“While we all have to have rules and fast heuristics for judging credibility, a central tenet of empiricism is that authority rests not in institutions or people but in facts and evidence,” Dobbs wrote. “It may make sense to be extra skeptical of something published in the Journal of Cosmology and covered first at Fox, but to cite those venues as part of your proof something is false is rather unscientific. The value of an idea depends not on its point of origin but in its testing.”

That may be true, but as Boyle reported in his first post for MSNBC.com, without stronger evidence to begin with, “More than one expert wondered why the research merited any news coverage at all.” If Fox News had not bit on Hoover’s juicy exclusive—or if it had covered it with the skepticism it deserved—the flurry of articles denouncing the research might have been avoided. It’s doubtful, though. Anything having to do with extraterrestrials has a way of creating a media frenzy. But reporters have obviously learned from frenzies past.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.