We continue this week’s theme of science denial and skepticism with a look at “fake news,” and the politicizing of science.
A friend sent me a link to this gem of an article at viralground.com: THE ALIEN MEGA STRUCTURE HAS STARTED SENDING STRANGE SIGNALS. AGAIN!
Whatever. We covered this last week – there’s no evidence that it’s an alien megastructure. It’s just something we can’t explain yet. Sensational tabloid-style news like this has been around since the printing press.
But, there are two things in this article that really stick in my craw.
First is the big pull-quote that declares, in large italic letters,
“this could be the discovery of something HUGE, and something which the Elite cannot deny!”
Part of me likes the thought that scientists are part of some elite conspiracy that have all the secrets of the universe, but are keeping it to themselves just to retain their own power. There’s a definite evil super-villian vibe there that’s a little bit appealing.
But no. This isn’t a good thing.
Let me set the record straight – if scientists did find evidence of an alien mega-structure, they would love nothing more than to tell the world about it! The truth is that even if SETI finds a verifiable signal, there is no International protocol to consult with politicians, leaders, or any secret societies before announcing anything. The most recent interesting signal, which could not be verified by others, was widely reported. Nothing’s being hidden – scientists are driven by seeking the truth.
But what’s really troubling is the implication that scientists are part of “the Elite” – that evil tribe of people who live in cities who think they’re smarter than everyone else. Or at least, that’s how half of the country views them.
This is a real problem – when science becomes an “us versus them” thing like this, it spurs anti-intellectual movements and a distrust in science as a whole. Sure, science has its share of problems – but good scientists acknowledge them and are trying to fix them. But left unchecked, trends like this are how dark ages begin.
It is on the shoulders of scientists and technologists to try and break free of this “elite” classification. I recently watched an interview with John Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor, who thinks a lot about the politicization of science. His advice was for every scientist or technologist to “tithe” 10% of their time to talking about science and technology with others. That’s why I created Frank’s Geekery. Just get out there, and show people – regardless of the tribe they identify with – that scientists are people too, and generally have good intentions.
I also help organize a local star party every month for the same purpose. If you own a telescope, this is a great way to get the people in your neighborhood excited about science, instead of fearing it. I’ve had people from all walks of life see the moon or the planets for the first time through my telescope, and I could tell it changed them in a way. Many of them couldn’t even identify the moon in the sky before they stumbled across this group of nerds with telescopes in a city park. Local outreach such as this is a great way to start.
The second big problem is the whole “fake news” aspect of this article. In particular, they misrepresent Michio Kaku’s interview on the subject. “He also believes that has to be proof of an advanced Alien civilization!” the article declares. But although Dr. Kaku is sometimes inclined toward the sensational, he’s still a real scientist and would make no such claim. All you have to do is follow the link in the article to his actual interview and read it, to see that all he says is that it can’t be ruled out.
I don’t know how to combat blatant misreporting in an era where anybody, including me, can publish news on the Internet and make it look real. Until people develop critical reasoning skills and are willing to research the more sensational claims they see, that’s a tough one. But again, getting out and talking to the community about the known facts and misconceptions, is a start. If enough of us do it, it will make a difference.
(Image licensed from iStock.com/intueri)