So far loyal readers of Skeptophilia have sent me four different links to the same underlying story, along with a message along the lines of "Whaddya think of this?" The links all take various angles on a paper by Rhawn Gabriel Joseph and Xinli Wei in Advances in Microbiology claiming that photos taken by the Mars rover Curiosity show the presence of live fungi.
Without further ado, here are the photos, which are real enough:
[T]here may be some strong and honest articles published in SCIRP journals. However, these articles are devalued and stigmatized by association with all the junk science that SCIRP publishes. The authors of the good articles are being victimized by the publisher’s policy of publishing pseudoscientific articles like “Basic Principles Underlying Human Physiology.” SCIRP only rarely retracts articles, preferring instead to protect the interests of its customers, the paying authors.
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.Look, no one would be more excited than me if the rovers did discover Martian life. Honestly, it's not that I think microbial life on Mars is all that unlikely. It's just that you don't support your claims in science by pointing and yelling, "Hey, lookit that!" over and over. If these are fungal spores, then there are a lot of them, so it's only a matter of time before they'll be detected by the actual rigorous biochemical analysis the rovers are equipped to do.
I have often been amazed and appalled at how the same evidence, the same occurrences, or the same situation can lead two equally-intelligent people to entirely different conclusions. How often have you heard about people committing similar crimes and getting wildly different sentences, or identical symptoms in two different patients resulting in completely different diagnoses or treatments?
In Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment, authors Daniel Kahneman (whose wonderful book Thinking, Fast and Slow was a previous Skeptophilia book-of-the-week), Olivier Sibony, and Cass Sunstein analyze the cause of this "noise" in human decision-making, and -- more importantly -- discuss how we can avoid its pitfalls. Anything we can to to detect and expunge biases is a step in the right direction; even if the majority of us aren't judges or doctors, most of us are voters, and our decisions can make an enormous difference. Those choices are critical, and it's incumbent upon us all to make them in the most clear-headed, evidence-based fashion we can manage.
Kahneman, Sibony, and Sunstein have written a book that should be required reading for anyone entering a voting booth -- and should also be a part of every high school curriculum in the world. Read it. It'll open your eyes to the obstacles we have to logical clarity, and show you the path to avoiding them.
[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]