A group of scientists have found a single fragment of a diatom in the lower stratosphere (for more info on diatoms, click here) and have jumped to the only obvious conclusion available: that it must have come from space. Published in The* Journal of Cosmology*, the authors describe using an ultra high-tech device, described as “a closeable draw carried by a balloon”, the scientists launched the device from Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, UK. Now, I’m no astrobiologist, but this would seem to violate the first rule of looking for space plankton: AVOID LAUNCHING YOUR SAMPLING BALLOON BY THE SEA! Maybe I’m being overly harsh, I’m sure they accounted for these things. Let’s read the text below from their paper:
You see, the diatom can’t have been a contaminant because “diatoms do not occur on pristine balloons, laboratory air, nor are they associated with laboratory workers.” It’s a water tight argument, except for the fact that this pristine balloon and these laboratory workers had just been to… the SEASIDE!
But wait, the scientists also used a control:
That clinches it then. The use of a single control, where the draw was not opened, is clearly evidence that contamination did not occur, and not just proof that: A) finding a single diatom fragment in the atmosphere is a very rare (but perfectly plausible) event, and B) That this single diatom fragment probably fell into the draw from the surface of the balloon that had just been to the SEASIDE.
The scientists mention Occam’s Razor a number of times in their paper, a principle which states that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. I wonder what is more plausible: that a diatom fragment managed to find it’s way into Earth’s lower stratosphere from some far-flung corner of the solar system; or a diatom-like fragment managed to find it’s way into a piece of apparatus whilst somewhere on Earth during a poorly designed experiment.
*Skeptical blogger and biologist PZ Myers said of the journal “… it isn’t a real science journal at all, but is the… website of a small group… obsessed with the idea of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe that life originated in outer space and simply rained down on Earth.”