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I am now running my annual July fund-raising campaign to celebrate the twelfth anniversary of the establishment of Behind the Black. For many reasons, mostly political but partly ethical, I do not use Google, Facebook, Twitter. These companies practice corrupt business policies, while targeting conservative websites for censoring, facts repeatedly confirmed by news stories and by my sense that Facebook has taken action to prevent my readers from recommending Behind the Black to their friends.


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Gil Levin passes away

Gil Levin, a instrument project scientist for one of the science experiments on the Mars Viking landers in the 1970s, has passed away at 97.

Levin deserves special mention because he believed for years that his experiment, called “labeled release,” had possibly found evidence of life.

Dr. Levin’s experiment employed a nine-foot arm to scoop Martian soil into a container, where it was treated with a solution containing radioactive carbon nutrients. Monitors detected the release of radioactive gas, which Dr. Levin interpreted as evidence of metabolism.

“Gil, that’s life,” Straat said when they saw the results.

The findings held true for both Viking 1 and Viking 2, which took samples from different regions of the planet. Other experiments aboard the Viking, however, used different methods to conclude that Martian soil did not contain carbon, an element found in all living things.

Dr. Levin stood by his findings, but top NASA scientists disagreed, saying that the response he observed was the result of inorganic chemical responses, not biological processes. “Soon thereafter,” Dr. Levin told the Johns Hopkins University School of Engineering Magazine last year, “I gave a talk at the National Academy of Sciences saying we detected life, and there was an uproar. Attendees shouted invectives at me. They were ready to throw shrimp at me from the shrimp bowl. One former adviser said, ‘You’ve disgraced yourself, and you’ve disgraced science.’”

I met Levin once and interviewed him several times. With amazing grace and cheerfulness he always emphasized that his results needed to be confirmed, and there was certainly room for skepticism, but to reject them outright was not how the scientific method worked.

Levin however was never awarded another NASA project, essentially blackballed because of his 1970s claims, even though later research hinted at the possibility that he may have been right.

R.I.P. Gil Levin. Though the overall data we have gotten from Mars in the half century since still favors a non-life explanation for his experiment, the uncertainty remains quite large. He could have been right.

More important than his uncertain result, however, was his dedication to the proper scientific method, where you let the data speak for itself and never dismiss any possibility if that is what the data shows you.

Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • J Fincannon

    I think the greatest indicator he might have been right is that NASA has not searched for extant life since then. Only “follow the water”, “search for ancient life” or maybe just biomarkers like methane.

    What about the Chinese or ESA? Surely one of them could do it.

  • Jean Parisot

    If they decide to stop Elon, watch them play the “un-resolved presence of indicators of life” card that needs more research.

  • Lee Stevenson

    RIP Gil Levin, I also was, and remain disgusted by the way the man was treated for standing by his experiments results. A reminder to everyone that getting blackballed for not following the script is nothing new!

    @J Fincannon, the UK built “Beagle 2” ESA mission aimed to search for extant life… The mission failed when it failed to deploy all its solar panels, although it made a successful soft landing, and deployed 2 of its 4 solar panels. The 2 failed deployments covered it’s communications antenna, and contact was never made.
    It is worth noting that even though the little lander got a piggy back on the Mars Express orbiter, the mission cost was only $120 million.

    The ESA Exomars 2022 mission will directly search for extinct and extant life, with a drill that, if all goes according to plan, will drill around 6′ deep and is designed primarily to search for organics.
    This rover is the ESA’s James Webb… The original concept called for a rover to be launched in 2009.. one ironic point is that US involvement was pulled in 2012 due to cost over runs on the James Webb.
    I’m all crossed fingers for this mission, even tho the launch vehicle, and landing platform are built by Roscosmos. I mean, given the Russians excellent recent record in all things space, what could possibly go wrong?

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