Why I don’t write papers about chemistry.

Because I might end up with something as silly as when chemists write about evolutionary biology.

Could ‘Advanced’ Dinosaurs Rule Other Planets?

New scientific research raises the possibility that advanced versions of T. rex and other dinosaurs — monstrous creatures with the intelligence and cunning of humans — may be the life forms that evolved on other planets in the universe. “We would be better off not meeting them,” concludes the study, which appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

In the report, noted scientist Ronald Breslow, Ph.D., discusses the century-old mystery of why the building blocks of terrestrial amino acids (which make up proteins), sugars, and the genetic materials DNA and RNA exist mainly in one orientation or shape. There are two possible orientations, left and right, which mirror each other in the same way as hands. This is known as “chirality.” In order for life to arise, proteins, for instance, must contain only one chiral form of amino acids, left or right. With the exception of a few bacteria, amino acids in all life on Earth have the left-handed orientation. Most sugars have a right-handed orientation. How did that so-called homochirality, the predominance of one chiral form, happen?
Breslow describes evidence supporting the idea that the unusual amino acids carried to a lifeless Earth by meteorites about 4 billion years ago set the pattern for normal amino acids with the L-geometry, the kind in terrestial proteins, and how those could lead to D-sugars of the kind in DNA.

“Of course,” Breslow says, “showing that it could have happened this way is not the same as showing that it did.” He adds: “An implication from this work is that elsewhere in the universe there could be life forms based on D-amino acids and L-sugars. Such life forms could well be advanced versions of dinosaurs, if mammals did not have the good fortune to have the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroidal collision, as on Earth. We would be better off not meeting them.

But wait! That must just be a bizarre misinterpretation and hypification by the author of the press release, right? Nope. That last part in the quote above is taken right from the concluding paragraph of the paper.

2 comments to Why I don’t write papers about chemistry.

  • While there’s plenty of bad evolutionary biology papers written by non-biologists, this is actually something even worse — he’s ┬ánot even taking the field seriously by giving his little analogy for chirality. It reminds me of how the linguists get annoyed when people make stupid analogies like “As Eskimos have 100 words for snow, group X must have 1000 words for Y” — it’s annoying because not only is the statement false (“Eskimos” actually speak several different languages, none of which have anywhere close to 100 words for snow), the people making it don’t even *care* that it’s false.


  • David Billo

    It’s the sort of pop science you see in movies, where the aliens are always intelligent lizards, or intelligent insects, or hominids with silly-putty stuck on their foreheads.


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