Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Alien press release

People who are in the know about artificial intelligence research have quipped that true AI is "twenty years in the future -- and always will be."  I'm beginning to think that the same is true for the discovery of extraterrestrial life.  Every time something has seemed promising -- from the experiments designed to find microbial life on Mars conducted by the Viking landers in the 1970s, to the peculiar "Wow!" signal, to anomalies like the weird intensity fluctuations of "Tabby's Star" -- the results have all been labeled "inconclusive."  The fact is, we don't have any good evidence for extraterrestrial life besides the purely probabilistic argument of the Drake equation, and even that doesn't come close to answering physicist Enrico Fermi's question, "Where is everyone?"

So when the worldwide hacking group that goes by the sobriquet "Anonymous" announced a couple of days ago that they had intelligence that NASA was about to announce the discovery of clear proof of extraterrestrial life, I didn't exactly jump for joy.  In fact, my first thought was, "Boy, either Anonymous got hoodwinked, or their standards are slipping.  Or both."

But as usual in the world of skepticism, judge for yourself.  Here's what they said:
Latest Anonymous message in 2017 just arrived with a huge announcement about the Intelligent Alien Life! NASA says aliens are coming! 
There are many who claim that unofficially, mankind has already made contact with aliens and not just little micro-organisms floating around inside a massive alien ocean, but advanced space-faring civilizations.

Twenty-five years ago, we didn't know that planets existed beyond our solar system. Today we have confirmed the existence of over 3,400 exoplanets that orbit other suns, and we continue to make new discoveries. We are on the verge of making one of the most profound, unprecedented, discoveries in history.
Along the way they cite Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate as evidence, ending with an exhortation to watch for an upcoming press release.

No one would be as excited as me if this turned out to be true.  I've been pining away for hard evidence of extraterrestrial life since I was a kid.  But my feeling is that if NASA had evidence, they wouldn't be playing coy, and they wouldn't have let themselves get scooped by Anonymous.

So just a hunch, but I think this'll turn out to be a bust.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

On the other hand, maybe it's just that NASA has had other fires to put out since last week, when noted raving loony Alex Jones had a guest named Robert David Steele on his radio show InfoWars.  It may well that Jones got Steele on his show so that he would look sane by comparison, because what Steele claims is that NASA is holding a colony of human children on Mars for the purposes of slave labor:
We actually believe that there is a colony on Mars that is populated by children who were kidnapped and sent into space on a 20-year ride.  So that once they get to Mars they have no alternative but to be slaves on the Mars colony.
And instead of guffawing directly into Steele's face, which is what I would have done, Jones responded as if what he'd said made perfect sense:
Clearly they don’t want us looking into what is happening.  Every time probes go over they turn them off...  Look, I know that 90 percent of the NASA missions are secret and I’ve been told by high level NASA engineers that you have no idea.  There is so much stuff going on.
Steele, encouraged by this, zoomed off even further into CrazyTown by saying that the children weren't just being used for slave labor:
Pedophilia does not stop with sodomizing children.  It goes straight into terrorizing them to adrenalize their blood and then murdering them.  It also includes murdering them so that they can have their bone marrow harvested as well as body parts.
Yup.  "Adrenalizing their blood."  Whatever the fuck that means.  Maybe Alex Jones does, because he responded, "Yes.  It's the original growth hormone."

So NASA figured they'd better respond.  Guy Webster, spokesperson for the Mars exploration program, answered the allegations a couple of days ago, and you can almost hear the long-suffering sigh in his voice:
There are no humans on Mars.  There are active rovers on Mars.  There was a rumor going around last week that there weren’t.  There are.  But there are no humans.
He stopped short of saying, "So will you people go back to your previous occupation, which was probably pulling at the straps of your straitjackets with your teeth, and let us get back to doing actual science?"

Anyhow, that's what's new from the world of astronomy.  As far as the Anonymous announcement, I hope like hell I'm wrong.  Maybe NASA is gearing up to tell us they've finally found evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence.  That'd be awesome, especially considering that Alex Jones is pretty good evidence that ordinary terrestrial intelligence is in short supply.

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