The Panspermia Mafia strikes again!


A reader informed me that I was mentioned in a British magazine, and sent me a scan of the relevant bit. It’s not so much my brief mention that interested me, as that it’s another example of the Panspermia Mafia in action. It’s an article about a recently elected Conservative MP, Jamie Wallis, who has a science degree…or does he?

Dominic Cummings has bemoaned the fact that many MPs “did degrees such as English, history, and PPE. They operate with…little maths or science.” Thankfully, Dr Jamie Wallis, the new Conservative MP for Bridgend, is that rarest of things: an MP with not just a science degree, but a PhD in “astrobiology” to boot.

Where it gets interesting is that he obtained a PhD from, I presume, Cardiff University, which was NC Wickramasinghe’s former affiliation, although he has since ensconced himself at the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology. There is reason to doubt that Wallis actually did the caliber of work we expect in a PhD thesis.

Completing a PhD while co-directing several companies is quite an achievement. Wallis’s thesis, “Evidence of Panspermia: From Astronomy to Meteorites”, is devoted to the niche and widely rejected theories of his supervisor, one NC Wickramasinghe. Notoriously, Wickramasinghe maintains not only that life on earth arrived on comets, but that organisms continue to regularly arrive by this method. (Just last week, he wrote to the Lancet helpfully suggesting the novel coronavirus COVID-19 arrived in China from space.)

Why does the Lancet, or any respectable journal, continue to publish crank letters from Wickramasinghe? But OK, I think it’s established that Wallis’s degree was somehow earned under the supervision of a well-known fringe kook, and that it’s questionable how much work he actually invested in the project, which sounds like some kind of review involving no independent research.

But why do I call this the Panspermia Mafia? They use their connections to promote a small family of fellow travelers.

Appropriately, given that the theory of cosmic panspermia is about origins, involvement with Wickramasinghe seems to be a Wallis family affair. A typical thesis might produce several publications. Wallis Jnr’s thesis lists an astonishing 21 with him as an author — mostly not in peer-reviewed journals — 16 of which include his dad in the author list. And of the eight publications that supposedly have been peer-reviewed, six are in the highly dubious Journal of Cosmology. Wickramasinghe is the “executive editor” for astrobiology for the journal, described by US scientist PZ Myers as the “ginned-up website of a small group of crank academics”.

Yeah, that’s about it — it’s so inbred that it relies on the one guy who has a name and connections but very little credibility, Wickramasinghe, to promote the members of his cabal in a roster of fake journals. This article didn’t examine them in detail, but I suspect that all 21 of the articles are rehashed, recycled, barely rewritten examples of frantic self-plagiarism. To say you got a degree with Wickramasinghe is the British equivalent of saying you’re a colleague of Kent Hovind.

Isn’t it nice that he provides a pipeline for Conservatives to claim they have the authority of science? Just in case you’re wondering, no, they don’t.

Comments

  1. Rich Woods says

    It’s also worth noting that the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology is affiliated to the University of Buckingham, the UK’s first private university, opened in the 1970s by no less a luminary than Margaret Thatcher. Long before dumping huge debts onto students became popular, they were a glorified business school using the association that exists in many minds with the word ‘Buckingham’ to sell themselves to international students looking for a British qualification on their CV, although the university is located in a small market town rather than in the grounds of a palace.

    The Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology also lists Wickramasinghe as one of its members, so Wallis hasn’t travelled as far from Cardiff as you might think.

  2. wzrd1 says

    I’ll happily cede the point that panspermia is real – the moment one of the proponents rides a meteor to earth, entering the atmosphere at around 25 – 30 km/s, like typical meteors do, stark naked like the organisms that they claim arrived that way.*
    I’ll allow for a bladder system to permit the respiratory system to function, perhaps even a spandex garment like a couple of pressure garment less spacesuit prototypes had, but no heat shielding beyond the meteor itself.

    *That’s a mean value, observed by radar, the full range can be 11.2 km/s to 72.5 km/s.
    https://arxiv.org/pdf/1805.07842.pdf
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanical_counterpressure_suit

  3. hemidactylus says

    Hmmm, seems Robert Kirkman floated a panspermic origin for the zombie apocalypse in The Walking Dead, but then backpedaled that as a joke.

    https://screenrant.com/walking-dead-origin-space-spore-theory-joke/

    It would have made the show more interesting if that became a reveal. Kirkman had pitched his comic as having a malevolent alien backstory:

    https://comicbook.com/thewalkingdead/news/the-walking-dead-robert-kirkman-aliens-lie/

    What if the show transitioned from zombies to Falling Skies?

  4. KG says

    I like Wickramasinghe’s idea that SARS-CoV-2 came from space. Perhaps some bat flew so high it reached orbit and became infected there, before returning to spread the virus.

  5. stwriley says

    Covid From Spaaaace!

    Seriously, why is anyone still listening to Wickramasinghe? The panspermia hypothesis was always fairly loony, what with the whole “we’ll just shove the question of origins off into space rather than addressing it” nonsense. But he and his fellow travelers have now gone so far down that rabbit hole they can’t even see how ridiculous they’re justifications and pronouncements have become.

  6. says

    They want the imprimatur of science because they know their bullshit is bullshit. It’s basically admitting they know they are lying. Hoist the fail-roger!

  7. cartomancer says

    I told you Denzil Dexter was on to something with his spacebats research!

  8. po8crg says

    You made it to Private Eye!

    This is like being in MAD magazine, but about 20 years after it jumped the shark.

  9. robro says

    Appeals to the authority of a “scientist,” even one with a credible PhD, is not the same thing as appeals to the authority of evidence. Even very careful and diligent scientists get things wrong, and the world is full of scientist with PhDs who are on the scam. This distinction is lost on those who promote the scientist rather than the science and evidence, as many public figures are want to do.

    For example, yesterday there were reports that Republican operatives are collecting medical doctors to recommend reopening the economy because saying “medical doctor” has the aura of truth and reliability when in fact there is no such relationship between the title and reality. Again, this is an appeal to trust people with credentials and opinions about something they may know very little about or have other motives, like money or strong religious or ideological beliefs. That’s a long way from a valid argument for reopening the economy based on the evidence about the pandemic.

  10. says

    Well hold on now. How else do you explain that Klingons, Romulans and Cardasians all look like Homo Sapiens with five pounds of latex on their faces. And how is that Vulcans and Klingons can mate with humans and have viable offspring? Answer me that!

  11. davidc1 says

    @9 Ah That Denzil Dexter ,that’s what a proper scientist looks like ,and his lab ,full of bubbling
    test tubes ,and equipment going”” poop goob boop “”,marvellous ,isn’t ,
    Very depressed ,just been made aware ,via faceache of a wackaloon named charlie kirk ,a new one on me .
    Just been reading the comments left by his fans on a podcast about why the snatch snatcher is the best choice in November .
    Really starting to think even stories concerning cats are not enough to make the interweb worthwhile .

  12. garnetstar says

    May I just ask, what is “a degree in PPE”? I wasn’t aware that personal protective equipment was a university subject, and am now imagining very amusing dissertation topics on it.

  13. davidc1 says

    @12 When the real ET’s do finally invade us ,i think the only reason they won’t destroy us all is that they
    are doing the alien version of ROTFPML at our images of alien lifeforms .
    PS ,would’t it be great if aliens turned out to look exactly like The Clangers ?

  14. chrislawson says

    “Nice barren planet you’ve got there. Shame if something were to happen to it.”

  15. says

    P.P.E. stands for Philosophy, Politics and Economics. It is an interdisciplinary degree offered by Oxford. Apparently a lot of British technocratic elites have it. So yeah, that’s a real thing.

  16. Reginald Selkirk says

    Rich Woods #1: using the association that exists in many minds with the word ‘Buckingham’

    The first association in my mind is Fleetwood Mac. They put out some fine music with Lindsey Buckingham in their roster.

  17. says

    cervantes@12, humans and a bunch of other Trek races sort of look alike because they all have the same ancient humanoid ancestor, as established in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Chase.” That ancient race spread their DNA across untold numbers of planets in the hope of creating multiple civilisations that would befriend each other, because they were the only intelligent species in the Universe when they existed.

  18. chrislawson says

    timguegen,

    Klingons, Vulcans, and Romulans look a lot like humans because of SFX, makeup, and budget limitations of the original series. The panspermia version in TNG was a retrofit and a very, very stupid one since we have a clear fossil record and phylogenetic tree of descent from native Earth fauna.

  19. eleanor says

    I wouldn’t disagree with the idea that more mathematical and scientific awareness among legislators is desirable. But Cummings is arguing for something different, as outlined in his long self-pleasuring blogs on the subject: a moral hierarchy in which “data” (i.e. a body of evidence selected because it confirms the ideological preferences of D. Cummings) is the supreme good, while contrary evidence or arguments can safely be dismissed as the feeble pleadings of intellectually inferior social scientists and those unlucky enough to have been educated by them (and how do we know they are inferior? Because if they were intellectually superior, they would acknowledge the primacy of Data, QED).

  20. specialffrog says

    @ ajbjasus: in addition to what Eleanor said, I would take politicians with humanities degrees over business degrees any day of the week.

  21. ajbjasus says

    Eleanor. Sorry – I was just taking that comment in isolation at face value. I studied science at the referenced university which offers the PPE degree. What some don’t realise is that whilst many science degrees are very demanding of time, with lab work, tutorials, lectures and do on, it seemed that other degrees allowed ample time to get involved with student politics and debating, such as at the Oxford Union. This was the real training ground for politics, and establishing one’s network – and is where many uk poiticians cut their teeth. Extemporising, learning to debate and wing it are key skills.

    Special frog. Business studies as a first degree are bullshit in my view. As something one does later when you might want to turn the worthwhile skills you have into a business, perhaps.

  22. davidc1 says

    @20 Took me ages to find out on youtube that it were him wott did “Holiday Road ” from “National Lampoons Vacation “

  23. says

    Congratulations on making it into Private Eye. One of the highest honors in the UK. Usually it’s councilors and politicians in local government on the take.

  24. eleanor says

    Sorry ajbjasus, I didn’t mean that to come across as a criticism of you.

    I agree about Oxford PPE. It’s part of the conveyor belt: the “right” school, the “right” degree, a few years in a law firm or lobbying firm — arranged through Daddy’s contacts — and then into a safe parliamentary seat. (Though I did know one Oxford PPE-ist who gave it up and became an inner-city priest instead.)

  25. ajbjasus says

    One of the nicest stories relates to my College, which was probably one of the more left wing ones. This guy who had left school at 16, worked on the railways, and spent 14 years reading philosophy wrote a brilliant letter of application. He had O levels but no A levels, but after his interview the college decided to Offe4 him a scholarship and waive admission criteria.

    He was an amazing membe4 of the college, and got a first. Then he went off to be a stonemason, and work on the restoration of York minster, no doubt thinking profound thoughts!

  26. leerudolph says

    TimGueguen@22: “humans and a bunch of other Trek races sort of look alike because they all have the same ancient humanoid ancestor, as established in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Chase.””

    A similar circumstance is also a plot point in van Vogt’s Null-A Three, published in 1985.

  27. says

    As is in 1994’s Alien Legacy. It turns out that likely at least a plurality of life was seeded by a race called the H’riak.

    The H’riak were solipsistic xenophobes, and made their creations hate all other life.

    Earth’s biology isn’t of panspermic origins.

    Do the math.

  28. john3141592 says

    We should remember that Wickramasinghe was in league with Fred Hoyle and that together they pushed Hoyle’s analogy that the creation of life on Earth by evolution would be like ‘a tornado in a junk yard assembling a Boeing-737’.

    A Wikipedia reference:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junkyard_tornado

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