Gross contempt for one’s better Part I: The Plait Affair

Charles S. Cockell deeply injured his discipline and reputation in an upcoming June editorial in Astronomy and Geophysics from the Royal Astronomical Society. His objective in the piece was to review the history of Astrobiology, yet he fails to reference the founders of the modern field: Sir Fred Hoyle and Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe.

No, really. Cockell actually attempted a history of a subject barely sixty years old, and left out the two scientists who made its original, most widely publicized, and most fundamental contributions.

Beginning in the late 60’s, when Charlie was burped by his mum, H-W took “his” field from zero-to-sixty intellectually and forensically in the space of less than a decade. They predicted and then produced the spectral signature graphs proving complex organic molecules would be found on interstellar dust.

That work is the inarguable origin of modern Astrobiology (timid creature that it is) and was willfully ignored by Cockell.

H-W’s original discovery of organic molecules in space was controversial, but digestible. But by 1980 H-W concluded that not only do the parts of life exists in space, but life itself in desiccated, hibernated and shielded states of suspension resides throughout the universe. The digestion ended there. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe’s conclusions had far outraced the tolerance of the fields that would be overturned and powerful people proven wrong.

Unfortunately — but admirably — H-W’s understanding also preceded by decades the instruments and discoveries which now properly support the hypothesis.

Why would Cockell leave these two giants out? Because he is embarrassed.

H-W is being vindicated after being dismissed and persecuted by his predecessors and his peers, so Cockrell is hopeful the earlier work will stay forgotten – as it is proven right.

It should surprise no one that the field of “Astrobiology” remains suspended — like life itself in space — in a timeless and oblivious fashion. Leaders like Charles Cockell ensure it.


The first article below is Cockell’s false narrative, the second is an accurate review from Professor Wickramasinghe.


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