“My research team and I are aware that our peer-reviewed Science article has generated some technical questions and challenges from within the scientific community. Questions raised so far have been consistent with the range of issues outlined by journalist Elizabeth Pennisi in her Science news article, which was published along with our research. For instance, other scientists have asked whether the bacteria had truly incorporated arsenic into their DNA, and whether the microbes had completely stopped consuming phosphorus. Our manuscript was thoroughly reviewed and accepted for publication by Science; we presented our data and results and drew our conclusions based on what we showed. But we welcome lively debate since we recognize that scholarly discourse moves science forward. We’ve been concerned that some conclusions have been drawn based on claims not made in our paper. In response, it’s our understanding that Science is in the process of making our article freely available to the public for the next two weeks to ensure that all researchers have full access to the findings. We invite others to read the paper and submit any responses to Science for review so that we can officially respond. Meanwhile, we are preparing a list of “frequently asked questions” to help promote general understanding of our work.”]
That irked Dobbs, who penned a second post at Neuron Culture, arguing that:
This is a call to pre-Enlightenment thinking. Brown is telling us to judge utterances not by their content, not even by the integrity, reputation, and experience of the individuals who deliver them, but by whether they’re delivered from the proper place in the proper building — in pre-Enlightenment days, the Church of Rome; in Brown’s post-arsenic days, the Church of the Peer-reviewed Journal.
It’s an extraordinary dismissal. Rosie Redfield is a full-bore member of the academy and a researcher in the field under question. She is — to extend the metaphor — a priest. But though Redfield wears the proper robes, Brown wants to dismiss her because she’s not standing on the proper altar.
Science journalist Carl Zimmer got a similar reaction when he decided to check up on the online criticisms from Redfield and others. On Monday, he contacted a dozen experts for an analysis published by Slate. “Almost unanimously,” he found, “they think the NASA scientists have failed to make their case.”
When Zimmer got in touch with the two of those scientists, however, they “politely declined” to respond to the criticism:
“We cannot indiscriminately wade into a media forum for debate at this time,” declared senior author Ronald Oremland of the U.S. Geological Survey. “If we are wrong, then other scientists should be motivated to reproduce our findings. If we are right (and I am strongly convinced that we are) our competitors will agree and help to advance our understanding of this phenomenon. I am eager for them to do so.”
The apparent snub raised the hackles of scientists and bloggers alike. Zimmer reported that despite Redfield’s low opinion of the paper published in Science, “she thinks it’s fine for the NASA scientists to hold off responding to their critics,” and that she is working on a formal letter to Science detailing her objections [Update, Dec. 8: Redfield has posted her letter to Science on her blog]. But, Zimmer continued, UC Davis microbiologist Jonathan Eisen won’t “let the scientists off so easily”:
“If they say they will not address the responses except in journals, that is absurd,” he said. “They carried out science by press release and press conference. Whether they were right or not in their claims, they are now hypocritical if they say that the only response should be in the scientific literature.”
Reactions were similar elsewhere in the blogosphere. On his Code for Life blog, computational biologist Grant Jacobs wrote:
I can sympathize with wanting the science to be discussed by people informed on the science, and the traditional channel is research journals. I can sympathize that replying in person, individually one-on-one, to each criticism would be onerous and not practical given how much of it there is.