The Drake equation cannot be tested and therefore SETI is not science. SETI is unquestionably a religion. Faith is defined as the firm belief in something for which there is no proof. The belief that the Koran is the word of God is a matter of faith. The belief that God created the universe in seven days is a matter of faith. The belief that there are other life forms in the universe is a matter of faith. There is not a single shred of evidence for any other life forms, and in forty years of searching, none has been discovered. There is absolutely no evidentiary reason to maintain this belief. SETI is a religion. —Michael Crichton —Aliens Cause Global Warming (Crichton Official Website)
SETI is the “Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence” project. A screen-saver popular among uber-geeks actually gives your computer calculations to do in order to help out the whole SETI program. The “Drake equation” is a way of figuring out, out of all the stars where planets might exist, where those planets might support intelligent life, where those life forms might attempt to communicate with outsiders, and where those signals might actually have been broadcast at precisely the time necessary for us to be able to receive them now. I have a vivid memory of Carl Sagan introducing this equation in the classic PBS series “Cosmos.” (See a few of my thoughts on religion and Sagan’s novel “Contact”.)
Since we have no meaningful way to supply numbers for most or all of these variables, Crichton calls this guesswork “prejudice.”
From time to time I blog about how the news media accepts unquestioningly the “fact” that global warming is caused by human activity, and I confess to feeling a bit smug each time I see a “mistaken” story.
But I’ve got to be honest with myself. I hate the smell of cigarette smoke, and rejoice in every law that makes it easier for me to breathe fresh air. Crichton gives an interesting account of how the EPA used “junk science” to “prove” that second-hand smoke causes cancer. And it’s really easy for me to want to pat the anti-smoking activists on the back for their cleverness.
If the pro-smokers are so tobacco-addled that they can’t see how yucky their habit is, and if it will take a little bit of scientific hocus-pocus to reduce the effect their nasty habit has on my nose, then bravo! If it’s true that the science that supports smoking bans is no better than the science that supports global warming doomsday scenarios, then I’m employing a double standard, calling junk science duckspeak (George Orwell’s term for an utterance which, when spoken by a supporter, is true and just and good, but when spoken by an opponent, is false and wrong and bad.) (And, of course, all this presumes that what Crichton and others call junk science really is junk. Since I’m not a scientist, I have to accept — on faith — the word of experts. I’ve been following the global warming/population bomb meme complex for long enough that I can see where journalists are oversimplifying or selectively reporting in order to reinforce a particular bias; I am not as informed about smoking issues (nor, to be honest, do I plan to investigate, since I’m personally in favor of the current anti-smoking trend).
An older link, popular now thanks to the skeptics at Arts & Letters Daily.