Continued from page 1

And while Hoover's paper in the journal lists him as a “Ph.D.,” NASA’s solar physics website does not mention a doctorate. A colleague of Hoover's said he acknowledges that he doesn’t have the advanced degree. Schild said someone at the journal _ he doesn’t know who _ may have inadvertently listed Hoover with the doctorate title.

Top planetary scientists, including those who study meteorites, are at a conference in Houston this week and this was the talk _ albeit mostly in a can-you-believe-this-stuff way, said Harry “Hap” McSween, one of world’s foremost experts in meteorites.

“I don’t think anybody accepts this idea,” McSween said. “Nobody thinks they are extraterrestrial.”

McSween has studied one of the meteorites cited _ the one that fell to France in 1864. He said it was in “atrocious” condition at a Paris Museum with noticeable contamination. There was a vein in the rock that hadn’t been there in old photographs, a sign of creeping moisture. That makes sense because even NASA moon rocks, hermitically stored, have been contaminated with Earthly microbes, he said.

McSween and other scientists said they had hoped the public would ignore reports about the study, but they didn’t. It was on the top of Yahoo News much of Monday.

“It looks like it’s kind of viral,” McSween said. “It’s extraterrestrial life, that’s why.”

For biologist Redfield, it was just another case of a scientist who’s not a biologist tinkering in a field he doesn’t know.

One of the first rules for biologists is just because one thing looks like another doesn’t mean the two things are the same, she said.

“These guys make some stupid announcement completely ignoring all the rules of biology and then get all the publicity,” Redfield said.

For McSween and Redfield it’s deja vu. McSween criticized the 1996 discovery, which had been announced by then-President Bill Clinton on the White House south lawn. Over the years, scientist after scientist chipped away at the basis of that Mars meteorite finding and now it’s not generally accepted as proof of alien life.

And that study had stronger peer review and more supporting lines of evidence, Redfield and McSween said.

Seth Shostak, an astronomer who searches for intelligent alien life, desperately wanted to believe the reports. But when he read the Hoover study, he ended up disappointed.

“It looks very, very doubtful, which is a shame from several points of view,” said Shostak, a senior scientist at the SETI Institute in California. “But that’s the way science is. People make claims that often don’t hold up. That’s the nature of science.”



Story Continues →