Mars is very in right now. NASA’s Perseverance rover is up there searching for life and the agency’s Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, is pulling off daring aerial feats. But on Wednesday, Mars appeared in the news for all the wrong reasons. According to websites like the Daily Mail, scientists were making a pretty wild claim: Fungi was alive and well on the red planet.
The “mushrooms on Mars and fungi on Venus” theory is a worn out, debunked idea that appears like clockwork, about once a year. The headlines certainly are interesting — imagine if we found fungi on Mars or Venus! It would literally rewrite our ideas about life in the cosmos — but the articles rarely interrogate the scientific evidence for the wild claims.
Part of me wants to let it slide because in some cases any publicity really is good publicity, but this is bad science and some websites have erroneously headlined articles with “Scientists Found Evidence of Fungus Growing on Mars” when that is simply not the case.
So, let’s pull back the curtain and explain what is really going on (again!)
The “Space Tiger King”
At the center, or sometimes just off to the side, of these outlandish claims is a man named Rhawn Gabriel Joseph.
According to his webpage “brainmind.com,” Joseph is a lapsed neuroscientist who made major contributions to the field of neuroplasticity in the 1970s. Joseph has, for over a decade, published claims about life on other planets on his website and in pseudo-scientific journals he oversees.
His assertions sometimes make it to the big leagues and spill over into the press but, for the most part, they haven’t landed in legitimate scientific journals or been scrutinized by other experts in space science.
Until 2019, when Joseph’s claims really hit the big leagues. In November 2019, Joseph got a piece through peer review and into the journal Astrophysics & Space Science. Last June, I published a piece on Joseph and these claims, which eventually led to the journal retracting Joseph’s article claiming “the article proffers insufficient critical assessment of the material presented and literature cited, and fails to provide a solid underpinning for the speculative statements made in the article which, in their view, invalidates the conclusions drawn.”
But on Wednesday, Joseph’s claims made it into another journal, known as Advances in Microbiology. ReadMore
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