Feb 09

More rubbish science

FT3 comments • 178 views

I just read on the BBC’s site that there really are intelligent aliens. This article may represent the research accurately, but that just tells us that the ‘research’ is a bunch of people making up shit and feeding it into a computer and acting like the results mean anything. A few problems with assigning numbers to any of these things:

1. Almost all of the planets so far discovered around other stars are gas giants, though they are sure they have detected signs of a few rocky planets very recently. Applying Earth models for the appearance of life and evolution is meaningless in these totally different environments.

2. We don’t understand the origins of life anything like well enough to guess how typical our pace was – though complexity theory offers hugely promising models for this investigation.

3. We only have any comprehension of the pace of evolution on this planet. There is no reason whatsoever to think Earth is any sense typical or average of rocky planets – certainly the other three in this system are not at all similar.

4. We have almost no idea of how intelligence evolved, beyond the basic requirements for survival, as seen in many animals. This makes it pointless assigning figures to how likely it is to evolve.

As far as I can tell these people have taken guesses based on the tiniest sliver of evidence as to how common rocky planets are, and then said something that amounts to “if lots of them are like Earth, lots of them will be like Earth => hurrah, intelligent life abounds!”

By the way, if you don’t think the BBC article is dumb enough on its own, read the comments below it.


  1. 1
    ledge on 9 Feb 2009 #

    I think this is a combination of over-eager scientists, PR bullshit, and the usual credulous journalism. I heard the researchers on the Today programme and content-wise they sounded quite sensible – aware of the goldilocks style qualities of our particular planet, and ultimately saying that this is not a final figure, just a best guess using current available data. But of course the presenters wanted to sell it as much more than that, just as the article does, and the researchers seemed pretty happy to let them do that.

  2. 2
    Pete Baran on 9 Feb 2009 #

    Surely if God made the Earth & created life in seven days, he must have been up to something since!

  3. 3
    Martin Skidmore on 9 Feb 2009 #

    I entirely accept that it is a best guess, but it is no better than my saying 50 or a million or whatever – there simply isn’t the basis for any kind of guess at all.

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