Three stupid sources ought to be an automatic rejection

I shouldn’t have even started drilling down to the source. I started at Answers in Genesis, a mistake I know, but at least the ridiculed (for the wrong reasons) the next article in the chain, which was in The Daily Mail. Here’s the Daily Mail headline:

Hey, how about if you demonstrate the existence of intelligent space-faring aliens before you start speculating about their motivations? But they’ve got a scientist who’s doing the speculating, and the Daily Mail loves scientists who agree with their biases.

Sci-fi films and TV shows have routinely depicted a brutal race of aliens visiting Earth in their spaceships and enslaving unfortunate Earthlings.

But according to one expert, extraterrestrial life may actually be too scared of ‘dangerous’ and ‘violent’ humans to want to come here.

Dr Gordon Gallup, a biopsychologist at the University of Albany, argues that humans are ‘dangerous, violent and ceaselessly engage in endless bloody conflicts and war’.

How do you become an expert in alien biopsychology, I’d like to know. We’re about to bottom out, though, since we’re about to learn where he published these claims.

Dr Gallup has presented his argument in an open access paper published in the Journal of Astrobiology this month.

Oh god. AiG, the Daily Mail, and the Journal of Astrobiology? Is this Dumpster Diving Friday or something? Have mercy. Here’s the abstract for the paper.

We evaluate claims for extraterrestrial intelligence based on the logic behind assertions such as the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. To assess intelligence elsewhere in the universe we outline two of the principle scientific claims for intelligence on Earth. One involves the idea that intelligence involves working out the reasons for our own existence. The other involves self-awareness and the capacity to make inferences about what others know, want, or intend to do. The famous quote from Rene Descartes “I think; therefore, I am” needs to be revised to read “I am; therefore, I think.” Some of the conclusions we derive about intelligence include the idea that most species on planet Earth have clever brains but blank minds (no self-consciousness); humans are the only species where what you know could get you killed; if humans become extinct it is highly unlikely that human-like intelligence will re-emerge on this planet and the odds of human-like intelligence evolving on other worlds is infinitely small. However, if intelligence exists elsewhere in the universe it may not have revealed itself because humans are dangerous and are perceived as posing too great a risk.

I’d reject it out of hand for the blatant human exceptionalism and the false claims right there: most species on planet Earth have clever brains but blank minds (no self-consciousness). Most species on Earth don’t have brains, for one, but additionally, have you met my cat? Not very clever, but definitely full of herself and quite aware of herself. There are a lot of claims in this abstract that the author does not adequately justify in the remainder of the opinion piece (it is not a scientific paper).

Then, in the first paragraph of the introduction, he cites Rhawn Joseph three times. Ugh. He’s an affiliate member of the Panspermia Mafia, I think we’re done.

I couldn’t help myself. I took a quick look in the table of contents to see what ol’ Rhawn was up to now. He’s still poring over NASA’s Mars photos, drawing circles and arrows on them, to claim now that there are tube worms and crustaceans on Mars.

At least he’s got the Daily Mail and Answers in Genesis to continue pretending he has any credibility at all left!


  1. raven says

    most species on planet Earth have clever brains but blank minds (no self-consciousness).

    This is just wrong.

    The consensus of all the sciences that deal with brains and cognition is that at the least, mammals, birds, and some mollusks i.e. octpuses are self aware, conscious beings.

    In 2012, the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness crystallised a scientific consensus that humans are not the only conscious beings and that ‘non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses’ possess neurological substrates complex enough to support conscious …Aug 20, 2020

    Dimensions of Animal Consciousness – Cell Press › trends › cognitive-sciences › fulltext

    Cell is a leading mainstream biology journal.

    It took me 5 seconds with Google to come up with that search result. Gallup doesn’t seem to know how to even use a search engine.

    As PZ points out, you don’t even have to use Google to figure this out. Anyone who has dealt with dogs and cats know that they have their own personalities and lives.

  2. says

    We evaluate claims for extraterrestrial intelligence based on the logic behind assertions such as the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence…

    Translation: “There’s no real information, therefore we can make up anything we want to!”

    Oh, and he misspelled “principal” in the very next sentence.

  3. PaulBC says

    But according to one expert, extraterrestrial life may actually be too scared of ‘dangerous’ and ‘violent’ humans to want to come here.

    I think if you managed to get a ship through interstellar space maintaining life support or not needing it because you had intelligent radiation-hardened computers, then you could probably deal with anything you encounter on little ol’ earth. We’re meanies, but we’re kind of pissants too.

    “Too ashamed to admit we inhabit the same universe” would make more sense.

  4. KG says

    Dr Gordon Gallup, a biopsychologist at the University of Albany, argues that humans are ‘dangerous, violent and ceaselessly engage in endless bloody conflicts and war’.

    I bet if you tried to debate with him, you’d be subjected to a Gallup gallop!

  5. birgerjohansson says

    ‘Scared of dangerous humans’.
    Because of the documentary “War of the Worlds”.

  6. andrei613 says

    The notion that a species that can barely get a car sized probe to the edge of our solar system in thirty years of flight is too absurd to contemplate.

    Heck, if they really wanted to wipe us out, just accelerating an modest asteroid to 90% of light speed aimed at our planet would finish the job.

  7. pilgham says

    humans are the only species where what you know could get you killed

    I don’t really know what the heck he is talking about. You can, for example, get killed for knowing where a water hole is, if you don’t know where the lions are.

  8. Larry says

    More proof that having a college degree, academic titles, and letters after your name do not indicate basic intelligence as a default.

  9. JoeBuddha says

    My mother (I think she got it from Pogo) used to say, “The surest evidence that there are intelligent aliens out there is the fact they haven’t tried to contact us.”

  10. Walter Solomon says

    And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space,
    ‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth!

    — Eric Idle The Galaxy Song

  11. llyris says

    “I am, therefore I think”.
    Funny how he then presents himself as evidence that this isn’t true.
    I would have almost believed the aliens idea could have come out of some philosophy department as a thought experiment. It could have been forgivable.

  12. says

    Reminds me of a Greg Egan novel where the entire solar system is cut off from the rest of the universe by a giant sphere. It’s called “Quarantine”. Humans are literally toxic to rest of the galactic community and it involves a lot of quantum physics and the Copenhagen interpretation. Again, this is a novel. Fiction.

  13. Peter Bollwerk says

    “according to one expert” is often a red flag for me. You can find ONE “expert” to agree with anything.

  14. nomdeplume says

    A moment’s acquaintance with ANY mammal or bird species would dispel the stupid notion that only humans have consciousness (I suspect this chap may be religious, and that is where this human exceptionalism is coming from).

  15. DanDare says

    1 – The famous quote from Rene Descartes “I think; therefore, I am” needs to be revised to read “I am; therefore, I think.”

    2 – Some of the conclusions we derive about intelligence include the idea that most species on planet Earth have clever brains but blank minds (no self-consciousness);

    Contradiction in 2 consecutive sentences.

    The second sentence shows they obviously think that philosophical zombies are a real thing rather than a thought experiment.

  16. wzrd1 says

    Most of the folks from the UK refer to the publication under a far more accurate moniker, DailyFail. More needs not be said.

    But, considering just the inverse square law, if some space alien is trekking about the galaxy, do you honestly think that they’d even notice our radio transmissions? Even a nuke would get drowned out by the interstellar din!

  17. says

    You would think someone with those credentials could come up with something deeper than what your average 19-year-old stoner would think up. Really, this is on the level of “what if the solar system is really just a giant atom in some huge structure?” Deep stuff.

  18. says

    Huh. I was curious just how well known or accomplished this Dr. Gordon Gallup was, so I looked him up. Turns out he’s not just some random nobody; he’s the guy who came up with the well-known mirror test for animal self-recognition. (Maybe some other posters here might have already known that and not mentioned it because you assumed everyone else also knew it, but his name wasn’t familiar to me, anyway.) Which may explain the bit about most creatures on Earth not having self-consciousness, if he’s assuming that only creatures that pass the mirror test have self-consciousness. (Which of course is a dubious assumption at best; even if you grant that the mirror test can test for self-recognition, self-consciousness doesn’t require self-recognition.)

    Of course, the fact that he developed one famous test that has been used in biopsychology doesn’t mean his latest “paper” isn’t nonsense. In fact, this apparently isn’t even his first foray into farcicality; according to the Wikipedia article on him:

    Gallup’s article entitled “Does Semen Have Antidepressant Properties?”[1] attracted the attention of the media[2] when it was published in 2002. Gallup commented, “I want to make it clear that we are not advocating that people abstain from using condoms. Clearly, an unwanted pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease would more than offset any advantageous psychological effects of semen.”

    Um… okay. Great research topic there, Dr. Gallup. Thanks for that.

  19. brightmoon says

    We’re supposed to be separate from the other animals . So pseudoscience believers pretend that animals can’t think or reason. their fantasies are more important than reality. Humans are still evolving . We’re still an early experiment about how animals cooperate. if we don’t kill ourselves off maybe we’ll eventually learn to do it better.

  20. birgerjohansson says

    Those sources are about as trustworthy as the “revelations” by a certain Lobsang Rampa (I am really dating myself).
    By contrast Velikovsky was fun in a “watching a train wreck ” way.

  21. StevoR says

    Well i’d say the chances of anything coming from Mars were over a million to one but, well, actually science seemingly says the chances are probly a lot less than that now..

    Talking of dating oneself..

    First heard this on tape casseette FWIW. Loved it then., still do now.

  22. birgerjohansson says

    StevoR @ 25
    I heard it from the LPs!
    For the younger ones, these were disc-like objects that were quite vulnerable to getting defects when handled carelessly.
    If you want an insight in how aliens might view humans, I recommend “The Monsters” by Robert Sheckley.

  23. blf says

    @25 & @26, I haven’t heard that in yonks… now trying to remember just when I did last(?) hear it, and what medium… wasn’t ‘Net, CD, or tape, so perhaps also LP (and the date of release fits), except I don’t recall ever owning the LP. Maybe at a friend’s house?

  24. unclefrogy says

    almost all of the popular ideas about space aliens are mostly just projections of imperialist / colonialist thinking from the perception of the ideas about the universe of the 19th and early 20th century
    taking in the vast scope in distance and time involved and the distribution of elements and chemicals in all of universe there is no point in any of it. If we could or “they” could traverse that “distance” there would not be any need to other then curiosity which for survival reasons is often best parred with caution
    reasoning from speculation as if it was real in multiple steps is just as productive as chasing your tail.

  25. cheerfulcharlie says

    According to L.Ron Hubbard, the aliens are here. The Fifth Invader Force owns Mars, and the Fourth Invader Forces are on Venus. Wheeeeee!

    Here. Elron explains it all. Stop laughing damn you! This is science!

    And then we have the Marcabian Confederation. Google for that. Or maybe, better not.

  26. says

    “Dr Gordon Gallup, a biopsychologist at the University of Albany, argues that humans are ‘dangerous, violent and ceaselessly engage in endless bloody conflicts and war’. ”

    He’s not wrong about that.

  27. chrislawson says


    The mirror test is not useful for much more than preening Gallup’s ego. This paper seems to be little more than Gallup’s attempt to frump up his mirror test to make it look like it is of central importance to the question of SETI when it doesn’t even give us much useful information about life on earth, which is abundant and experimentally accessible.

    Really, what kind of arrogance does it take to assert that failing the mirror test makes an animal a “blank mind”? How does not responding to a mark in a mirror mean there is no self-awareness? And how the heck are we supposed to perform mirror tests on distant aliens? And if some of the most intelligent tool-using species on earth like grey parrots and New Caledonian crows and octopuses and gorillas “fail” the mirror test, then why should we expect the mirror test to be remotely predictive when it comes to aliens?

    Am I being uncharitable in thinking Gallup is a pumped-up egotist? Well there is now >50 years of accumulated evidence of the limitations of the mirror test, and yet he insists that it is unquestionably valid, and also that no animal outside his chosen species (humans, chimps, orangutans only) has ever passed the mirror test — no matter how many papers clearly show him to be wrong on this.

    One interpretation is that Gallup is just overly defensive of his research, a common and understandable-if-regrettable trait among scientists. By denying that any species other than his chosen three pass the test, it protects him from having to deal with the complications of non-primates in the self-awareness club, especially given the scattershot results of testing. After all, it’s hard to maintain the absolute validity of mirror testing if it means grey parrots and New Caledonian crows are “blank minds” but magpies and pigeons are self-aware; that sea lions are blank, but dolphins are self-aware; and that wild gorillas are blank, but gorillas raised with extensive human interaction are self-aware. That last example by itself should torpedo any defence of the mirror test as a meaningful measure of self-awareness, but let’s add to the pile-on by noting that the mirror test isn’t even all that reliable in humans if you do the test in non-Western cultures.

    But it’s not just about his self-opinion as a researcher — it is also clear that one of his major motivations is to elevate humans (plus two other primates) as the only living beings worthy of self-awareness. Time and time again, he says things that make it clear that the imperative of the mirror test is to prove that humans are super-special (with two near-humans on the podium for silver and bronze).

    Here’s an example of Gallup’s special pleading: “Some scientists (but not Gallup) accept that European magpies, another social species known for its cognitive smarts, have passed the test. In this case, researchers affixed a small yellow sticker to the birds’ feathers at a spot they could see only by looking in a mirror. When they saw the dot, the magpies vigorously pecked at it. ‘I was at first convinced by this one,’ Gallup says. But other studies now suggest that the birds are actually responding to the tactile sensation of the sticker, and he’s lost his enthusiasm for the study.”

    Note that in this case, he has to resort to lying about the study to protect his position. The study in quesion was very cleverly designed. If they had merely placed a sticker on one group of magpies and left the control group of magpies sticker-free, then tactile feedback would have been a major confounding variable. But being smart investigators, that is not what they did. Instead they placed stickers on both groups of magpies. The investigative group had yellow stickers while the control group had black stickers indistinguishable from the magpies’ natural colouring and therefore not visible in the mirror. The investigators even went further to make sure their findings weren’t spurious — they had two other control groups: yellow sticker/no mirror and black sticker/no mirror. And guess what? The only magpies to remove the stickers were those with both a mirror and a yellow sticker. No mirror, no removal. Black sticker, no removal. Tactile feedback cannot possibly explain these findings. So Gallup’s attempt to dismiss this paper is via a grotesque misrepresentation that I cannot believe is an innocent misunderstanding.

    This paper is great, by the way. It links to several videos of the magpies’ behaviour. One of the most impressive videos is of the magpie Gertie finally managing to remove the sticker with her foot…and then looking in the mirror to check that the mark was gone. Tactile feedback, my ass!

    It is here that we can see Gallup’s human-puffery in full flight. If it was just a matter of protecting the reputation of his beloved mirror test, then this paper would present no problem at all. In fact, he could even take pride in accepting that his technique was central to the discovery that self-awareness is not limited to a subset of primates. But no, the mission-critical KPI here is to protect the benighted status of his chosen primates, even if it means brazenly lying about research that contradicts.

  28. chrislawson says


    Velikovsky does have a kind of entertainingly manic, big-budget SFX quality to it, but for personal reasons I can’t find him all that amusing given the number of family who tried to force this load of tripe down my throat when I was still in high-school, or the fact that at least two “historians of science” recommended to me by friends in science-fiction used Velikovsky as an example of how unfair scientists can be when it comes to alternative hypotheses (neglecting that fact that Velikovsky wasn’t so much “alternative” as just plain idiotic with not even a basic understanding of high-school science — and also ignoring the fact that there are many better defensible examples of scientists being treated badly for alternative theories , e.g. tectonic drift, H. pylori causing ulcers, endosymbiosis, washing hands preventing puerperal fever, and many many more, so why waste breath defending an antiscentifici moron like Velikovsky?).

    Meanwhile I find it easier to be entertained by the lunacy of flat earthers, probably because they don’t have much effect on me personally or have much political influence.

  29. StevoR says

    @ chrislawson : interesting info – hadn’t heard about that magpie mirror test. Not surprised. Corvids are damn smart as well as having their own playful personalities and amazing voices

    As for Velikovsky as noted by chrislawson above and birgerjohansson@24, you probly already know by Carl Sagan has a superb takedown of his literal non sense in his Broca’s Brain book :

    Which is well worth a read even if now a bit old.