"Radical theory explains the origin, evolution, and nature of life, challenges conventional wisdom: Case Western Reserve theorist develops incomparable model that unifies physics, chemistry, and biology", Case Western Reserve press release 1/26/2012:
The earth is alive, asserts a revolutionary scientific theory of life emerging from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The trans-disciplinary theory demonstrates that purportedly inanimate, non-living objects—for example, planets, water, proteins, and DNA—are animate, that is, alive. With its broad explanatory power, applicable to all areas of science and medicine, this novel paradigm aims to catalyze a veritable renaissance.
Erik Andrulis, PhD, assistant professor of molecular biology and microbiology, advanced his controversial framework in his manuscript "Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life," published in the peer-reviewed journal, Life. His theory explains not only the evolutionary emergence of life on earth and in the universe but also the structure and function of existing cells and biospheres.
In addition to resolving long-standing paradoxes and puzzles in chemistry and biology, Dr. Andrulis' theory unifies quantum and celestial mechanics. His unorthodox solution to this quintessential problem in physics differs from mainstream approaches, like string theory, as it is simple, non-mathematical, and experimentally and experientially verifiable. As such, the new portrait of quantum gravity is radical.
John Timmer, "How the craziest f#@!ing "theory of everything" got published and promoted", Ars Technica 1/28/2012.
A paper like this can put a university's Press Information Officer (PIO) in a tough position. According to a PIO at a major university (who asked to speak without attribution because he works in the field), a PIO can typically recognize when something is off on the fringes of science, and they don't want to promote a story that will damage their institution's credibility.
"We do try to avoid doing stories that we feel could backfire on the institution, but it's not always up to the PIO to say no to a paper that is appearing in a peer-reviewed journal," the PIO told Ars. "Note that she [the Case Western PIO] made the point about peer-review explicitly in the release—that’s a pretty telling detail." [...]
If the responsibility of press officers can be a bit complicated, the responsibility of news sites isn't. PhysOrg and Science Daily both did what they always do and ran the press release, unedited, as if it were their own original news content. ScienceDaily even added itself as the dateline source.
This wouldn't necessarily be a problem if it weren't for the fact that, in a large number of contexts, these two sites are treated as credible sources of scientific information. Items posted there make frequent appearances on social news sites, and a number of people I've talked to have been shocked to discover that the majority of the sites' content is nothing more than rebranded press releases.
The theory outlined in this manuscript is limited in scope. I did not provide gyrosystems to model much of the scientific evidence related to astrophysics, particle physics, and cosmology before the electrogyre, nor did I integrate organismal, ecological, and ethological data after the cellulogyre. I predict that further gyromodel application will reveal its explanatory breadth and power. For example, given that complexity theorists find there to be a unifying organization in ecosystems, language, and economics, I predict the gyromodel will find applications in these subject matters.
But linguistic applications of the gyromodel aside, this episode offers an unusually pure example of (the first steps in) the ecosystem of flacks and hacks. I've written about this in a number of posts over the years, including these:
"Enhance breast size by 80%", 4/9/2005
"Another day, another reprinted press release", 4/24/2005
"It's always silly season in the (BBC) science section", 8/26/2006
"Flacks and hacks and Hitchens", 12/14/2006
"Flacks and hacks and brainscans", 11232007
"Why don't we have a better press corps?", 9/11/2008
"Debasing the coinage of rational inquiry: a case study", 4/22/2009
"Study: Hacks often bamboozled by flacks", 5/30/2009
The general problem of credulous passing-on of press releases is especially acute in the case of language-related topics, because the countervailing forces (knowledge of the subject on the part of journalists and editors, and fear of reputational damage from public ridicule) are so weak in those areas.
In the case of the Andrulis paper, the claims were so bizarre, and covered such a wide range of fields, and came from such an unlikely source, that there was no journalistic uptake at all. But the paper's publication in an allegedly peer-reviewed journal, the issuing of an enthusiastic press release from an apparently authoritative source, and the re-publishing of that press release at Science Daily, illustrate how little those steps actually mean.
P.Z. Myers offers the explanations that have probably also occurred to you:
This paper is so weird and out there that it is either an attempt to Sokal the field of origins of life research, or the man is seriously mentally ill.
It's also a case where I feel that the bar bet model has a certain explanatory potential.
Update — it may also be relevant that W.B. Yeats was heavily into gyre theory, back in the 1920s. Whether the system of A Vision is connected to the current explorations of Erik Andrulis is unclear — it's not in his bibliography — but the rules are different for poets.
Update #2 — an anonymous commenter on Derek Lowe's post on this topic says:
It is no joke. He's a colleague of mine and I know him quite well. His mental state has been deteriorating for several years and this theory has become an obsession. It is very sad for him and his family. It is deplorable and inexcusable that our PR department participated and promoted his mania.