NASA Scientists Claim To Know The Future
“It’s definitely not an if, it’s a when.”
That’s the kind of statement that was made by NASA scientists during a press conference yesterday at which technical advances in the search for life on other planets were summarized.
“We’ll find life in the Solar System before we find it in the exoplanets, but we’ll find it there, too,” said one scientist. Another predicted, “Within our lifetime, we’re all going to understand that there is life on other bodies in the solar system. We’re going to understand the implications of that for life on Earth… That’s all going to happen in the next 10 to 20 years. How exciting is that?!?”
The mood was very eager among the NASA scientists, though many people in the audience seemed bored during the press conference, fighting off yawns or checking their smart phones rather than listening attentively to what was being said.
The eagerness of the scientists at times veered off into a kind of missionary zeal. The scientists advised children that they had all better learn science, math and engineering, because they will need those skills to study life on other planets. Such statements led me to wonder what kind of future vision the NASA scientists at the press conference had. It seemed that they were eagerly looking forward to an entire generation that would do nothing else but engaging in scientific study of exobiology. I wondered, do these scientists genuinely believe that we will not continue to need farmers and artists in the future? Will we be so consumed by the discovery of life on other planets that history and literature will become irrelevant?
Here at Irregular Times, we often make fun of hucksters like Jim Rickards, Thomas John, and David Wilkerson – people who seek to exploit other people for their own personal gain, making wild predictions to gain money and attention. Should we exempt scientists from the same scrutiny?
I don’t believe that the scientists at this week’s exobiology press conference are primarily motivated by personal self interest, but they did seem deeply concerned about gaining attention for their chosen profession, and in pursuit of that attention, they began to creep toward the kind of extravagant predictions made by professional hucksters.
It is possible that there is life in the universe beyond our planet. However, no convincing evidence of any such life has yet to be found, after decades of serious searching. It remains possible that there is no life anywhere in the universe but on our own planet.
The truth is that no human being knows that life on other planets is anything more than a science fiction fantasy. The responsible position of a scientist at NASA would be to acknowledge this, and say that nobody really knows if we will ever discover life anywhere beyond Earth. The responsible position is to admit that, even if extraterrestrial life is discovered, nobody knows when its going to happen.
In order to whip up enthusiasm about their work, and to gain attention for themselves as individuals, NASA scientists are becoming willing to make definite predictions about future scientific studies, claiming to know what will happen before it happens. Really, they were just guessing, but they cast their speculation as an informed prediction. When scientists engage in this kind of exaggerated claim to knowledge, they cast doubt on their credibility as individuals and as a collective.
If NASA scientists are worried that todays children aren’t as excited by the idea of space aliens as their parents were, they ought to remind themselves that the work of a scientist is to pursue knowledge through adherence to disciplined standards of evidence, not to pursue a modern mythology that makes the heart swell.