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Arsenic-based life paper: peer review process comes to light #arseniclife

Now public-- the peer review exchange for the controversial (and now disproved) 2010 paper that claimed a bacterium weaved arsenic into its DNA and biomolecules.


  1. USA Today reporter Dan Vergano obtained the reviewer comments from NASA through a Freedom of Information Act request. Scientists and journalists had heated discussions about what to take away from the new information, and about whether the whole saga came down to honest mistakes.

    USA Today article:
  2. Link to document containing the reviews and the arsenic life authors' responses.
  3. Leonid Kruglyak and Rosie Redfield, two of the researchers who delved into the arsenic-based life claim and found it wanting, comment on the newly-unearthed reviews:
  4. The idea that the reviewers failed to see the forest for the trees became the topic of a blog post by chemist Ashutosh Jogalekar:
  5. Other researchers pore over the back-and-forth in the reviews and find specific flaws. One - failing to ask explicitly about possible contamination:
  6. Another - the authors didn't heed a request from one reviewer. "In order to demonstrate and quantify the replacement of P by As, I recommend isolating DNA/RNA and determining the element ratio," the reviewer wrote. (It is not unheard of for researchers to fulfill such requests in future work, but this reviewer's request seems to be in line with post-publication complaints about the arsenic-based life paper.)
  7. A few scientists comment on the precedents this "revealing of the reviews" could potentially set:
  8. And one researcher posts a link to what he claims might have been the original arsenic-based life manuscript submitted to Science (before any peer review happened). The manuscript is hosted on a server at Arizona State University, home to several authors of the report.
  9. After reading the reviews for myself, I tweeted about what stood out to me:
  10. This last tweet rekindled a debate about whether the arsenic-based-life saga boiled down to honest mistakes or a systematic failure.