Monday, March 7, 2011

The Journal of Cosmology - the good, the bad, and the ugly

By Duane Hamacher

As you have heard by now, a controversial paper in the online Journal of Cosmology proposes that evidence of cyanobacteria have been found in meteorites.  Of course, this will be viewed with much skepticism, as it should.  Such claims have been made in the past and have proven to be false, so any new claims will be viewed critically.

Unfortunately, this has drawn some negative criticism to the journal, as have some highly speculative papers the journal has published in the past, making it appear more along the lines of a "crank journal", where speculation, pseudo-science, and fringe ideas are placed side by side with legitimate science.  I bring this up simply because I have recently published a paper in this journal, which deals with meteorites and cosmology in Aboriginal cultures of Central Australia (typos and all, apparently).  I want to make a few things clear:

1) I was advised by top archaeoastronomers at the Oxford IX meeting in Lima, Peru in January 2011 that this journal was reputable and that all papers were subject to rigorous peer-review.  It appears the papers in the archaeoastronomy issues are of high quality and do not constitute fringe material, although the same cannot be said about other issues;

2) The paper I published deals only with cultural views of cosmology that are associated with meteorites.  None of those views are to be held as "factual truth", they are simply cultural interpretations of a particular group of people at a particular place in time;

3) I have yet to see any solid or reputable evidence of Panspermia (the hypothesis that life on earth was seeded by comets and meteorites), and this paper is NOT about Panspermia in any scientific context;

4) In the paper, I comment that the scientific community has PROPOSED that amino acids, which are the building blocks of life, may have arrived to earth via comets (as well as water).  This is not the same as Panspermia and does not propose that life has extraterrestrial origins.  I am open to the possibility, but I want to see solid, rigorous, critically analysed evidence before I'll be convinced;

5) Any disparaging comments made about the "Bad Astronomer" Phil Plait (a champion of the skeptical movement) in the Journal of Cosmology are not endorsed by me or our group.  I have a great respect for Phil and will not see him bad-mouthed when he points out obvious flaws or problems in a paper.

Apparently, the journal now appears to be shutting down, so we'll see what the future holds.  At any rate, the Journal of Astronomical History & Heritage, Archaeoastronomy, and Rock Art Research will continue to be our primary journals of choice to publish our research, as they have for some time.

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