Thursday, November 24, 2016

So, What If Alien Life Is Found?

Our society has a lot of obsession about alien life. In our movies and TV shows, there are only a couple of outcomes:

1) The aliens are much more evolved and peaceful than we are. They come in with advanced health care and technology, and use it to benefit us and make us better. They share their star travel with us, and let us explore the universe.
2) The aliens are only interested in enslaving us, or eliminating us and taking our planet (V, Independence Day).

Occasionally, another type of story will slip through, such as Defiance, where the enemies are mostly peaceful, and while our planet didn't have civilized life thousands of years ago when they began their journey, they try for the most part to live alongside us in a post-apocalyptic society. Or in Contact, where Jodi Foster is given blueprints for some weird capsule that allows her to go to a space beach and meet with an alien in the form of her father.

Earlier this year, Anonymous Conservative applied his r/K theory, or "The Evolutionary Psychology Behind Politics", to the concept of alien life.

While Stephen Hawking has the right idea, the lady in that article holds the popular rabbit belief that alien life will be beneficial to humanity. Hawking believes we should go to the stars because this planet can't sustain us for 1000 years. This in itself is not scientific. Maddox provides a helpful review for us on the Scientific Method:

Maddox gets a little snarky, and I don't agree with ALL of his conclusions, but he is right on the basic method.

Hawking's claim isn't scientific because you can't create a test controlling for all the variables. At one point in the past, when wood was the only fuel available to heat homes, Europe was going to run out of trees. Then coal was used. Then the world was going to run out of coal. Then they found whale oil. Then we were going to run out of whales. Then oil was found beneath the Earth's surface. Then we were going to run out of oil, but we keep finding more and more of it. Hell, in my 6th grade Science textbook (1986), I clearly remember a paragraph that predicted the world would be completely out of both coal and oil by the year 2000.  I'm still waiting, science book.

Hawking can't control for population variables such as disease, war, or turning the surface of the planet into a giant city like Coruscant in Star Wars. While he may be a brilliant physicist, his apocalyptic predictions are on par with his philosophy: unqualified and out of the scope of his abilities.

Michael Crighton addressed this kind of thinking in a speech he gave at Caltech called "Aliens Cause Global Warming." An excerpt:

In 1993, the EPA announced that second-hand smoke was "responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in nonsmoking adults," and that it " impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of people." In a 1994 pamphlet the EPA said that the eleven studies it based its decision on were not by themselves conclusive, and that they collectively assigned second-hand smoke a risk factor of 1.19. (For reference, a risk factor below 3.0 is too small for action by the EPA. or for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example.)
Furthermore, since there was no statistical association at the 95% confidence limits, the EPA lowered the limit to 90%. They then classified second-hand smoke as a Group-A Carcinogen.
This was openly fraudulent science, but it formed the basis for bans on smoking in restaurants, offices, and airports. California banned public smoking in 1995. Soon, no claim was too extreme. By 1998, the Christian Science Monitor was saying that "Second-hand smoke is the nation's third-leading preventable cause of death." The American Cancer Society announced that 53,000 people died each year of second-hand smoke. The evidence for this claim is nonexistent.
In 1998, a Federal judge held that the EPA had acted improperly, had "committed to a conclusion before research had begun", and had "disregarded information and made findings on selective information."
The reaction of Carol Browner, head of the EPA was: "We stand by our science; there's wide agreement. The American people certainly recognize that exposure to second hand smoke brings a whole host of health problems."
Again, note how the claim of consensus trumps science. In this case, it isn't even a consensus of scientists that Browner evokes! It's the consensus of the American people.
Meanwhile, ever-larger studies failed to confirm any association. A large, seven-country WHO study in 1998 found no association. Nor have well-controlled subsequent studies, to my knowledge. Yet we now read, for example, that second-hand smoke is a cause of breast cancer. At this point you can say pretty much anything you want about second-hand smoke.
As with nuclear winter, bad science is used to promote what most people would consider good policy. I certainly think it is. I don't want people smoking around me. So who will speak out against banning second-hand smoke? Nobody, and if you do, you'll be branded a shill of RJ Reynolds. A big tobacco flunky. But the truth is that we now have a social policy supported by the grossest of superstitions.

Essentially, Crighton suggests that the same flawed science behind alien life is also behind "Global Warning", or "Climate Change", or whatever the hell they're calling it this week. It was "Global Cooling" in the 70's. If AlGore and DiCaprio and other celebrities actually believe this, they should give up their private jets and mansions, move into an efficiency studio, and attend all their circle jerk meetings through Skype or Google hangouts.

Bonus: The United Federation of "Hold My Beer, I Got This" (Imgur)
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