Monday, December 21, 2020

Nonsense Posing As Science

     You have to admire the brass – if nothing else – of LiveScience staff writer Rafi Letzer:

     Most of the alien civilizations that ever dotted our galaxy have probably killed themselves off already.

     That's the takeaway of a new study, published Dec. 14 to the arXiv database, which used modern astronomy and statistical modeling to map the emergence and death of intelligent life in time and space across the Milky Way. Their results amount to a more precise 2020 update of a famous equation that Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence founder Frank Drake wrote in 1961. The Drake equation, popularized by physicist Carl Sagan in his "Cosmos" miniseries, relied on a number of mystery variables — like the prevalence of planets in the universe, then an open question.

     This new paper, authored by three Caltech physicists and one high school student, is much more practical. It says where and when life is most likely to occur in the Milky Way, and identifies the most important factor affecting its prevalence: intelligent creatures' tendency toward self-annihilation.

     Drake’s equation, also called the Green Bank equation, remains a formula none of whose terms can be evaluated. Its use is limited to the contemplation of those factors that might figure into the frequency of intelligent life in our galaxy and its detectability by Mankind. Have a look at it and decide for yourself whether you would put money on any value assigned to any term in that formula.

     But the last sentence in the snippet cited above is the one that really made me snort:

     ...[The Caltech paper] identifies the most important factor affecting its prevalence: intelligent creatures' tendency toward self-annihilation.

     If that isn’t the biggest laugh line ever emitted under the (entirely bogus) label of “science,” I can’t imagine what would be:

  • To make use of “tendency toward self-annihilation,” we must determine the probability thereof.
  • But probabilities can only be calculated from either:
    1. A well-confirmed set of known causal mechanisms and their triggers; or:
    2. The ratio of known cases of “intelligent species’ self-annihilation” to known intelligent species.
  • Item 1 above is entirely a matter of conjecture.
  • Item 2 above is zero: i.e., we know of one intelligent species – ours – and we have not annihilated ourselves.
  • Given those factors, how could anyone make estimates that aren’t utterly ludicrous?

     “Science,” eh? There’s more science in my Newf puppy Joy’s experiments in barking and whimpering to see what responses those stimuli will evoke from me. I can only imagine to what sort of “peer review” it will be subjected.

1 comment:

Glen Filthie said...

I went back to school late in life, and when I became mathematically and scientifically literate, I began to see these rock star ‘scientists’ for what they are. Sagan wasn’t a scientist so much as a teacher... and he wasn’t especially good at that either.

They’re getting desperate. Thanks to advancements in automation, data acquisition, and processing and computing power... we can scan entire sectors of the sky with orders of magnitude more precision and thoroughness than we did in the 80’s and 90’s. We can see light and radiation that go back to the beginning of time. And still, nothing from the great beyond.

Here’s a theory: could God be turning the tables on the scientists in return for the punking of the church by Capernicus and Galileo?