"Pay my troops no mind; they're just on a fact-finding mission."

Mono Lake: Another ‘Triumph’ For Feminism In STEM?

“Late in 2010, scientists participating in a NASA news conference dropped a bombshell: they had found evidence that bacteria in California’s Mono Lake were metabolizing arsenic and using it in their life processes.
This was huge news, since arsenic is toxic for carbon based life. If some forms of life evolved a way to process it, this would open up a whole new field of biochemistry!…

However, almost immediately, the work came under attack. Biochemists accused the original team of not performing the research carefully (to put it delicately).

The original team, lead by Felisa Wolfe-Simon, has responded, saying they need to see a fully peer-reviewed paper before making up their minds.
I’ll note that emotions have run fairly high throughout this saga. Dr. Wolfe-Simon got a lot of attention…”

A LOT of attention. Before being refuted she was ranked in the top 100 most important people of 2011 by Time magazine.

Felisa Wolfe-Simon

Hmm. Hyphenated name. To be “equal” with a hubby? According to wiki, alma mater is Oberlin, a super liberal college more known more for the arts than its science programs; the type of enivronment where feminism is likely to be strong.

Some of the credit for this article must be given to Eric.

8 responses to “Mono Lake: Another ‘Triumph’ For Feminism In STEM?

  1. Abelard Lindsey October 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Having an idle curiosity in astrobiology, I followed this work starting with the original announcement. It is true that the research team, led by Felisa Wolfe-Simon, jumped to a conclusion prematurely. However, Felisa Wolfe-Simon’s work is no worse than 99% of the other government-funded scientists, the vast majority of whom are men. I know of many other cases where research teams, led by men, also jumped to premature conclusions. Another good example, also in astrobiology, is the “Martian” meteorite dug up in Antarctica in 1996. This was claimed as evidence of past life on Mars by David McKay, even though the patterns in this meteorite were most likely formed by non-biological processes.

    Feminism has nothing to do with this. Unfortunately, misrepresentation and even outright fraud is all too common in science. Ms. Wolfe-Simon’s work is quite representative of that in much of science. She is no better or worse than most others.

    • Giovanni Dannato October 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm

      Thanks for speaking on this subject as it seems you know quite a bit about it.
      Is this kind of corruption that commonplace in the scientific community?

      I’m already fairly cynical about these things and you’re saying it’s worse.

      After all, when one is projecting one’s desires on the results in order to get attention, we are no longer in the realm of science at all.

      Thus one immediately wonders if affirmative action style policies in STEM fields might play a role here in allowing less competent attention seekers to rise to the top.

      • Abelard Lindsey October 11, 2012 at 10:22 pm

        The problem is academia and government funding. Everything is based around writing papers and getting more grant money. Very little scientific research leads to new technology and products because there is very little motivation to do such work. I really don’t think feminism and affirmative action politics has much to do with it at all. This system is bad even when composed entirely by men.

      • Eric Patton October 12, 2012 at 12:49 am

        I definitely agree, I posted this awhile ago and it hasn’t changed a bit:

        You are judged partially by your ability to publish lots of papers, regardless of whether they are particularly useful. Usually your work won’t be cited often unless you are in a newer field, so no one is going to take a serious look at it. At the same time there are a few fields most journals won’t touch with a 10 foot pole, it’s a weird situation.

        Do you think the open access journals will help to alleviate this?

  2. Abelard Lindsey October 11, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    There is a legitimate scientific basis in Ms. Wolfe-Simon’s work. Of the 6 major elements used in biology, Phosphorus is the least commonly available, making it the most likely to be substituted for than the other 5 elements. Arsenic is right below Phosphorus on the periodic table, making it the closest substitute for Phosphorus. More significantly, the relative abundances of Phosphorus and Arsenic are closer together than those of any of the other 5 elements (e.g. Arsenic is more common relative to Phosphorus than Silicon is to Carbon). So, the most probable substitute for any of the 6 elements that make up life would be Arsenic in place of Phosphorus. Ms. Wolfe-Simon’s hypothesis was entirely plausible. That it later turned out to be incorrect is just simply the scientific method in action.

    • Giovanni Dannato October 12, 2012 at 1:15 am

      Yeah, it’s an awesome hypothesis but I remember this being touted as truth with substantial evidence to back it up.
      My stomach definitely sank when I looked up the Mono Lake discoveries to make a cool Forward Base post only to discover that it was basically a big hoax and that some smug-looking lady with a hyphenated name was the culprit.
      Perhaps I’ve jumped to conclusions but it sure doesn’t allay my disappointment.

      I remember even with the Mars rock “microbes”, there was still a speculative element about it. Even with the cover on Time magazine.

    • Giovanni Dannato October 12, 2012 at 2:44 am

      Oh yeah. I looked up your pseudonym.

      I don’t get the divide between mechanists and shapers.

      Ought not both mechanical and biological human enhancement strategies be used together?

      • Abelard Lindsey October 13, 2012 at 5:19 pm

        Ought not both mechanical and biological human enhancement strategies be used together?

        Of course. But all good stories involve conflict. Bruce Sterling chose to have the divide between bios and cybers.

        Also, realize this divide between increasingly irrelevant as the story goes on, with new clades and factions forming and breaking up all the time throughout the “system”. Community and anarchy. Life moves in clades.

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