In certain corners of the Internet, one question--one urgent, searing inquiry--has been crowding out all other stories this week. No, it's not about WikiLeaks, Sarah Palin, or the unbearable whiteness of hobbits. Rather, it's this--WHAT IS NASA GOING TO TELL US ABOUT ALIENS???
To explain: On Monday, NASA sent out a press release announcing that it would hold a press conference on December 2 "to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life." All that was known was that the press conference was somehow related to an upcoming paper to be published in Science Express. Naturally, the Web lit up with speculation.
"Has NASA discovered extraterrestrial life?" wondered Jason Kottke. "Did NASA discover life on one of Saturn's moons?" chimed in Gawker's Max Read. "To me, that could mean that something has been found on another planet or moon that is or was alive," wrote Greg Laden at ScienceBlogs. Rumors churned and swirled like delicious, sensationalist ice cream.
Then other journalists--call them "killjoys" or "party poopers" or "responsible reporters who understand how science works"--started throwing blankets on the fire. "Things have gotten a little out of hand," declared Robert Quigley at Geekosystem. "I do sometimes wish the press folks at NASA were more aware of what kind of cascade a line like that provokes," agreed Phil Plait at Discover. "I'm sad to quell some of the @kottke-induced excitement about possible extraterrestrial life," tweeted The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal. "I've seen the Science paper. It's not that." Curtis Brainard at the Columbia Journalism Review agreed: "It's an interesting piece of research, but certainly not one that is bound to make the front page, or perhaps any page."