Science! Roundup

Let’s kick off 2014 right with a Science!* roundup.

New Discovery of 49-Million-Year-Old Cockroach Fossil Undermines the Beliefs of New Discovery of 49-Million-Year-Old Cockroach Fossil Undermines the Beliefs of Ectobius’ Origin and Timeframe

This article takes some sort of award as the most incomprehensible science story yet to pop up on the Google Science! news feed. Some of that may be attributable to it having been, in the words of Mark Twain, “clawed back into a civilized language” from French. But even granting that, exactly what is the story here?  Scientists used to believe one obscure thing, now they believe something else, based on a single new data point? Wow, like, that *never* happens…

But: Cockroaches! Eeeewe!

Speaking of Eeeewe – Eeeeewe!!!

Hubble Frontier Field Abell 2744

Hubble Team Turns to Photoshop as Public Demand for Avatar-Level Way Trippy ‘Artist’s Conception’ Fantasy Pics Trumps Anything Real They Can Produce

I just made that one up. But this pic is so unreal as to appear, well, unreal.

My imagination fails when I contemplate the dazzling beauty of the universe.

‘Habitable zones’ around stars ten times wider than we thought – study

I just love these headlines that tell us about some undefined ‘we’ who now feel compelled to change their thinking about some highly speculative stuff they just made up, based on some other stuff they just made up.  Science! at its finest.

To be clear: the idea of a ‘habitable zone’ is sheer speculation. The only ‘habitable zone’ we can actually observe is the one the earth is in.  We don’t know what would happen if the earth were a bit closer or farther from the sun, let alone if it were placed in orbit around some other star. If we had so much as one other verifiable example of an inhabited planet, well, *then* we could start making some *scientific* guesses about what is and is not required for a zone to be habitable.

But as Thomas More’s servant Matthew says:

I wish we could have good luck all the time. I wish rainwater was beer!  I wish we had wings!

But we don’t.

Since we don’t, the prudent, scientific thing is, as is so often the case, to simply admit we don’t know. The right answer to most of the good questions in science is and remains: we don’t know.

But that’s not it – the point of SETI in general seems to be to reinforce the idea that We Are Not Alone in the face of a staggering mountain of evidence to the contrary.** To this end, we’d prefer it if space were like Star Trek portrays it – Star Trek space, as Dave Berry once pointed out, is as densely populated as Queens, New York.

Turns out ‘we’ are a team of ‘researchers’. One little problem: what, exactly, do these researchers research? They can’t be researching life on other planets, because, ah, ‘we’ haven’t found any. Slight problem.

As a  practical matter, insofar as any of this ET stuff can be said to be practical, wouldn’t it be *bad* news that habitable zones are 10 times as large as previously thought, and may even include ‘rogue’ planets? Because the only constructive reason to speculate on what might make a habitable zone is to focus our investigations – our theory about what a habitable zone is tells us where to look for potentially habitable planets. There’s a lot of space out there – wouldn’t it be better if our cogitations on this topic gave better focus to our search, rather than spreading it out over ever larger areas?

But hey, I’m not even wearing a lab coat, so what do I know?

Oh, and the article even has an ‘Artist’s Conception’, which translates as ‘Artist’s Untethered Fantasy’:

The artist's concept depicts Kepler-62f, a super-Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a star smaller and cooler than the sun, located about 1,200 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

I liked Pandora better. It’s prettier, and based on the same amount and quality of factual data, after all.

* For anyone new here: Capital ‘S’ Science! with an exclamation point refers to the stuff that gets breathlessly reported in the press, especially where the claims made are so far in front of the scientific headlights they may not be on the same road. Real science may be way cool, but it’s most often sorely lacking in click-through headline potential.

** Put the other way around: there’s any number of ways ET could make himself known to us, either on purpose or accidentally. Decades of searching and centuries of just looking at stuff have not turned up a single shred of evidence this side of von Däniken.  While lack of evidence isn’t evidence of a lack, it ain’t evidence of existence either.

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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