The bold news headlines seemed clear—and overstated, in the case of a Digital Trends article (carried by Yahoo! News) announcing, “NASA scientist finds evidence of alien life.” While other headlines were slightly more conservative in their wording, the tone of much of the initial media coverage paralleled the Digital Trends report, whose first paragraph informed readers, “Aliens exist, and we have proof.”
What’s the news? NASA astrobiologist Richard Hoover has published research in the Journal of Cosmology in which he purportedly documents fossils of “microscopic earthworm-like creatures” found inside meteorites. Hoover insists the objects could not be the result of contamination. (You can read our initial reaction to the news in Alleged Alien Life in Meteorite.) “I interpret it as indicating that life is more broadly distributed than restricted strictly to the planet earth,” Hoover told FoxNews.com.
Among the points we noted in our earlier coverage are, first, that pieces of Hoover’s research had actually been announced years ago and, second, that even a great many non-creationists have been quick to criticize the research. For instance, none of our preferred news sources even bothered to report on the find, although ScienceNOW sibling ScienceInsider featured the story Bugs From Space? Forget It. Among the relevant details in that article:
Planetary scientists . . . fear that for the third time in 50 years they are being dragged into a dubious controversy that will do science little good. Whether they have closely examined the paper . . . or only heard about it in the hallways, the reaction is the same: not again.
In perhaps the most infamous earlier episode, a group of researchers at a 1996 NASA press conference showed photomicrographs of squiggly, wormlike objects that they had found in a meteorite from Mars. The wormy objects drew immediate criticism and soon turned out to be nothing more than suggestively shaped minerals viewed with an exceptionally powerful microscope.
[One meteoriticist] can’t say what Hoover’s objects are, but he sees no reason to think they are biological. The filaments are too simple to even hint at a biological origin[.] . . . Their shapes could easily have been generated by nonliving chemical reactions[.]
Along the same lines, one reader passed along a Google News listing revealing a slew of other articles questioning both the research itself and, perhaps even more strongly, the hasty and generally credulous initial reporting. A Huffington Post article even claims Hoover was misleadingly listed by the Journal of Cosmology as possessing a PhD when he lacks one, a claim apparently acknowledged by a NASA representative.
The Journal of Cosmology is strange in itself. Although the journal website bills itself as a “Prestigious Scientific Journal” [sic], an official statement on the website regarding Hoover’s research called critics of the research “crackpots,” “charlatans,” and even “[t]errorist[s].” The journal appears to have been in existence less than two years, and its website brazenly peddles books, many of which appear to have been authored by the journal’s editors. Interestingly, the books all seem to dogmatically defend the idea that life on earth came from outer space, even insisting that the idea “overturns Darwin’s theory of evolution.” In fact, the journal has even published an article on Genesis’s account of creation, though it is not from a young-earth creation perspective nor is it representative of the diverse topics tackled in the journal’s articles. (National Geographic-affiliated blog Breaking Orbit also carries an interesting post about the journal and Hoover’s article.)
As with previous “life from space” stories, the meteorite itself may be grounds for level-headed research, but the claims and media reports have vastly outpaced the scientifically established findings. What we know is only that this meteorite contains microscopic “filament” structures that bear some resemblance to known life-forms, but that also may be produced through non-biological processes. But even if it were confirmed that these objects are fossil life, Hoover hasn’t fully negated the possibility of contamination, such as before the meteorites were discovered or since they were recovered. So once again, what appeared at first to be a striking challenge to Genesis has quickly fizzled into another reminder about the importance of being an educated consumer of science news.
Elephants’ ability to intentionally cooperate has boosted them into an “elite group” of animals, BBC News reports.
Scientists watching by video have observed elephants “understanding” when they need to cooperate to accomplish a mutual goal. The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, used an device initially designed for chimpanzees to conduct the research.
In the experiment, elephants were separately taught to pull a rope in order to bring a platform—and food—within reach. Next, the team modified the apparatus in such a way that a single elephant pulling on a rope would only pull the rope loose; the platform would not move. But two elephants working together to pull the same rope from opposite ends would succeed in moving the platform within range.
It didn’t take the elephants long to figure out how to work together. “When we released one elephant before the other, they quickly learned to wait for their partner before they pulled the rope,” explained the university’s Joshua Plotnik. “We see them doing amazing things in the wild, but we can see from this that they’re definitely co-operating.” The key in knowing that the elephants “understood” cooperation was that they learned to wait for a partner rather than continuing to try the modified device alone.
Humorously, the youngest elephant in the study learned that it didn’t have to pull on the rope to still get the treat. Simply putting her foot on the rope to hold it in place was enough, and the other elephant did all the work! “[A]mazingly complex behaviours—culture, tool use, social interaction—we see all of this in the animal kingdom,” Plotnik added.
And despite the attention chimps receive for their mental skills, the elephant teams learned to wait for one another more quickly than the chimps had. This is another reminder that although our simian friends are certainly smart, God created many other intelligent members of the animal kingdom. (To read more about elephant intelligence, see the November 27, News to Note and the links therein.)
No one, not even evolutionists, disputes that humans have crossed a threshold that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom—even chimpanzees, our “close evolutionary relatives.” But according to new research, it’s actually the genes we don’t have that sets us apart.
A team from Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Stanford University have been busy scanning human and animal genomes to find out what makes us different—genetically, that is. Recently, the team located 510 genetic segments that are found in chimps and other animals but are missing from humans.
Interestingly, only one of the 510 missing segments disrupts a gene; 509 of the discrepancies are in the gene-regulating sequences surrounding the actual protein-coding genes. The researchers believe the missing sequences can account for much of what makes humans unique, such as our larger brains. For example, many of the missing sequences were clustered around the genes that help control neural development.
The team also experimented on mice to further understand the consequences of the missing genes; one of the stranger results of the differences is that humans lack sensory whiskers.
Although the scientists are cautious, pointing out that there is still much work to be done to more fully understand what makes us human, they believe the results are a start. Of course, the idea that the gene sequences have gone “missing” is an evolutionary artifact. Instead, it seems more reasonable that the differences are the result of God’s unique creation of humans in His image (Genesis 1:27); however, mutations leading to information loss are not incompatible with young-earth creation, and it is theoretically possible some of the smaller differences could have arisen naturally.
Also of note is that a press release for the news states that we share 96 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees, while a news release on a related topic puts the figure at 98.7 percent; for more on this debate, see Greater than 98% Chimp/human DNA similarity? Not any more.
What amazing structure is strong yet lightweight? And just as importantly, who was the designer?
Researchers from Imperial College London and the Royal Veterinary College have studied the thigh bones of more than ninety animal species to help learn why bones have such strength despite being relatively lightweight. Among the team’s discoveries were how “remarkable geometry” inside the thigh bone helps support payloads no matter what the size of the animal.
The team began by gathering femur bones held in the collections of British museums and zoos, then used a technique known as X-ray microtomography to scan the bones. Next, computers processed the scans and created more than two hundred virtual models of the bones’ inner structure. Finally, the scientists used a computer program called BoneJ to carefully examine the various types of “struts” that comprise the bone, and in particular interlinking lattices of tiny bone struts called trabeculae.
Amazingly, although the exact thickness and number of trabeculae varied based on the size of the animal, even the smallest animals—such as the three-gram Etruscan shrew—had trabeculae, which help them support heavy loads. Lead author Michael Doube, a veterinary surgeon and bioengineer at Imperial College London, explained, “Our study is helping us to see how the remarkable geometry of trabeculae supports loads in all creatures, no matter how big or small they are.”
The team hopes the research will help in the development of new materials inspired by trabeculae, materials that are lighter yet stronger and can be used in such areas as the most critical parts of car chassis or aircraft fuselages. And as human designers understand and look to mimic yet another of nature’s fascinating designs, we are reminded of the Designer whose handiwork is seen throughout nature: the Creator of Genesis 1, not blind evolution.
An atheist with a self-described “colorful” perspective on the Judeo-Christian God will present a new BBC series on the Bible.
In The Bible’s Buried Secrets, University of Exeter theologian Francesca Stavrakopoulou will argue—based largely on a single archaeological find—that God “had a wife,” the goddess Asherah. (The Old Testament clearly declares Asherah a false god, albeit one worshipped at times by idolatrous Israelites.)
Stavrakopoulou has previously researched “the misrepresentation of the past in the Hebrew Bible” and “‘secular’ approaches to teaching and learning in biblical studies.” Last year she shocked viewers of the BBC program The Bible: A History by suggesting that Moses never existed.
She insists that Bible scholars should “leave faith at the door.”
BBC Two will air the first episode of the three-part series Tuesday, March 15, at 9 p.m.
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!
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