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We’re All Martians, Scientist Claims,” The Telegraph wrote on Aug. 28. Similar articles showed up in newspapers and on Web sites around the world.

The scientist who inspired all the headlines is a chemist named Steven Benner. Headlines notwithstanding, Dr. Benner is not a wild-eyed U.F.O. advocate claiming to have seen Little Green Men. Instead, he is one of the world’s leading experts on the origin of life.

“Steve is one of the master organic chemists tackling this problem,” said Robert M. Hazen, a mineralogist at the Carnegie Institution and the author of “The Story of Earth.”

The cause for Dr. Benner’s new-found celebrity is a lecture he delivered at a geology conference in Florence on Aug. 29. During his talk, he did not wave satellite pictures of canals on Mars, or of Martian hills that vaguely look like a human face.

Instead, he challenged his fellow scientists to look hard at the evidence we have about how life began.

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