By Tim Binnall
An entomologist's tantalizing new theory that there are bugs on Mars has been met with skepticism from scientists. Dr. William Romoser of Ohio University sparked headlines earlier this week when he unveiled research which, he believes, indicates that there is evidence for insects, both living and fossilized, having been inadvertently photographed by the Mars Rovers. While it would seem that his stature as an accomplished academic and expert afforded him more consideration than online anomaly hunters who have made similar possible discoveries, the response from scientists was largely the same.
A biologist from Oregon State University who studies beetles suggested to Space.com that Romoser's perceived insects were likely the result of pareidolia. David Maddison specifically noted that when one focuses on a specific shape as part of their work, such as insects, that subject can sometimes inadvertently 'appear' where they do not exist. As such, he concluded that "I do not think there are insects on Mars" and, instead, argued that "it is vastly more parsimonious to presume the blobs are simply rocks."
This answer to Romoser's research was echoed by Nina Lanza, a planetary scientist from Los Alamos National Laboratory who told the website that "you could imagine a lot of different shapes" in the images shared by the entomologist at his presentation. However, she posited that simply looking for oddities in photos from Mars is "not a good way to do this kind of assessment" given the more exhaustive work studying how the physical attributes the Red Planet may or may not allow for that world to harbor life.
Ultimately, she expressed some consternation that Romoser's work, which she sees as faulty, was given considerable attention thanks to his academic standing and that it may wind up confusing the public. "When we actually find something on Mars and beyond," she lamented, "if we do that, it will be less of an impact" due to sensational claims made by proverbial rogue scientists doing their own armchair research. While Lanza's concern is understandable, we're guessing that if the 'powers that be' announce the discovery of life on Mars, people will still be pretty excited to hear it.