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Building Consensus with Statistical Biosignatures

Presentation #1113 in the session “Open Engagement Session B”.

Published onMar 17, 2021
Building Consensus with Statistical Biosignatures

Currently, there are no standardized assessment criteria or uncertainty estimations by which astrobiologists can evaluate biosignatures. This stands in contrast to other recent major discoveries in science that required similar international coordination to what the actually discovery of alien life will surely require. Without consensus assessments for life detection, it will be impossible for our community to agree on the validity of biosignature interpretation even if a signal is detected. Before we can confidently claim detection, we must be able to anticipate the signatures of life in low resolution datasets. Determining the multivariate patterns living systems produce will enable our community to move, for the first time, towards consensus assessments. Emerging approaches are now pointing to comprehensive statistical frameworks that do not consider just one line of evidence, but will be enable integration of multiple lines of evidence to increase confidence in a discovery. This talk is more aspirational than review of the current state of science, and presents ideas on how statistical approaches to quantify life in its planetary context — developing predictive quantitative frameworks that capture the multivariate coupling between planets and life — will be a key component of the critically needed theoretical infrastructure necessary for astrobiologists to make consensus assessments in the face of limited and noisy data.

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