Thursday, September 03, 2009

Larry Moran has a great post on the dangers of taking science headline grabbers too seriously. In this case, early claims in the 1990s that life originated 3.5 billion years ago....
What does all this tell us about early life? It tells us that the evidence for life before 3 billion years ago is being challenged in the scientific literature. You can no longer assume that life existed that early in the history of Earth. It may have, but it would be irresponsible to put such a claim in the textbooks without a note of caution.

What else does this story tell us? It tells us something about how science is communicated to the general public. The claims of early life were widely reported in the media. Every new discovery of trace fossils and trace molecules was breathlessly reported in countless newspapers and magazines. Nobody hears about the follow-up studies that casts doubt on those claims. Nobody hears about the scientists who were heroes in the past but seem less-than-heroic today.

That's a shame because that's how science really works. That's why science is so much fun.

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