Field of Science

Pivar's pure fantasy published

ResearchBlogging.orgStuart Pivar has his own lab in New York, Synthetic Life Lab, and he has recently published his first peer-reviewed article in The International Journal of Astrobiology. That's a Cambridge University Press journal, but apparently that does not guarantee a decent review-process at all. As PZ details, the paper is complete bogus, with no link between reality and Pivar's hypothesis that vertebrate embryos form on the surface of spheres. The paper, The origin of the vertebrate skeleton, is chock full of Pivar's drawings, without any explanation of how he made this dicovery.

Here's a good example of his hypothesis, which is, however, demonstratively false:

We know - by looking at actual embryos developing - that this is just not the way a skull forms. And yet the paper was accepted and printed in a serious journal (though, as PZ notes, not really a journal that's a good fit for developmental biology). It will be very interesting to see what happens next. The editor has got some serious explaining to do.

My real interest here, however, is how Pivar's enterprise got off the ground in the first place. And lazy as I am, I'm going to do the unscientific thing of stopping right after my initial hypothesis, with apologies (got real work to do, too).

The paper is two and a half pages of words followed by 18 pages of hand drawings of vertebrate skeletons. The figures have no explanations, and I think this is key to the mystery. My suspicion is that Pivar is an artist who really like to make drawings of skeletons. Like this one, which is the last in the paper:

There's no conceivable explanation for including this drawing. It's just a drawing of a juvenile human skeleton, and it adds absolutely nothing to the thesis of the manuscript. Could it possibly be that Pivar spun a tale of vertebrate embryogenesis based on his own drawings, and then the whole enterprise took off - likely with a multitude of adoration from fellow New Yorkers urging him on - and the fact-checking was relegated to an irrelevant aside?

Pivar, S. (2010). The origin of the vertebrate skeleton International Journal of Astrobiology, 1-21 DOI: 10.1017/S147355041000025X

Update 11:14 am:
In a 2004 NYT article about Pivar and his art collection, it says this about his wife/companion, Ms. Matsos:
Ms. Matsos, 39, is a biophysicist with a special expertise in looking for fossil life in Martian meteorites. She is a consulting researcher at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the editor in chief of Astrobiology Magazine, an Internet publication based at the Goddard Institute of Columbia University.
I wonder what her ties to The International Journal of Astrobiology might be, then...


  1. I know someone on the editorial board of that journal. Should I contact him?

  2. That would be good. I think putting pressure on the journal any way possible about this paper is advisable.

  3. You may as well include NASA and their Astrobiology Magazine because Pivar is now claiming that it has been reprinted there as well.

  4. From another artist, xD It looks like he was having fun here. When i'm bored and want tom make my own fun, I draw things repeatedly and come up with other weird ways things could develop, exist.. or whatever else..... This looks a lot like a bored artist having fun.

  5. "Amazing". Just making stuff up and publishing it as science. Somehow it manages to be worse or at least on pair with the revival of the ideas of "expanding Earth". "Worse" only in how development is something that happens all the time and it's blatantly observed to not be like this, whereas the expanding Earth ideas at least can have the excuse (lame excuse) of being slow processes, not observed in real time...

    It's even worse than those ideas of weird phylogenies that take into consideration just the convergent phenotype. Makes me feel like drawing things like a Tanystropheus evolving into a sauropod, and/or Poposaurus evolving into Tyrannosaurus, and publish it. At least that guy (yet another illustrator, these guys make me really embarrassed) of the fringe/pseudoscientific pterosaur hypotheses only self-publishes on his site. For now...


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