The headlines have of course been popping up …
- Aliens do exist and have been found living in the clouds above the Peak District – Telegraph
- Balloon sent to edge of atmosphere picks up organisms ‘that can only have come from space’ – Daily Mail
OK, so have they actually discovered “alien organisms”?
Short answer … no.
There done, that was a short posting today.
Oh OK then, lets look at some of the details.
So what exactly did they do and is it a credible conclusion?
They launched a balloon carrying sterile microscope slides up into the stratosphere and exposed them only when it got up there. Once back on the ground they took a look and … “gasp … look, here are some bacteria and some diatoms we have not seen before and don’t know about, so it must be aliens”.
Let me translate – “Oh Look, I have no idea how these got up there so it must be evidence of aliens, that big blue planet just below me bursting with a vast diversity of life could not possibly be the source, it must have been meteorites”. Sigh! … so yes, while the actual samples collected are indeed interesting, the huge leap made to “aliens” is a conclusion that is based upon an argument from ignorance.
I’m not the first to make this observation, the Telegraph article quotes them as saying …
“Most people will assume that these biological particles must have just drifted up to the stratosphere from Earth.”
That is correct, but then that is perhaps because most people have a bit of common sense. They then go on to attempt to refute that as follows …
“But it is generally accepted that a particle of the size found cannot be lifted from Earth to heights of, for example, 27km.”
While they might indeed have made that assumption, what they discovered has proven that assumption to be incorrect. The far more insane conclusion is to stick with the original assumption, and instead make a leap to “aliens” as the answer for no justifiable reason at all.
Perhaps I’m wrong
I often am wrong; this information comes from Professor Milton Wainwright who heads the department of molecular biology and biotechnology at the University of Sheffield, and it has also been published in a peer review journal called the Journal of Cosmology, so it just must be true … right?
Wrong … the things that are true, are true because they can be verified using actual data. The conclusions reached need to be reasonable, and account for all possibilities and should not be based upon a line of thinking that insists some initial assumption just must be true for no reason at all and them make a leap to the extraordinary claim of “aliens”.
The Journal of Cosmology
It claims to be a credible peer-reviewed journal, but it is not, and as has been pointed out by Phil Plait …
… the pedigree of the Journal of Cosmology is not exactly sterling. For example, they published an error-laden article on a purported planet in the outer solar system, where the author, Gabriel Beck, took the opportunity to issue a grade-school insult at me. I say this not in retribution or because his words stung (trust me, I hear worse all the time), but because it shows the journal may be somewhat less than academic.
And is listed here as a Journal to avoid.
In fact, go check out the wikipedia page for this journal; clearly it has almost no credibility at all. As an example of that, here is a quote from blogger and biologist PZ Myres that I found within that Wikipedia article
“… it isn’t a real science journal at all, but is the… website of a small group… obsessed with the idea of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe that life originated in outer space and simply rained down on Earth.”
I’d love the “aliens” claim to be true, I really would, the thought that we have got evidence for life out there is truly enticing. Sadly however, a conclusion based upon an assumption that just must be true hence “aliens”, and a paper published within a fringe journal that only attracts crackpots and is laughed at by everybody, just does not hit any standard of credibility.
It might indeed fool the press, but it should not be permitted to fool you.