bacteriaThe capture, analysis and interpretation of data has long allowed us to make amazing discoveries about the world around us. Scientists, doctors and theologians have frequently pinned their most astounding findings and revelations on data, but sometimes that data isn’t accurate or complete enough to provide a coherent answer. Here at Document Capture Co, we’re dedicated to bringing people the most accurate, varied and comprehensive data sets possible, but not everyone is so fortunate. Here are three amazing ‘discoveries’ that have since been debunked by more detailed data and analysis…


Bacteria can’t survive on arsenic

Two years ago, a team of California-based biologists claimed to have discovered a strain of bacteria that could survive in extremely arsenic-rich atmospheres, going as far as to say that the organisms could even incorporate arsenic into their biochemistry as a stand-in for phosphate. These findings were initially very exciting, particularly in the field of astrobiology, where experts surmised that such bacteria could thrive on distant planets whose atmospheres had previously been assumed too hostile to support life. Phosphate is a chemical previously thought to have been essential for life, so the Wiezmann Institute of Science decided to take a closer look at bacteria GFAJ-1 earlier this year. What they discovered was that while the bacteria were indeed thriving in an arsenic-rich landscape, they were in fact eschewing the chemical in favour of what little phosphate was locally available. Instead of thriving on arsenic, they were merely adept at feeding on phosphate in arsenic rich locations – a far less groundbreaking if still remarkable feat.


XMRV isn’t responsible for prostate cancer

A study conducted six years ago claimed to have found links between prostate cancer and a retrovirus known as ‘XMRV’, when the virus’ ‘signature’ was found in tissue samples taken from prostate cancer patients. At the time, this study was heralded as being of great importance, since antiviral medicines could be used to treat XMRV and thus prevent prostate cancer – a frequent killer among UK men. However, follow-up studies failed to find the same viral traces in other cancer patients, and questions began to be raised. A new study has identified laboratory contamination as the most likely culprit for this erroneous data – the researchers’ blushes underlining the dangers of making assumptions based on inadequate or incomplete data sets.


The Mayans didn’t predict the end of the world

As popularised in the God-awful 2009 movie 2012, the Mayan calendar has long been thought to have predicted the end of the world on December 21st of this year. Previous discoveries had suggested that the ancient Mayans had not constructed calendars reaching beyond this date, prompting some observers to assign 21/12/2012 as ‘doomsday’. This belief has been dismissed by many in the scientific community, and a discovery made early this year will have put the idea to bed once and for all. Whilst excavating the ancient Mayan city of Xultún, William Saturno and his team uncovered murals and carvings that made reference to dates in time millennia into the future – certainly far past mid-December this year. The team seemed to have unearthed the workroom of a Mayan scribe, and the discovery is far more significant than simply debunking the beliefs of a few doomsday theories.


If nothing else, these examples can teach us all a thing or two about making suppositions based on inadequate, inaccurate or insufficient data. If you don’t want to end up with egg on your face, you’ll want to ensure that your data is of the highest quality and that every avenue of investigation has been explored before your findings are released to the public. Take a look at our comprehensive range of data capture solutions to guarantee that your findings make a splash and aren’t discredited mere years after they’re published…