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The arsenic-loving bacteria controversy

09.12.2010, Age: 2688 days

Of arsenic and aliens: What the critics said. Blog by Carl Zimmer in Discover.

A lot of people are interested in my Slate story yesterday on the arsenic aliens. It's still the most-read story of the site at the moment, Slashdot and others have linked to it, and I'm doing some more radio and maybe other media (details to come).

I think that what has gotten so much attention to the story is just how many scientists had such critical things to say. The verdict was not unanimous, but the majority was large. I was only able to quote a tiny bit from just a few of the scientists I communicated with, so I thought, for those who'd like to delve more deeply into this, that I'd post a list of everyone I spoke to, and, when possible, post their reactions. A lot of scientists replied to me by email or even attached word files where they went on at length. I put together a similar dossier for another biological controversy-the search for soft tissue in dinosaur fossils-and I think (or at least hope) that this sort of exercise can help further discussion.

Of course, as I and others have reported, the authors of the new paper claim that all this is entirely inappropriate. They say this conversation should all be limited to peer-reviewed journals. I don't agree. These were all on-the-record comments from experts who read the paper, which I solicited for a news article. So they're legit in every sense of the word. Who knows-they might even help inform peer-reviewed science that comes out later on.

I'm going to post everything under the fold here, but it will take a little while. I'll just re-save the post every time I add a new one, and I should be done before too long. So keep refreshing, or just drop by again later...

PS-Science has made the paper at the center of this controversy free.

Read comments by 13 experts in the same field at the Discover blog (see link)


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