Chandra Wickramasinghe replies…and fails hard

After the public scouring of Wickramasinghe’s claims that he’d found diatoms in a meteorite, the godawful HuffPo has, of course, given him a free and credulous article in which to defend himself. The amazing thing is that even in a puff piece that doesn’t challenge him at all, he shoots himself in the foot.

Plait claims that the diatoms Wickramasinghe found, "a type of algae, microscopic plant life," are simply a freshwater species found on Earth. Wickramasinghe doesn’t deny that the meteorite sample his team studied contains freshwater diatoms.

"But — there are also at least half a dozen species that diatom experts have not been able to identify," Wickramasinghe said.

Boom, we’re done. That is an open admission that his sample is contaminated. It doesn’t matter that some portion of his sample is unidentifiable — and most likely, it’s the stuff he calls ‘filaments’ and ‘red rain cells’ that aren’t even biological … he cannot claim that the only possible source of that material is outer space.

And then there’s this vague bit:

Critics have also asserted that the meteorite in question may not, in fact, be from outer space. Could it simply be an Earth rock?

According to Wickramasinghe, "This was also the guess of the Sri Lankan geologists who first looked at the rock. They had considered the possibility that the rock may be … a rock that was struck by lightning. We examined this possibility and found it to be untenable. From all the evidence we possess (and we are planning to publish this), I personally have no doubt whatsoever that this was a stone that fell from the skies."

So the expert geologists tell him it’s a terrestrial rock, and then declares on the basis of unpublished evidence that he won’t describe that it can’t be. Right. I’m unconvinced. It doesn’t even matter if it is a meteorite or not at this point — it’s contaminated, and he published it as if it were not.

How’s that astrobiology gig working out for you, Dr Wickramasinghe?

Ooops. Hot off the dramatic fizzle of the bacteria in meteorites story comes word that Chandra Wickramasinghe is losing his job and the University of Cardiff is closing their astrobiology center. Not because they oppose his work, of course, but simply because the weird science isn’t cost-effective.

It turns out it was a pretty rinky-tink operation to begin with. All it was was Wickramasinghe, getting paid a part-time salary of $24,000/year, with a little unpaid assistance from other people working at the university. In other words, the Astrobiology Center of the University of Cardiff was Chandra Wickramasinghe sitting at a desk for a few hours a week, writing effusive editorials and essays about the wonderful things astrobiology was discovering. No loss.

The appalling inanity of Denyse O’Leary

See this person? She’s the biggest, most ignorant idiot at the Discovery Institute, which says a lot, since she’s in competition with Michael Egnor.

Denyse O’Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul; and with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor of the forthcoming The Human Soul: What Neuroscience Shows Us about the Brain, the Mind, and the Difference Between the Two (Worthy, 2025). She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

She occasionally pops up on Evolution News & Views with articles that are stunning in their stupidity and written in the style of a third grade book report. Her latest effort is titled Will the Octopus Ever Find Its Place in the Evolutionary Tree?

Here you go, Denyse. Here’s its place in the evolutionary tree.

That turns up in less than 30 seconds with a google search. Scientists know where the octopus fits in the evolutionary tree. Really, Denyse is a clueless moron.

She then continues to throw out a series of non sequiturs based on her total ignorance of the subject she is writing about.

Just why the octopus — a short-lived, solitary, invertebrate exotherm — should seem as intelligent as a monkey has become quite the puzzle in recent years. Typical evolutionary explanations don’t really work. The octopus’s biological inheritance is precisely the type that we don’t associate with intelligence. For one thing, it is much more closely related to clams than to monkeys.

Uh, right. That’s true. Cephalopods are more closely related to clams than to monkeys. So? People are more closely related to hagfish than they are to cephalopods. This means absolutely nothing.

What about the fact that the octopus has nine brains? Well, do nine invertebrate brains add up to more intelligence than one? That’s a question worth asking because it probably wouldn’t work with grasshoppers or worms. That is, both types of life form have brains but it isn’t clear how an installation of nine of them in a single individual would be any smarter than just one.

The octopus does not have 9 brains. It has a network of distributed ganglia in addition to a central ganglion.

Our nervous system is more concentrated in a large brain, but we also have a substantial network of ganglia, an autonomic nervous system, and an enteric nervous system. Grasshoppers and worms also have a chain of ganglia. What is her point? I don’t think she knows.

Naturally, the octopus has been singled out for a lot of research attention and a recent genetic find has attracted attention: A detailed genetic analysis found that the common octopus has 2.8 billion base pairs of genes…

For comparison, humans have about three billion. Chimpanzees have about the same. Is a large genome a necessary factor in advanced intelligence? It’s too early to be sure but the researchers hope to advance investigations into “more distantly related molluscs such as clams or snails” — species hardly known for intelligence. That might provide a more focused comparison.

Again, what is her point? We have 3 billion base pairs in our genome, so do chimpanzees, so do mice. Axolotls have 32 billion base pairs. There is no correlation between number of base pairs and intelligence. She hasn’t done the most basic, crude level of research to answer the question.

Some other finds about octopus intelligence in recent years give us some sense of why one researcher wondered if the species had an extraterrestrial origin. As PBS tells it,

The unique nature of octopus intelligence has sparked a rather peculiar debate recently: A group of researchers … has suggested that an octopus’ mind might seem so foreign because it may be alien. The hypothesis, published in 2018, states that octopus evolution may have arisen, in part, because of a retrovirus (a type of RNA virus) delivered to Earth by an asteroid during the Cambrian explosion about 541 million years ago.

Oh god. She’s digging deep into the fringe, loony brigade — she’s citing sources from the panspermia mafia, which are not at all credible. When you’re citing people who claim Squids are from SPAAAAAAAAACE!, you lose.

Now she’s just going to throw more shit at the wall, but nothing is going to stick.

Anyway, here are some of the other finds researchers puzzle over:

Many sources have noted that each arm of an octopus can communicate with other arms, bypassing the brain. But, says behavioral neuroscientist and astrobiologist Dominic Sivitilli (who does not think that octopuses are aliens!), it’s even more complex than that: “There are tens of thousands of both chemical and mechanical receptors in each sucker,” he says. “To put that into perspective, each of your fingertips has a few hundred mechanical receptors.”

So octopuses have a well-integrated nervous system and a rich sensory repertoire, therefore…what? We’re supposed to be surprised that they exhibit complex behaviors? I don’t even know what she’s arguing anymore.

Such a system of information-gathering seems fundamentally different from that of the intelligent mammals we know. That raises a question. Are comparisons in intelligence between octopuses and, say, mammals even meaningful?

Another factor that may be linked to high cephalopod intelligence is gene editing…

Hey, I just finished a week of lecturing to my students about post-translational and post-transcriptional modification of gene products. Every organism does it. Cephalopods have one flavor of post-transcriptional modification that they use extensively, which is interesting, but not the game changer Denyse imagines, and it has nothing to do with differences in intelligence. I don’t think she has any idea what’s going on in molecular biology.

In February of this year researchers got a look at octopus brain waves and found out, in one reporter’s words, that their brains behave in an “alien” way…

This is what scientists like to call an “active research area.” It is anyone’s guess whether the octopus will ever find its way into a tidy evolutionary tree. Perhaps it’s not wise to wade in with that goal foremost in mind.

I already did that, see the top of the post.

I am totally mystified about why the Discovery Institute continues to promote someone as obviously dumb and uneducated as Denyse O’Leary — she can’t even write well, despite her degree in English. My current hypothesis is that they keep her around because her existence is an affront to intelligent people everywhere — you know, the Darwinian thought police like P. Z. Myers. Alternatively, a simpler hypothesis might be that all the people managing the Discovery Institute are just as stupid as Denyse O’Leary, she’s simply worse at masking it in front of the public.

I guess I need to say it again: squid didn’t come from space

Fuck panspermists, and fuck creationists. They are pretty much indistinguishable. It’s their fault I had to listen to Ann Gauger of the Discovery Institute misrepresent wackaloons like Chandra Wickramasinghe as representative of good evolutionary thinking, in a podcast titled Octopuses from the Sky: Scientists Propose “Aliens Seeded Life on Earth”. You can see why that caught my eye.

On this ID the Future from the vault, biologist Ann Gauger discuss panspermia, the topic of a peer-reviewed paper published recently by several very serious scientists. Panspermia tries to sidestep problems in origins biology by suggesting that, to quote the title of an old science fiction movie, “it came from outer space.” And yes, according to this explanation, maybe aliens even sent it our way. Maybe (honest — this is a real theory) the first octopuses came here special delivery, as encapsulated embryos falling from the sky. Anything but intelligent design, for these very serious scientists. Tune in to learn from Dr. Gauger what precisely drove these scientists to such an explanation.

They are also indistinguishable from Kent Hovind and Matt Powell, who have also promoted this idea that serious scientists seriously propose that squid seriously fell from comets to land on Earth. Gauger even claims that “some scientists say” bats came from outer space (I’ve never seen such a claim), because the fossil record of bats is very poor, so they couldn’t possibly have evolved.

That gives the game away. Bad scientists, panspermists and creationists, see any absence of evidence is evidence for their cockamamie ideas, and ignore all the evidence against them. Bats are poorly preserved as fossils, but we’ve got unambiguous molecular and genetic evidence that bats are mammals, not aliens, just as we have unambiguous evidence that octopuses are molluscs. There’s no reason to think that any complex organism fell from a comet. Anyone who argues otherwise is an ignorant loon. No, no one with any credibility in science thinks panspermia is a scientific idea; a few people have suggested it as a possibility — a remote possibility that complex molecules falling from space might have contributed to the evolution of protocells — but they all have to agree that no, there is no scientific evidence of such a thing, and further, most would agree that a more productive hypothesis, one with real evidence, is that life arose here on Earth from prebiotic chemistry.

To argue that scientists really believe that crap is deceitful scumbaggery that aligns Intelligent Design creationism with literalist Biblical creationism. They both lie.

A trans Tory?

A member of parliament, Jamie Wallis, has come out as the first known trans MP.

Jamie Wallis, who was elected in 2019, is the first MP to come out as trans.

The Conservative MP for Bridgend said a man sent pictures to his family and demanded £50,000 in 2020. He said he was raped in a separate incident.

Mr Wallis wrote that after he was raped “things have taken a tumble. I am not ok.”

The MP confirmed that he fled the scene of a car crash two months after he was raped.

A car crash? Wait, what does this have to do with anything?

Mr Wallis was arrested last year on suspicion of driving while unfit, following an incident where a car hit a lamppost at Church Road in Llanblethian, Vale of Glamorgan.

“When I crashed my car on the 28th November I fled the scene. I did so because I was terrified,” he wrote.

The MP said he suffered with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and “I honestly have no idea what I was doing except I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of fear”.

I think this person has problems that have nothing to do with his trans status. Wallis has been a fringe pseudoscientist for a long time, as I pointed out a few years ago. Their only “scientific” publications are with Chandra Wickramasinghe, on panspermia, and are best summarized as uninformed, credulous kookiness. Unfortunately, this means that the Gender Criticals are going to elevate Wallis as representative of trans Bad Science. It’s already happening. I got cited by a homophobe in a long thread on Twitter that is trying to discredit opposition to conversion therapy by pointing out all the other stupid things Wallis believes.

This is a tactic the GCs love: find the rare trans rapist, the weird trans pseudoscientist, the trans activist arrested for jaywalking or whatever, and make them the face of the movement so they can slander the whole group as kooky jaywalking rapists. Never mind all the legitimate, credible biologists who can tell you that sex and gender are more complex than you can imagine, or the law-abiding, thoughtful trans folk who just want to be left alone — it’s all guilt by association. Jamie Wallis is going to be elevated as the face of trans science now, despite the fact that they were recognized as a very silly person for years before they came out, and was never regarded as a particularly credible authority on science at all.

It’s funny how Fred Hoyle was definitely far loonier than Wallis, yet we don’t trot out his cis-het status as evidence that there’s something wrong with all of the normies. Why, it’s almost as if wisdom was totally orthogonal to gender preference!

Friday Cephalopod: Half a billion years of making me happy

Maybe it doesn’t look like much, and maybe it’s tiny at only 1.5cm long, but this is a 522 million year old cephalopod shell, found in Newfoundland.

To be fair, the investigators are cautious, only tentatively calling it a cephalopod…but it’s an oval shell with a siphuncle. None of the squishy bits are preserved, unfortunately, but it’s enough to suggest that this is a cephalopod, especially since it’s at about the right time period predicted.

One sad thing about it is that we still feel a need to issue a disclaimer when commenting on it.

“Cephalopods are really different from other mollusks,” Vecchione said. Still, “we do know that they’re mollusks, they’re not from outer space like some people have said.”

Yeah, those assholes from the Panspermia Mafia, Wickramasinghe etc., have really tainted the public perception of cephalopods.

Don’t drag me into your petty squabbles, loons

I got the strangest email from Ted Steele, one of those panspermia kooks, addressed to Paul Davies, complaining about priority. Why he wrote to me, I don’t know — I’m not a fan of either of them. It’s just so odd what set these guys off.

Here it is.

Dear Paul :

Scientific Behaviour of Paul Davies

I am writing to you directly and to ASU President Professor Michael Crow, and copied to many other scientific colleagues who know exactly what I am talking about [I guess that’s me?]

We are living through our Covid-era where outright lies and misinformation is being pushed on us on a grand scale- by the main stream media in lock step with BigPharma, Big Government and, and in many distressing situations, as we have here, by senior scientists who operate at the sophisticated extreme end of dishonesty, knavery and thievery.

There is a news article in The Guardian newspaper, and, as I now understand it , also promulgated in some low grade science weeklies, which paints Arizona State University’s Professor Paul Davies as the essential founder of the new scientific disciple of Astrobiology.

Viruses may exist ‘elsewhere in the universe’, warns scientist (

The article quotes Davies on the possibility of extraterrestrial viruses, which he thinks is possible (sure, why not), but that we shouldn’t worry about them, and he says only a few batty things like this:

A friend of mine thinks most, but certainly a significant fraction, of the human genome is actually of viral origin, said Davies, whose new book, What’s Eating the Universe?, is published this week.

I think the offense to Steele, though, is that the article calls Davies “an astrobiologist”. Not the essential founder of the new scientific disciple of Astrobiology, just “an astrobiologist”. This is unforgivable.

This is scientific misconduct pure and simple – somewhat more sophisticated than many, but misconduct nevertheless. The published scientific record in science is inviolate, it cannot be messed with.

The strong objective scientific concept that the universe is teeming with life and the marshalling of the key evidence, experimental data and observations- and their appropriate critical analysis and interpretation, can be fairly traced and attributed directly to Professor Sir Fred Hoyle and Professor N Chandra Wickramasinghe. These two great scientists are in the that special home that human history knows as the “ Pantheon”.

The Pantheon? Really? I’ve been calling Wickramasinghe the boss of the Panspermia Mafia, but maybe I have to upgrade “mafia” to “cult”.

You allude to Fred Hoyle in your article, but I could not figure out why then there was no proper attribution of scientific priority, particularly because at your Wikipedia site you make the following strong claim in your CV

“In 1970, he completed his PhD under the supervision of Michael J. Seaton and Sigurd Zienau at University College London.[1][2] He then carried out postdoctoral research under Fred Hoyle at the University of Cambridge. “

This claim is then repeated in the Wiki side box.

Why then not cite all the prior body of work by Hoyle and Wickramasinghe and colleagues if you were one of Fred’s post docs?

This is a strange argument. That is what Wikipedia says, but Wikipedia is not Paul Davies CV. If you look at Davies’ actual CV, he doesn’t mention being a post-doc with Hoyle. That’s a curious insertion by who ever did create that Wikipedia entry.

But also, even if he had been Hoyle’s post-doc, that association does not imply that one has to “cite all the prior body of work” in a short article in the Guardian.

But you see that statement in your CV is a lie i.e. untrue, it is bogus. It may well be a real fantasy in Paul Davies’ mind, but it is a lie nevertheless. Fred would be turning in his grave. As I understand it he told you to go away.

Oooh. Oooh. Do tell. Spill that tea.

If Hoyle told Davies to go away, that would somewhat enhance Davies’ reputation to my mind. Ted Steele, though, must be in his dotage to take such offense at a wiki article that Davies did not write and to be so outraged that a journalist clumped Davies in the same category as Hoyle and Wickramasinghe. He’s just beginning to get worked up.

There are two fundamental conditions that distinguish true scientists from the run of the mill ordinary behaviour, which all real scientists learn as they develop and continue in their search for the truth:

• When the facts change, you change your mind.

• Report and tell the Truth – do not lie and cheat.

These two guiding principles of course are also being torn up on a grand scale right now. But they still need to be restated, and when transgressed, firmly called out :

Paul Davies… you are simply a grub criminal trying to make a fast buck.

The whole matter is really quite disgusting – but has to be exposed for what it is.

Then he goes on to include a link to all of Chandra Wickramasinghe’s articles, because apparently that is what one must do nowadays.

It’s amazing what petty bullshit will trigger the Panspermia Cult. ‘Oh no, you didn’t praise Hoyle and Wickramasinghe enough!’ I also wouldn’t be surprised if Steele and Wickramasinghe and gang are prepared to claim that SARS-CoV-2 fell from outer space. Oh, wait, he already has.

I’m hoping for a Kilkenny-cats-style outcome.

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, 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.

Parasites flooding the COVID-19 literature with toxic nonsense

A viewer of my video about the claim that viruses come from space noticed something I had ignored: the list of coauthors on the Steele/Wickramasinghe paper. Wickramasinghe always stacks on a long list of coauthors, which is probably one of the ways he manages to buy in support for his trash papers. Anyway, one of his coauthors is peculiar: a fellow named Robert Temple, who is affiliated with something called The History of Chinese Science and Culture Foundation, which appears to be nothing but a flashy website…an odd choice when you’re asked to list your prestigious associations. But then, Temple only has an undergraduate degree and exercises little discrimination in what he puts on his CV — I get the impression he’s one of those people desperate to get academic validation, but not so desperate that he’s willing to do the work.

His name seems to find its way on a fair number of Wickramasinghe’s papers, like this one, Growing Evidence against Global Infection-Driven by Person-to-Person Transfer of COVID-19, which tries to argue that you can’t get infected by contact with fluids from other people, so, by implication, everyone who has COVID-19 was directly infected by an infall of the virus from outer space. There may be some transmission through handshakes, he claims, but it’s primarily caused by a rain of viruses from space. This is irresponsible nonsense, and one could ask what the heck a guy with an undergraduate degree in Sanskrit is doing on the list of authors anyway. I guess if it also includes Brig Klyce, who my fellow old-timers from will remember as the panspermia wackaloon who haunted newsgroups, they might as well chuck in any ol’ weirdo who voices support for their claims.

Jason Colavito has the full scoop on Temple. His claim to fame rests on a book called The Sirius Mystery: New Scientific Evidence of Alien Contact 5,000 Years Ago, in which he argues that “amphibious extraterrestrials from Sirius” provided advanced scientific knowledge to the Dogon people and to the Sumerians and to any random ancient culture he doesn’t believe was smart enough to actually have done the things they did.

Yeah, he’s one of those pseudoarchaeologists who believes in ancient astronauts. On the basis of those exemplary credentials, he’s now getting stuffed onto papers by the Panspermia Mafia. If you must, you can listen to him blather on for over an hour and a half on the Dogon people (I wasn’t able to listen to it — he’s one of the more goddamn boring and pretentious lecturers I’ve ever heard). Also, annoyingly, he calls himself “Professor Temple”, despite having no academic appointment anywhere. He obviously knows nothing about virology, epidemiology, or biology in general — he’s just a poseur who gets his name on papers he’s not qualified to critique. But then, I could say the same thing about Chandra Wickramasinghe.

When I tried to track down this coauthor, though, another discovery is that the Wickramasinghe group have gone on a disgraceful binge recently, taking advantage of legitimate concerns about the pandemic to flood various journals with bad papers about COVID-19. I’ll repeat what I said before: if a paper has Wickramasinghe’s name on it, it’s garbage. Use his name as a filter, and you’ll cull out a lot of dross. It’s too bad the scientific publishers haven’t figured this out yet and blacklisted him, as they should.

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.