Astrobiology has recently been feted as a science for the twenty-first century. Founded as a science in the Soviet Union in 1953, its recent manifestation has been accompanied by a large media response and a series of new books. The histories of the term 'astrobiology' and its twin sister 'exobiology' raise interesting ethical questions about how the scientific community recognises a field as being a separate entity and about the processes by which the international scientific community engages in debate on the establishment (or in this case rebirth) of a field. Comparison with the history of the emergence of fields such as nanotechnology and neurobiology illustrates the complexities involved. These complexities have become exaggerated in a world where the majority of scientific output is presided over by market economics. In societies where marketing and media interest have become intimately intertwined with scientific funding and political support for science, the declaration of new fields of activity presents novel problems in the process of scientific enquiry.