Note: This story exploded after I posted this, often in strange ways. Several updates are at bottom.
A new paper has claimed signs of alien microbial life in a meteorite, setting the science press abuzz and leading some in the blogosphere and the twittersphere to wonder if this going to be like taking arsenic all over again. (See Phil Plait, at Bad Astronomy, for a judicious quick first look.) Even before the science itself has played out, I think I can safely say No on the Arsenic Redux question. The publication of this assertion already sharply differs from that of the notorious Arsenic Lives paper. And it differs because the journal publishing it — the Journal of Cosmology — is different. Which puts it mildly.
The Journal of Cosmology is in fact so different from any other journal, so otherworldly, that I don’t know quite know what to make of the thing. But in a way, I like it, even as it’s dying. The J of C drew my attention with the peer-reviewed paper, Sex on Mars: Pregnancy, Fetal Development, and Sex in Outer Space, which was part of a special issue on Mars published last fall. Here’s the abstract’s first sentence:
Humans are sexual beings and it can be predicted that male and female astronauts will engage in sexual relations during a mission to Mars, leading to conflicts and pregnancies and the first baby born on the Red Planet.
Fair enough. Here’s the first paragraph of the article proper. (Forgive the comma; perhaps it was inserted to create a pause at the moment of maximum anticipation.)
Performance of the sex act during a journey to Mars, may require potentially complex sexual gymnastics. On the other hand, any difficulties associated with sexual intercourse in space may turn out to be an easily solved problem of docking and entry as human are notorious for inventing ways of having sex despite all manner of logistical impediments (Joseph 2000a). However, what impact will sexual activity have on team dynamics and morale? And what if an astronaut became pregnant during the journey? Would the fetus be viable? How would this impact the crew?
Okay so right away we know this isn’t the usual deal. The rest of the issue, frankly, I didn’t get through, but not because it was bad or good (I didn’t read enough to judge), but because it concerned space exploration, and I don’t write about space or rockets and had my own work to do. Yet this brief brush with the J of C — I read the masthead, did a bit of Googling — made it obvious it was an unusual publication. It wasn’t run by one of the big science publishers, like Nature or Elsevier, nor a university. It has a funky, 90s-feel website. It had voice, which alone distinguishes it from most journals.