But you can’t realistically ask scientists not to discuss this work publicly, in their coffee rooms, by the water cooler, at the café or other forums. That includes if media ask them for an opinion, or on their blogs.

The Guardian’s recently created “Science Story Tracker” has done an excellent job of cataloguing the evolution of this controversial story from day one, when people were still speculating about the discovery of aliens. (The site has tracked the unfolding of four stories since it was launched in June, and this latest effort really exemplifies the value of this unique blog.)

How many more installments will we see? Perhaps only one, Zimmer guessed in his post for Slate.

“Critics say that a few straightforward tests on the bacteria would show whether they really do have arsenic-based DNA once and for all,” he reported. “And the NASA scientists say they’re ready to hand out GFAJ-1 to researchers who want to study it. This controversy may be burning brightly at the moment, but it probably won’t burn for long.”

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