, the editor in chief of the International Journal of Astrobiology, called the science and logic “completely flawed,” and said he would recommend it be rejected for publication.

Yet various versions of this garbage hypothesis were and are being published. Here’s the abstract for Rhawn Joseph’s latest:

Fungi thrive in radiation intense environments. Sequential photos document that fungus-like Martian specimens emerge from the soil and increase in size, including those resembling puffballs (Basidiomycota). After obliteration of spherical specimens by the rover wheels, new sphericals-some with stalks-appeared atop the crests of old tracks. Sequences document that thousands of black arctic “araneiforms” grow up to 300 meters in the Spring and disappear by Winter; a pattern repeated each Spring and which may represent massive colonies of black fungi, mould, lichens, algae, methanogens and sulfur reducing species. Black fungi-bacteria-like specimens also appeared atop the rovers. In a series of photographs over three days (Sols) white amorphous specimens within a crevice changed shape and location then disappeared. White protoplasmic-mycelium-like-tendrils with fruiting-body-like appendages form networks upon and above the surface; or increase in mass as documented by sequential photographs. Hundreds of dimpled donut-shaped “mushroom-like” formations approximately 1mm in size are adjacent or attached to these mycelium-like complexes. Additional sequences document that white amorphous masses beneath rock-shelters increase in mass, number, or disappear and that similar white-fungus-like specimens appeared inside an open rover compartment. Comparative statistical analysis of a sample of 9 spherical specimens believed to be fungal “puffballs” photographed on Sol 1145 and 12 specimens that emerged from beneath the soil on Sol 1148 confirmed the nine grew significantly closer together as their diameters expanded and some showed evidence of movement. Cluster analysis and a paired sample ‘t’ test indicates a statistically significant size increase in the average size ratio over all comparisons between and within groups (P = 0.011). Statistical comparisons indicates that arctic “araneiforms” significantly increased in length in parallel following an initial growth spurt. Although similarities in morphology are not proof of life, growth, movement, and changes in shape and location constitute behavior and support the hypothesis there is life on Mars.

I admit, I perked up at the mention of araneiforms — that’s spider-like shapes. It’s not about spiders on Mars, darn it, it’s about these complex dendritic shapes that appear and disappear on the Martian landscape. Joseph wants to claim that that is evidence of fungal life, based on over-interpretation of photos from Mars rovers. It’s not. No one is denying that there are ongoing changes on Mars — seasonal variations, windstorms, erosion, shifting dunes, all that sort of geological stuff. The question is whether it is caused by biology, and so far, the answer is it is not. There are better explanations for the araneiforms, for instance: The formation of araneiforms by carbon dioxide venting and vigorous sublimation dynamics under martian atmospheric pressure.

The local redistribution of granular material by sublimation of the southern seasonal CO2 ice deposit is one of the most active surface shaping processes on Mars today. This unique geomorphic mechanism is hypothesised to be the cause of the dendritic, branching, spider-like araneiform terrain and associated fans and spots—features which are native to Mars and have no Earth analogues. However, there is a paucity of empirical data to test the validity of this hypothesis. Additionally, it is unclear whether some araneiform patterns began as radial and then grew outward, or whether troughs connected at mutual centres over time. Here we present the results of a suite of laboratory experiments undertaken to investigate if the interaction between a sublimating CO2 ice overburden containing central vents and a porous, mobile regolith will mobilise grains from beneath the ice in the form of a plume to generate araneiform patterns. We quantify the branching and area of the dendritic features that form. We provide the first observations of plume activity via CO2 sublimation and consequent erosion to form araneiform features. We show that CO2 sublimation can be a highly efficient agent of sediment transport under present day Martian atmospheric pressure and that morphometry is governed by the Shields parameter.

You’ve got a thin atmosphere where the repeated freezing and sublimation of carbon dioxide is a major factor, and you want to claim that mushrooms are thriving to the point that they spring up overnight in the tracks of Mars rovers? OK, pull the other one, guy.

By the way, Joseph still touts his affiliation as being with cosmology.com, his vanity website where he publishes articles about the Quantum Physics of Time Travel and the consciousness of the universe. That’s the fake journal I trashed, which he then put up for sale for $100,000. If you check it out now, he’s selling it for $50,000. I’m waiting for the price to get down around $1.98, and then I’ll snap it up.

Or…hey, Rhawn, I’ll take the responsibility off your hands right now, no charge, and keep the site up as a historical curiosity, with maybe just a little front-page editorial commentary. You know it’s an embarrassment, just dragging you down, pass it on to someone who’ll keep it alive a little longer.

Punching Rhawn Joseph some more

I’ve made the big leagues. I’m cited on c/net in a review of panspermia claims.

Joseph is an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a shirt unbuttoned to his stomach. He is, according to his autobiography, a well-known and acclaimed neurobiologist. He enjoys the ocean, walking along the beach and hiking. His self-published articles argue life has been found on Mars and Venus, and propagate an alternative view of life’s beginnings.

That theory is “panspermia.” It holds that life first arose in space and that planets in the solar system were “seeded” with microbes carried across the cosmos by dust, meteors and debris.

“Panspermia is one of those things where all the biologists are saying, ‘Maybe it could have happened, but we don’t have any evidence for it’,” says Paul Myers, a developmental biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris. Myers has refuted the theory in the past, leading to clashes with Joseph and his colleagues, a group he calls “the panspermia mafia.”

Two of panspermia’s biggest proponents are famed astronomer Fred Hoyle, who died in 2001, and his protege Chandra Wickramasinghe. Hoyle helped unravel “stellar nucleosynthesis,” a process that occurs in stars to generate all the chemical elements in the cosmos and, in collaboration with Wickramasinghe, the pair discovered the organic material that makes up cosmic dust. However, in the latter parts of their careers, the two have made controversial claims with little evidence to back them up, including the idea that viruses, like the flu and coronavirus, come from space.

Myers says the academic pedigree of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe gave panspermia an air of credibility in the 1970s, helping the pair popularize it as a renegade view of the origins of life. But the theory has served as a launching pad for nonsensical, pseudoscientific theories — including Joseph’s belief that Mars is full of mushrooms, fungi and lichen.

Wickramasinghe remains the godfather of panspermia, continuing to publish on the theory in books and his own journals. Rhawn Gabriel Joseph is the heir apparent.

It’s not just me, of course. They review his claim of mushrooms sprouting on Mars.

How Joseph’s piece moved past the peer review process and was accepted for publication remains a mystery. The process usually weeds out these explicitly non-scientific claims. Other astronomers and astrobiologists who examined the research soundly rebuked its conclusions, citing poor methodology and analysis.

Michael Brown, an astronomer at Monash University in Australia, said “there’s some pretty horrible over-interpretation of blurry photos,” while Gretchen Benedix, a geophysicist at Curtin University in Australia, noted “increasing image sizes to investigate the objects of interest does not change the resolution of the image and therefore does not give better analysis of the objects of interest.”

Rocco Mancinelli, the editor in chief of the International Journal of Astrobiology, called the science and logic “completely flawed,” and said he would recommend it be rejected for publication.

A NASA spokesperson told me “the consensus of the majority of the scientific community is that current conditions on the surface of Mars are not suitable for liquid water or complex life.”

As the article points out, Rhawn Joseph and his cronies have been tainting a scientific subdiscipline for decades, relying on promotion by tabloids to generate the illusion of authority.

Over the last decade, Joseph and JOC have mostly been ignored by NASA and by the scientific community. Very few scientists take the alien fungi claims seriously, but Joseph’s work has been highlighted in UK tabloids, RT and many well-meaning science news sites since February 2019. Some have touted Joseph’s websites as “scientific journals” and even confused Joseph’s vanity website with legitimate, similarly named journals. One painted Joseph as someone trying to “defy the odds.”

And that’s where the danger lies.

Astrobiology, the search for and study of extraterrestrial life, is a serious scientific endeavor. NASA has an astrobiology program, and searching for life is a critical part of its Mars exploration program. And although the public seems resistant to fanciful claims of fungal spores on Mars or lichen on Venus, they haven’t gone away. If anything, social media seems to have made us more gullible. As crank, fringe theories start to gather steam in honest peer-reviewed journals, the public’s perception of astrobiology can quickly be muddied.

Let’s hope this is the end of Joseph and Wickramasinghe.

I doubt that it will be. They’re going to continue to dump junk science into the literature.

Rhawn Joseph and a new silly claim about extraterrestrial life

He’s back. The weird mastermind behind the Journal of Cosmology and Cosmology.com has created yet another fake journal, The Journal of Astrobiology and Space Science Reviews, and has made another bold claim. By looking at photos from the Mars Rovers, using just his mighty brain, he has determined that the surface of Mars is covered with mushrooms, lichens, and the bones of dead Martians, and further, he has convinced a cheesy British tabloid to report on it, so it must be true.

This is the rabbit hole I got sucked in to today, and since I’ve written about this goofball so many times before, this time I had to make it a video.

“I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it.”

No, we haven’t found good evidence of life on Mars.

The tabloid that annoyed me:
https://www.express.co.uk/news/science/1104520/life-mars-nasa-scientists-fungi-evidence-in-mars-curiosity-rover-photos

A few books by Rhawn Joseph:

Mars: Evidence of Life:: Evolution, Algae, Viking, ALH8401, Stromatolites, Fungi, Bones, Skulls, Methane, Martians

Sexual Consciousness: Evolution of Female Breasts, Buttocks & the Big Brain

Sexuality: Female Evolution & Erotica

Female Sexuality: The Naked Truth

Online articles by Rhawn Joseph:

http://brainmind.com/SexualChoiceDomesticationOfMan.html

http://brainmind.com/sexevolution.html

Rhawn Joseph’s professional affiliation:
https://astrobiologyassociates.wordpress.com/

The Martian “science” articles discussed here:

Sex On Mars: Pregnancy, Fetal Development, and Sex In Outer Space

The high probability of life on Mars

Evidence of life on Mars

A High Probability of Life Mars: The Consensus of 70 Experts in Fungi, Lichens, Geomorphology, Mineralogy

The Fake Journals mentioned:

Journal of Astrobiology and Space Science Reviews

Journal of Cosmology

Cosmology

If you really want to look closely at Joseph’s brilliant satirical work, photoshopping my face onto obese women’s bodies, I have a copy here. The original was taken down.

Professional science journalism

Examples of the kinds of dissections that enraged Dr Joseph:

Did scientists discover bacteria in meteorites?

NASA speaks out boldly on the ‘bacteria from space’ claims

I am getting a very poor impression of astrobiology

The Journal of Cosmology replies

An inside view of the Journal of Cosmology

The hubba-hubba theory of human evolution

Diatoms…iiiiin spaaaaaaaaaaace!

I’m not the troll, but I think they caught one in their sample

Funny Looking Rock found on Mars!

Squids from SPAAAAAAAAACE!

No wonder he hates me.

If you want some real science, NASA has all these beautiful images collected by the Mars rovers available for your perusal.

Opportunity: All 228,771 Raw Images

Please don’t scan through them looking for imaginary aliens to fit your wacky hypotheses, or I shall mock you.

Squids from SPAAAAAAAAACE!

I was reading this article with a provocative title: Cause of Cambrian Explosion – Terrestrial or Cosmic?. It set my alarm bells ringing from the title onward.

Look at those authors! So many, yet the paper itself is so empty of data. Most I don’t know. Steele I’ve heard of — he was promoting neo-Lamarckism in the 1980s, and thinks the Cambrian explosion was caused by retroviruses squirting new complex genes into the ancestors of all animals. Brig Klyce I’ve bumped into a few times on the internet…he’s a panspermia fanatic. Milton Wainwright is the guy who used an EM to look for odd blobs and declared they are evidence of alien life. The Wallis’s were part of a time that announced that diatoms came from outer space. Oh, and Chandra Wickramasinghe…yes, we have crossed paths multiple times. He published a lot in the Journal of Cosmology, with an editor, Rhawn Joseph, who really, really doesn’t like me.

Wickramasinghe has been making bank on this nonsensical idea that genes for complex intelligent life have periodically rained down on the Earth from outer space. There is no evidence for it, and no reason to invoke this random phenomenon to explain biology — we have random phenomena enough, thank you very much, and none of them have the extreme weirdness of the space virus explanation.

I guess I have heard of quite a few of the authors! And it’s a most unsavory stew of notorious crackpots.

Let’s take a look at the abstract for this gem of a paper, shall we?

We review the salient evidence consistent with or predicted by the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe (H-W) thesis of Cometary (Cosmic) Biology. Much of this physical and biological evidence is multifactorial. One particular focus are the recent studies which date the emergence of the complex retroviruses of vertebrate lines at or just before the Cambrian Explosion of ~500 Ma. Such viruses are known to be plausibly associated with major evolutionary genomic processes. We believe this coincidence is not fortuitous but is consistent with a key prediction of H-W theory whereby major extinction-diversification evolutionary boundaries coincide with virus-bearing cometary-bolide bombardment events. A second focus is the remarkable evolution of intelligent complexity (Cephalopods) culminating in the emergence of the Octopus. A third focus concerns the micro-organism fossil evidence contained within meteorites as well as the detection in the upper atmosphere of apparent incoming life-bearing particles from space. In our view the totality of the multifactorial data and critical analyses assembled by Fred Hoyle, Chandra Wickramasinghe and their many colleagues since the 1960s leads to a very plausible conclusion — life may have been seeded here on Earth by life-bearing comets as soon as conditions on Earth allowed it to flourish (about or just before 4.1 Billion years ago); and living organisms such as space-resistant and space-hardy bacteria, viruses, more complex eukaryotic cells, fertilised ova and seeds have been continuously delivered ever since to Earth so being one important driver of further terrestrial evolution which has resulted in considerable genetic diversity and which has led to the emergence of mankind.

It’s a moderately long paper, because it’s really easy to layer on thick coats of bullshit when you don’t care about the quality of the evidence. So I’m just going to look at — can you guess? — his second focus, “the remarkable evolution of intelligent complexity (Cephalopods) culminating in the emergence of the Octopus”.

It’s garbage.

There are novelties in cephalopod evolution, and I’ve written about them before. In particular, cephalopods carry out a significant amount of gene editing, that is, they use enzymes to modify a few of the bases in RNA before it is translated into protein. This is not a shocking surprise — it’s not a universal modification of every RNA, but it has been observed in phyla all across the animal kingdom — although some gullible sources claim it is a violation of the central dogma (they’re wrong). But the key thing is that it’s not unique to cephalopods, lots of organisms have the enzymes, so you can’t use it as evidence for the claim that gene editing came from outer space.

In particular, there is no reasonable justification for this claim:

Thus the possibility that cryopreserved Squid and/or Octopus eggs, arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago should not be discounted (below) as that would be a parsimonious cosmic explanation for the Octopus’ sudden emergence on Earth ca. 270 million years ago. Indeed this principle applies to the sudden appearance in the fossil record of pretty well all major life forms, covered in the prescient concept of “punctuated equilibrium” by Eldridge and Gould advanced in the early 1970s (1972, 1977); and see the conceptual cartoon of Fig. 6. Therefore, similar living features like this “as if the genes were derived from some type of pre-existence” (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, 1981) apply to many other biological ensembles when closely examined. One little known yet cogent example is the response and resistance of the eye structures of the Drosophila fruit fly to normally lethally damaging UV radiation at 2537 Å, given that this wavelength does not penetrate the ozone layer and is thus not evident as a Darwinian selective factor at the surface of the Earth (Lutz and Grisewood, 1934) and see Hoyle and Wickramasinghe (1981, p.12e13). Many of these “unearthly” properties of organisms can be plausibly explained if we admit the enlarged cosmic biosphere that is indicated by modern astronomical research e discoveries of exoplanets already discussed. The average distance between habitable planets in our galaxy now to be reckoned in light years e typically 5 light years (Wickramasinghe et al., 2012). Virion/gene exchanges thus appear to be inevitable over such short cosmic distances. The many features of biology that are not optimised to local conditions on the Earth may be readily understood in this wider perspective.

We’ve gone from a few viral genes raining down on Earth and getting incorporated into life, to frozen squid eggs drifting from Alpha Centauri to Earth in icy meteors and somehow crashing into our oceans and surviving to populate the seas. I don’t think the authors understand the word “parsimonious”. If this were true, cephalopods would represent an entirely novel lineage, and more than having a few molecular novelties, they would be completely unrelated to any other animal lineage on the planet. They would not be related to other molluscs. They would not be protostomes. They would not be eukaryotes. They would be totally alien.

The authors even seem to be superficially conscious of this problem. Here is the “conceptual cartoon of Fig. 6”.

This diagram is what you get when you pretend that lineages are made solely of apomorphies, or the derived traits that distinguish each species from other organisms, and close your eyes to the plesiomorphies, or shared similarities. A phylogenetic tree is not “forced”, it is produced by identifying shared traits. The octopus has molecular similarities to snails, and the two together have similarities to other invertebrates, and all of them have shared attributes with all animals. You don’t get to just ignore all that! This is equivalent to saying that octopuses have tentacles, therefore octopuses are from outer space, completely neglecting the fact that octopuses have homologous genes linking them to insects and sea cucumbers and people.

To back up the remarkable assertion that cephalopods fell from space, they present no evidence, other than a flurry of citations of … N. Chandra Wickramasinghe. It’s an embarrassingly masturbatory display. Wickramasinghe and his associates have been churning out these useless, garbage papers for decades, and now they use the volume of shit he has produced as evidence that his shit is valid. He occasionally sprinkles in references to other authors, which he gets wrong: Stephen J. Gould would not recognize figure 6 as an accurate representation of punctuated equilibrium. This is not how science is supposed to work. It’s simply fraudulent.

Wickramasinghe used to be associated with Cardiff University — they fired him and closed his astrobiology ‘department’, which turns out to have been a bit of a Potemkin village anyway. It was run entirely by Wickramasinghe as a part-time employee, and the entirety of the staff were “honorary”, unpaid volunteers.

“It was only costing them between £14,000 and £15,000 (about $24,000) a year to retain me as a part time director of the centre.

“All the other staff, totaling about 12, is honorary research fellows and associates who were not costing the university anything at all. They have brought a huge amount of credit to Cardiff University and so it amazed me that the university would discontinue their support for astrobiology. “What they did to me is a travesty of normal university practice and I still don’t understand the motive. I can’t believe for a moment that they are strapped for £15,000 a year to maintain a centre that has, for good or bad, a very high profile internationally. “We continue to make headlines in various things that we do. Some of our work remains controversial but it is in the nature of science to promote controversy as long as it is intelligent controversy. That’s within the rules of the game. If people agree 100 per cent what they’re doing then science becomes a bit insubstantial. “I just fail to understand why they do this. It could be ageism because, at 71, I’m over the retirement age by a couple of years, but I’ve been around for years and have published many papers. I was Sir Fred Hoyle’s longest-running collaborator from the time I was a student at Cambridge.”

Cardiff claims the closure was entirely due to budgetary reasons, but I rather suspect that, contrary to Wickramasinghe’s claim, his slack work and low standards of evidence have frequently brought discredit to the university.

Don’t cry for Chandra, though. He was snapped up by the University of Buckingham to form a “centre for astrobiology”. I think that might mean he was allowed to host a webpage on their site, because he’s never had a real research unit, and I doubt that he’s been given the funds for one now.

But yeah, if you see his name on anything, or apparently any of the names in that long list of articles, you’ve found a treasure trove of pseudoscience.

Funny Looking Rock found on Mars!

When last we heard from Rhawn Joseph, he was playing with photoshop and trying to sell off his online journal, the Journal of Cosmology. The Journal of Cosmology has been plugging away, claiming to have found bacteria in meteorites and then diatoms in meteorites — give them a blurry, vague photo of some shapeless blob, and they’ll claim it looks just like something biological on Earth. Either that, or they’ll photoshop my head on to it.

Rhawn Joseph’s latest struggle: he’s suing NASA for suppressing evidence of life on Mars. His evidence is this pair of photos taken by the Mars Opportunity rover, 12 days apart, and released by NASA.

sol3540

Look! There’s a rock in the later picture that wasn’t there earlier! How did it get there? NASA’s explanations were first, speculation that it could be a meteorite, but now they seem to think that it was most likely flicked by the rover itself, as it was making a turn. That sounds reasonable to me.

But not to Rhawn Joseph! We’re missing the most obvious “fact” of all, that what appeared in the later photo was no rock at all, but a mushroom. He demands that NASA investigate thoroughly, using the power of a legal writ.

In Re RHAWN JOSEPH’S PETITION FOR A WRIT OF MANDAMUS COMPELLING NASA TO PERFORM A DUTY TO THOROUGHLY SCIENTIFICALLY EXAMINE AND INVESTIGATE A PUTATIVE BIOLOGICAL ORGANISM ON MARS IDENTIFIED/DISCOVERED BY PETITIONER AND REFERRED TO BY NASA AS: “UNLIKE ANYTHING WE HAVE SEEN BEFORE.”

How can you doubt it? He has since published his results in a “scientific journal” — his own online website — complete with side-by-side photos of the Martian Funny-Looking-Rock and earthly apothecia.

Apothecia

The “mysterious” bowl-like structure which appeared on Mars does not resemble a rock or a meteor, but a lichen fungus which on Earth is known as “Apothecia.” A magnification of the structure Sol 3540 reveals the presence of numerous “paraphyses” which are spore producing organs of Apothecium. On Earth Apothecia are commonly observed on rocks, tree limbs, or growing on the ground next to open road. Related species are known by a variety of names, such as Eastern Speckled Shield Lichen (Punctellia Bolliana). The term “shield lichen” is applied to a variety of foliose lichens. An important characteristic is their bowl-shaped growth with brown inner surfaces. These bowl shaped structures are “apothecia” and appear basically identical to the “mystery” structure depicted in Sol 3540 but which NASA wishes the public to believe is a rock or meteor which suddenly sprouted on this slab of Martian real estate.

In case you missed the similarity, here’s a photo of the Mars FLR with big red arrows and bold text pointing to the “paraphyses” — you know, just in case the visual similarity might not be as strong as Joseph claims.

paraphyses

Joseph says that if you “magnify” the image the similarities to the paraphyses of apothecia are even more apparent, which is kind of amusing: you can’t magnify the raw pixel data. All the information you get is right there. You can make it larger, but that’s not at all the same as increasing resolution.

I have used all the powers bestowed upon me with my Ph.D. to squint even harder than Rhawn Joseph at that rock, and I’m sorry, it’s a rock. It’s not a fungus or a lichen or a Happy Meal toy or Rhawn Joseph’s lost marbles, and if you look at the raw image rather than one that Joseph has pseudocolored to tint it green, it doesn’t look particularly biological.

Also, NASA already seems quite happy to investigate further.

Mr Squyres said scientists believe the rock, named "Pinnacle Island," got there when the aging rover did a pirouette turn in the dusty Martian soil and knocked loose a chunk of bedrock that rolled a short distance downhill.

"We think that in the process of that wheel moving across the ground, we kind of flicked it, kind of tiddly winked it out of the ground and it moved to the location where we see it," Mr Squyres said.

Still, scientists have not found the divet the rock would have left behind. They think it is hidden beneath one of the rover’s solar arrays.

The Opportunity team plans to manuever the robotic vehicle around a bit more to see if they can find the spot from which the rock emerged.

As to why it is such an unusual color [it’s a darker red than the surface], Mr Squyres said it may be that humans are witnessing a surface that has not been exposed in a very, very long time.

"It appears that it may have flipped itself upside down," he said.

"If that is the case, what we are seeing is we are seeing the surface, the underside of a rock, that hasn’t seen the Martian atmosphere for perhaps billions of years."

Already, an analysis of the rock with the Opportunity’s spectrometer has shown a "strange composition, different from anything we have seen before," he told reporters.

The rock has a lot of sulphur, along with very high concentrations of manganese and magnesium.

"We are still working this out. We are making measurements right now. This is an ongoing story of discovery," he said.

Ah, but I think you see the real problem: NASA has used data from other instruments on the rover to come to a conclusion that differs from Rhawn Joseph’s far-fetched speculation of Martian mushrooms.

Professional science journalism

I’ve taken a few pokes at the bad science of Rhawn Joseph and the Journal of Cosmology over the years — for instance, in this post summarizing an article that was little more than a thinly threaded excuse to show off pictures of women in bikinis, or this post about their claim to have found bacteria in meteorites.

I think my criticism must have stung.

Check out the bikini post at the Journal of Cosmology now. It’s been removed, with the disclaimer, “CENSORED This Article Has Been Censored and Removed Due to Threats and Complaints Received.” I am amused. I wouldn’t take all the credit, since I’m sure many people found that article ludicrous to an extreme, except…

Well, this is really weird. Notice in the header for the journal’s online page that it gives two URLs: journalofcosmology.com takes you to the various articles in the journal, but they also own cosmology.com. Allow me to show you the front page for cosmology.com. I’ll preserve it here since I rather expect it will be pulled in embarrassment at some time in the future.

Cosmology.com is For Sale

Sale Price:

$100,000.00

Price Based on Estibot estimated value.

Contact:
ForSale AT Cosmology.com

Include your name, address, affiliation, and phone number or your inquiry will be ignored.

In Honor of P. Z. Myers



P. Z. Myers celebrating

Is P. Z. Myers a “frothing at the mouth lunatic” who raves about subjects he knows nothing about?
Absolutely not. There is no evidence of “frothing.”

Copyright 2009, 2010, 2011 All Rights Reserved

Ah, yes…because nothing says you’ve got a property worth $100,000 like slapping photoshopped pictures of my face on obese women’s bodies.

And look! They have a whole page dedicated to my honor! I wonder what level of professionalism we’ll see there? Just in case that goes away, too, I’ve put a copy below the fold.

[Read more…]

Did scientists discover bacteria in meteorites?

No.

No, no, no. No no no no no no no no.

No, no.

No.

Fox News broke the story, which ought to make one immediately suspicious — it’s not an organization noted for scientific acumen. But even worse, the paper claiming the discovery of bacteria fossils in carbonaceous chondrites was published in … the Journal of Cosmology. I’ve mentioned Cosmology before — it isn’t a real science journal at all, but is the ginned-up website of a small group of crank academics obsessed with the idea of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe that life originated in outer space and simply rained down on Earth. It doesn’t exist in print, consists entirely of a crude and ugly website that looks like it was sucked through a wormhole from the 1990s, and publishes lots of empty noise with no substantial editorial restraint. For a while, it seemed to be entirely the domain of a crackpot named Rhawn Joseph who called himself the emeritus professor of something mysteriously called the Brain Research Laboratory, based in the general neighborhood of Northern California (seriously, that was the address: “Northern California”), and self-published all of his pseudo-scientific “publications” on this web site.

It is not an auspicious beginning. Finding credible evidence of extraterrestrial microbes is the kind of thing you’d expect to see published in Science or Nature, but the fact that it found a home on a fringe website that pretends to be a legitimate science journal ought to set off alarms right there.

But could it be that by some clumsy accident of the author, a fabulously insightful, meticulously researched paper could have fallen into the hands of single-minded lunatics who rushed it into ‘print’? Sure. And David Icke might someday publish the working plans for a perpetual motion machine in his lizardoid-infested newsletter. We’ve actually got to look at the claims and not dismiss them because of their location.

So let’s look at the paper, Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites:
Implications to Life on Comets, Europa, and Enceladus
. I think that link will work; I’m not certain, because the “Journal of Cosmology” seems to randomly redirect links to its site to whatever article the editors think is hot right now, and while the article title is given a link on the page, it’s to an Amazon page that’s flogging a $94 book by the author. Who needs a DOI when you’ve got a book to sell?

Reading the text, my impression is one of excessive padding. It’s a dump of miscellaneous facts about carbonaceous chondrites, not well-honed arguments edited to promote concision or cogency. The figures are annoying; when you skim through them, several will jump out at you as very provocative and looking an awful lot like real bacteria, but then without exception they all turn out to be photos of terrestrial organisms thrown in for reference. The extraterrestrial ‘bacteria’ all look like random mineral squiggles and bumps on a field full of random squiggles and bumps, and apparently, the authors thought some particular squiggle looked sort of like some photo of a bug. This isn’t science, it’s pareidolia. They might as well be analyzing Martian satellite photos for pictures that sorta kinda look like artifacts.

The data consists almost entirely of SEM photos of odd globules and filaments on the complex surfaces of crumbled up meteorites, with interspersed SEMs of miscellaneous real bacteria taken from various sources — they seem to be proud of having analyzed flakes of mummy skin and hair from frozen mammoths, but I couldn’t see the point at all — do they have cause to think the substrate of a chondrite might have some correspondence to a Siberian Pleistocene mammoth guard hair? I’d be more impressed if they’d surveyed the population of weird little lumps in their rocks and found the kind of consistent morphology in a subset that you’d find in a population of bacteria. Instead, it’s a wild collection of one-offs.

There is one other kind of datum in the article: they also analyzed the mineral content of the ‘bacteria’, and report detailed breakdowns of the constitution of the blobs: there’s lots of carbon, magnesium, silicon, and sulfur in there, and virtually no nitrogen. The profiles don’t look anything like what you’d expect from organic life on Earth, but then, these are supposedly fossilized specimens from chondrites that congealed out of the gases of the solar nebula billions of years ago. Why would you expect any kind of correspondence?

The extraterrestrial ‘bacteria’ photos are a pain to browse through, as well, because they are published at a range of different magnifications, and even when they are directly comparing an SEM of one to an SEM of a real bacterium, they can’t be bothered to put them at the same scale. Peering at them and mentally tweaking the size, though, one surprising result is that all of their boojums are relatively huge — these would be big critters, more similar in size to eukaryotic cells than E. coli. And all of them preserved so well, not crushed into a smear of carbon, not ruptured and evaporated away, all just sitting there, posing, like a few billion years in a vacuum was a day in the park. Who knew that milling about in a comet for the lifetime of a solar system was such a great preservative?

I’m looking forward to the publication next year of the discovery of an extraterrestrial rabbit in a meteor. While they’re at it, they might as well throw in a bigfoot print on the surface and chupacabra coprolite from space. All will be about as convincing as this story.

While they’re at it, maybe they should try publishing it in a journal with some reputation for rigorous peer review and expectation that the data will meet certain minimal standards of evidence and professionalism.

Otherwise, this work is garbage. I’m surprised anyone is granting it any credibility at all.


Want more dismissive reviews? Read David Dobbs and Rosie Redfield. We have concensus!

An amusingly suspicious “paper”

There is a site called ScienceBlog, at scienceblog.com. Note that it is a little different from scienceblogs.com — it lacks the “s”. There are a few other differences, too: it’s a site that simply reprints press releases. Send ’em anything, and they’ll spit it back up on the web for you.

One such example is a press release titled Life on Earth came from other planets. It purports to be a summary of a peer-reviewed, published research paper.

This one:

“Life on Earth Came From Other Planets,” by R. Joseph, Ph.D. Cosmology, Vol 1. 2009.

There are a few funny things about this article. The journal Cosmology doesn’t seem to exist. Then notice “Vol. 1″…this is the inaugural issue. It contains a grand total of one (1) paper, the aforementioned article by Rhawn Joseph.

Wait! It does exist! The “journal” exists as a web page only; go ahead, here’s Cosmology, 2009, Vol 1, pages 00000. You can read the whole article, which you know was peer reviewed, because it says so in the upper left corner: “Peer Reviewed”.

Guess who the web page can be traced to? Rhawn Joseph.

I think you begin to see a pattern here. If you can’t get your crappy paper published in a legitimate journal, invent one!

The comments at scienceblog.com are hilarious, too. To his credit, the author of the site, Fred Bortz, shows up to offer objections to the weird quality of the submission; someone named Joy Haiyan Wu, who works with Rhawn, pops up a few times to complain and threaten legal action. A comment by Christopher Coffee pretty much nails the phoniness of the whole effort.

What about the paper itself? Complete garbage. It presents nothing new, makes exaggerated claims about the likelihood of bacterial life surviving in space for hundreds of millions of years (it wouldn’t), makes grand claims of revolutionizing our understanding of the origins of life, and offers nothing other than rehashed claims and denial of legitimate scientific hypotheses. You can get a taste of how poor this paper is from just the conclusion.

Life on Earth appeared while this planet was still forming. There is no proof life can be created from non-life. As only life can produce life, only panspermia is a viable scientific explanation as to the origin of Earthly life. The first life forms to appear on Earth were produced by other living creatures who were likely encased in debris ejected by the parent star nearly 5 billion years ago.

Well, life had to have come from non-life at some point, logically speaking. The claim that only life can produce life clearly had to have been wrong at some point, and panspermia doesn’t get around the fundamental problem: where did the life at that distant exploding star come from?

I haven’t even mentioned yet that the writing is incoherent and poorly organized, the paper is full of typos, and although it contains many citations, the references have been left off…and instead we get a repetition of ten ads flogging Rhawn Joseph’s self-published book.

I look forward to issue 2 of volume 1 of Cosmology. Perhaps it will have another paper by Rhawn Joseph?