Science hype

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration is notoriously good at finding means for justifying its science budget, sometimes deploying what amounts to science fiction (see vintage hype image gallery in a separate post). Mostly, though, it’s simple hype.

All of us slugs are on the NASA news release list. An unusually cryptic, tantalizing PR announcement hit our inboxes this week.The search for ET. All these astronauts are now dead.

NASA will hold a news conference at 11 a. m. PST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.

ET landed right? We were to be in class during the exciting announcement, and none of us are yet able to access embargoed papers for Science (which the press conference was about), so it remained a mystery.

The blogosphere, also only able to get part of the story, managed to produce some unfounded rumors. One made it into press due to the media’s desire to get the story first–if not right.

I was pleased to see some debunking ahead of the press conference from one of our guest lecturers, Alexis Madrigal.

I’m sad to quell some of the @kottke-induced excitement about possible extraterrestrial life. I’ve seen the Science paper. It’s not that. 6:29 AM Nov 30th

And it wasn’t that. Instead it was “A bacterium that can grow off of arsenic instead of phosphorous.” Not nearly as sexy as first contact, but the hype, and the hype-induced flap, make understanding the significance of the report really difficult. Is this a breakthrough deserving front page coverage? Or do media outlets who bit at the bait and assigned a lot of space and resources to the story need to justify their own investments and pad their own budgets, a la NASA?

Hard to say when a good media circus has gotten going. I’m not saying anything new beyond the excellent coverage by the Knight Science Journalism Tracker (ONE TWO THREE), but I can at least provide a laugh and the promised image gallery of vintage NASA hype. Enjoy.

http://xkcd.com/829/

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0 Responses to Science hype

  1. nadia drake 5 December, 2010 at 8:04 pm #

    Enjoy :-) A parody of the NASA press conference…

    http://www.imao.us/index.php/2010/12/nasa-discovers-life-on-earth/

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