Inane Study Posits Alien Invasion as Reason to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions — Fox News Response Is Even More Inane

Fox Viewers Overwhelmingly Think We Should Prepare For Alien Invasion Before Fighting Climate Change

It’s hard to know which is more head exploding:  This study — “Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis” — or the response of Fox News and its viewers.

Let’s start with the study — which, for the record, was not supported by NASA.  It is the nuttiest paper I have ever seen from people who seem to understand (and not dispute) basic climate science.

The study came out a while ago but nobody noticed until the Guardian ran a story with these headlines:

Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civilisations, say scientists

Rising greenhouse emissions could tip off aliens that we are a rapidly expanding threat, warns a report

Okay,  I know you’re thinking this is one of those sensationalistic newspaper headlines that totally misrepresents what some academic study actually says.  If only.  In fact, the lead author states on his website that, other than the erroneous claim the article was “a report for NASA,” that “the rest of the Guardian article is very well written, capturing much of the nuance of the original journal paper”!

Here is the key quote from the conclusion of this paper, which must win the all-time prize for the most absurd use of the word “may” ever to appear in an academic paper:

[Please activate your cranial containment field before reading this.]

Our analysis suggests some immediate practical recommendations for humanity….

Another recommendation is that humanity should avoid giving off the appearance of being a rapidly expansive civilization. If an ETI [ extraterrestrial intelligence] perceives humanity as such, then it may be inclined to attempt a preemptive strike against us so as to prevent us from growing into a threat to the ETI or others in the galaxy. Similarly, ecosystem-valuing universalist ETI may observe humanity’s ecological destructive tendencies and wipe humanity out in order to preserve the Earth system as a whole. These scenarios give us reason to limit our growth and reduce our impact on global ecosystems. It would be particularly important for us to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases, since atmospheric composition can be observed from other planets. We acknowledge that the pursuit of emissions reductions and other ecological projects may [!] have much stronger justifications than those that derive from ETI encounter, but that does not render ETI encounter scenarios insignificant or irrelevant.

[Pause to pick up gray matter from the floor, since  you don’t have a cranial containment field, and your chances of ever developing one are substantially greater than the chances of some extraterrestrials destroying humanity in the near future because of our eco-cide — even if that’s the theme of a lame Keanu Reeves remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (and many other sci-fi stories)].

This paper is symmetrically illogical.  It is illogical from every conceivable perspective, external and internal.

On our current path of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions we face, simultaneously, widespread Dust-Bowlification, 7 to 10°F warming (or more), sea level rise of several feet (ultimately rising to 100 feet or more), ever-worsening extreme weather events, ocean acidification and the accompanying mass extinction of marine life.  The authors posit this may be a much stronger justification for emissions reductions than the possibility that some alien race — whose existence lacks one shred of evidence, using technology for which there is as yet no underlying physics — will swoop in and kill 7 billion people because they love Nature so damn much.

Seriously.  This is something I would expect to see in the Onion-esque Journal of Irreproducible Results.

You know, it’s possible that apes made super-intelligent by some Alzheimer’s drug might rise up against us because we aren’t nice people.  So while there may be stronger justifications for being nice, that doesn’t render the ape scenario insignificant or irrelevant.  And of course computers are getting so damn smart they might just try to terminate us, so to speak, and so maybe we need to reconsider this whole Internet thing.  Note to deniers:  That was sarcasm.

If it weren’t obvious — and apparently it isn’t to the authors — the  reason we aren’t taking action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases now is because one political party has been taken over by people who don’t believe in science.  And since they don’t believe actual science is motivation enough to avert catastrophic global warming, why on Earth would they believe some nonsensical science fiction scenario would be motivation?

The deniers had a field day pouncing on this study, as you can imagine, since “it bolstered their anti-science narrative, painted their opponents as clownish radicals, and highlighted wasteful government spending on a supposedly liberal cause.”  Yes, the stuff coming out from the deniers almost every day is more clownish, but scientists don’t have their own network to trumpet that.  Of course, there was no government spending involved, and the deniers went too far, as they always do (see below).

I suppose the only good thing about this study is that it shows what real alarmists — people who oversell virtually non-existent threats — are like, as opposed to the sober climate hawks here at Climate Progress, who explain the very real dangers of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions.

Here’s a simple question.  Why wouldn’t these life-loving high-tech aliens just go public and warn us about the dangers of GHGs.  After all, they’ve blown way past the prime directive if they are contemplating homo-cide.  If they love life so much, why wouldn’t they help us replace fossil fuel combustion with their advanced technology?  Oh wait, I know, we already have the technology to replace fossil fuels.  Hmm.  Why aren’t we using it?  Oh, I know.  Why didn’t the authors posit the possibility that aliens who want us to destroy ourselves are in on the conspiracy, building fossil fuel plants to “raise the Earth’s temperature to not only kill off humans but make the planet hospitable for themselves.”  Yes, that’s a science-fiction movie too and it stars … wait for it … Charlie Sheen.

One of my relatives is an expert on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, so I’ve heard and discussed various theories even beyond the steady diet of science fiction that a typical physicist chews on over the years.  The obvious flaw in the entire analysis, if one delves into it internally, which I don’t recommend, is that there is no possibility of assigning any probabilities to any of their fictional scenarios.  It is possible that the reason we haven’t seen any ETI is that they are exceedingly rare in the galaxy.  It is even more possible that even if there are ETI, space travel is simply too difficult to contemplate on the scale needed for the murderous mission they posit.

Right now, Einstein’s theory of relativity, which has been very well verified, makes clear that getting a spaceship anywhere near the speed of light requires a staggering amount of energy.  That, coupled with the long distances involved in interstellar travel, make the entire enterprise Enterprise highly implausible.  The Wikipedia entry on “interstellar travel” discusses the problem at length and points out this 2008 article:

It is highly improbable that humans will ever explore beyond the Solar System. This downbeat opinion comes from the Joint Propulsion Conference in Hartford, Connecticut, where future space propulsion challenges were discussed and debated.

Of course, as a physicist by training, I’d be the last person to say that some civilization that has been around for millions of years longer than ours couldn’t possible come up with some viable approach based on physics we know nothing about.  But, practically speaking, the vast, vast majority of humans are going to be Earthbound for this century and beyond.  That means we better fix our problems here.

Also, to the point of the inane study, humans are nowhere near “giving off the appearance of being a rapidly expansive civilization.”  [The authors annoyingly conflate ‘expansive’ in an interstellar sense (which might threaten the aliens eventually) with ‘expansive’ in a GHG sense, which threatens humans and the entire echo system].  The key point is we don’t even have a permanent base on the moon or any planet and any ETI paying attention to us will see that the richest country in the world just shut down its primary means of delivering people to space.  Indeed, any ETI who understands climate science would know that within two or three decades at most, the whole human enterprise will redirect itself from such “luxuries” as space travel to focus on a desperate effort to avoid 10F warming and the multiple catastrophes that would entail.

But again, it’s not merely that the chances are unknowable — but probably microscropic — that there is a 1) nearby ETI that 2) has cracked interstellar travel, and 3) has some bizarre philosophy that allows killing 7 billion people to preserve a planetary ecosystem.  It’s that it’s unimaginable imaginable but inane that this scenario could ever be contemplated to drive policy on Earth.

The other reason I went through this exercise is that the deniers, especially Fox News, went Charlie Sheen on this, as TP reported:

A new (supposedly) NASA-funded study postulating that aliens may attack humans over climate change had all the ingredients for a perfect Fox faux controversy — it bolstered their anti-science narrative, painted their opponents as clownish radicals, and highlighted wasteful government spending on a supposedly liberal cause. Fox reported the “news from NASA” several times several times today, presenting it as official “taxpayer funded research.” A chyron on Fox and Friends read: “NASA: Global warming may provoke an [alien] attack.”  But as Business Insider pointed out, they’re “wrong” — “That report was not funded by NASA. It was written by an independent group of scientists and bloggers. One of those happens to work at NASA.” NASA distanced itself from the report as well, calling reports linking the agency to it “not true.” Host Megyn Kelly finally corrected the record this afternoon, saying, “I was making that up.”

But before she did, she was so bemused by the study that she directed her viewers to complete a poll on her website which asked how we should respond to the study: “Immediately increase efforts to curb greenhouse gases,” “Develop weapons to kill the Aliens FIRST,” or “Gently suggest scientists research how to create job.”

Not surprisingly, most suggested they research something else. But more than six times as many respondents (19 percent to 3 percent) said we should focus on building weapons to kill aliens before curbing greenhouse gases. Watch a compilation:

The poll is of course not scientific, but you can hardly blame the viewers who did respond, considering Fox’s constant misinformation about climate change. For instance, as she presented the poll, Kelly said of curbing climate change, “just in case, right?” — as in, “just in case” the science is right. She did not make a similar qualifier for alien invasion. Numerous studies consistently show that Fox viewers are among the most misinformed of news viewers, while at least one study has shown that — perversely — watching Fox actually makes people less informed than they were to begin with.

“Trust me folks, this story is hard to understand,” Fox and Friends host Gretchen Carlson said of the “NASA study.” Indeed.

It  seems appropriate to give the final word to Charlie Sheen, who, thankfully, thwarted the alien conspiracy to accelerate global warming — click here (it’s not embeddable).


Below are old comments from the previous Facebook commenting system:

This reminds me of an offhand remark in a short story by the great science fiction writer Stanslaw Lem that the level of civilization of a planet can be judged by the amount of junk in orbit around it.

5 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · Monday at 5:03pm

  • Prokaryotes – · Top Commenter (signed in using Hotmail)

Yes, but evey civilization has to start somewhere and this would show we are still not a grown up…

Like · Reply · Monday at 9:53pm

Mike Roddy · Top Commenter · Yucca Valley, California

A normal person who watches Fox at length will conclude that we’ve cracked up. How and why may be the real mystery we need to uncover.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · Monday at 7:42pm

Paul Magnus · Top Commenter

oh boy….

Like · Reply · Subscribe · Yesterday at 12:18am

Prokaryotes – · Top Commenter (signed in using Hotmail)

NASA picks 3 pioneering tech missions for deep space Led by L’Garde Inc., of Tustin, Calif., this Solar Sail demonstration will enable propellantless in-space navigation for missions such as advanced geostorm warning, economic orbital debris removal, and deep space exploration.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · Monday at 11:20pm

  • Prokaryotes – · Top Commenter (signed in using Hotmail)

i volunteer

1 · Like · Reply · Monday at 11:21pm

mtmariner101 (signed in using Yahoo)

ETI encounter scenarios ARE irrelevant! A complete waste of time! And, based on this study (from Cornell), the anti-science crowd would have every right to “[paint] their opponents as clownish radicals.” As for me, it is further evidence that these ET “researchers” are nothing more than science fiction writers who want their “research” to appear in science journals.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · Monday at 5:56pm

Richard Tracey · Director of Curriculum & Assessment at Evans Newton Incorporated

I, for one, am starting to prepare for the alien invasion *immediately* because FOX has probably been tapping their cell phones for news tips.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · 11 hours ago

Joshua Probert · Top Commenter · Research Scientist at University of Washington

A: This was the plot of the recent “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” B: Apparently nobody (in the four or five places that have quoted this) has seen the new “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

Like · Reply · Subscribe · Monday at 5:03pm

  • Prokaryotes – · Top Commenter (signed in using Hotmail)

Hmm i can’t remeber that it was about greenhouse gases, boring very predictable generic hollywood movie btw.

Like · Reply · Monday at 9:51pm

Joshua Probert · Top Commenter · Research Scientist at University of Washington

They never come out and say it, but they have Klaatu first move to destroy humanity (but save samples of our plant and animal life) so “the earth can heal itself” and then finally they destroy all technology and the movie ends with people stepping out of now non-functioning cars. I think that’s fairly clear (though a bit cowardly to refuse to say what the point was).

Like · Reply · Monday at 11:54pm

  • Prokaryotes – · Top Commenter (signed in using Hotmail)

The world still waits for the 1st climate change movie based on real world scenarios… instant oscar – ask me :)

Like · Reply · Yesterday at 6:06am

Peter S. Mizla · Top Commenter · Vernon, Connecticut

In Jim Hansen’s book he talks about an Alien race coming to earth thinking it was green in verdant. It is the year 2500. When they arrive its in the grips of the ‘Venus Syndrome’.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · Monday at 6:00pm

Jeffrey Davis · Top Commenter

The authors remind me of the character My Uncle Toby from Tristram Shandy. People do tend to get a little caught up in their hobbyhorses, don’t they?

Like · Reply · Subscribe · Monday at 6:05pm

Robert Fanney · Top Commenter · Flagler College

Ah the misinformation is thick these days. There are just far too many unreliable sources.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · Monday at 4:38pm

Comments are closed.