Avi Loeb found what he was looking for

You were expecting little green men?

Because of course he did, since he was going to happily declare anything he found to be of extrasolar origin. The preliminary analysis of the metal spheres he found at the bottom of the ocean has been published in ArXiv, as he announced on…the Michael Shermer podcast? I’m already prejudiced against believing him.

From a July expedition off the coast of Papua New Guinea, a collection of small metallic spheres was recovered from the sea floor, which famous Harvard scientist Avi Loeb said Tuesday are from outside our solar system.

Tuesday’s press release, first reported by USA Today, suggests that 57 of the 700 metallic spheres, which were recovered by using a magnetic sled the team dragged through the water and sand, are interstellar in origin “based on the composition and isotopes.” That is unmatched by existing material in our solar system, Loeb said in an interview on “The Michael Shermer Show.”

“This is a historic discovery because it represents the first time that scientists have analyzed materials from a large object that arrived to Earth from outside the solar system,” Loeb wrote in his Tuesday blog post on Medium.

The paper has also been posted on the X, formerly known as Twitter, shitshow.

Not peer-reviewed, obviously, and Shermer and X are the outlets used to display the results? Not impressive.

So what did he find? I don’t know. I’m not really qualified to interpret this result — maybe you are.

What he found is that the tiny little spheres he pulled up are enriched for beryllium, lanthanum, and uranium, which is unusual compared to C1 chondrites. Carbonaceous chondrites have an elemental composition reflective of the elements in the solar system as a whole, so this difference is taken as evidence that the meteor was from different star system altogether. Or, as was my first thought, that the meteor was not a carbonaceous chondrite. Or that the melting as it passed through the atmosphere altered the distribution of elements. Or that sitting in the ocean for a decade degraded the material in interesting ways. Or that his sampling technique was biased towards plucking out unusual samples. I don’t know, this is way outside my expertise, I just know I’m extremely suspicious of anything Avi Loeb says. I mean, he also declared that meteor was of interstellar origin based on a letter that used wobbly estimates of its speed and trajectory.

The interstellar origin of IM1 was established at the 99.999% confidence based on velocity measurements by US government satellites, as confirmed in a formal letter from the US Space Command to NASA.

I love the fact that he got 99.999% confidence from a third-hand letter based on largely confidential evidence. That tells me all I need to know.

But also, all the recent foofaraw about UFOs, like the recent congressional hearings, is rich old fools with no scientific background. They’re just certain that the aliens are here.

In a 2017 interview with 60 Minutes, Robert Bigelow didn’t hesitate when he was asked if space aliens had ever visited Earth. “There has been and is an existing presence, an ET presence,” said Bigelow, a Las Vegas-based real estate mogul and founder of Bigelow Aerospace, a company NASA had contracted to build inflatable space station habitats. Bigelow was so certain, he indicated, because he had “spent millions and millions and millions” of dollars searching for UFO evidence. “I probably spent more as an individual than anybody else in the United States has ever spent on this subject.”

He’s right. Since the early 1990s, Bigelow has bankrolled a voluminous stream of pseudoscience on modern-day UFO lore—investigating everything from crop circles and cattle mutilations to alien abductions and UFO crashes. Indeed, if you name a UFO rabbit hole, it’s a good bet the 79-year-old tycoon has flushed his riches down it.

If Loeb is famous now, it’s for quickly jumping on that cash cow and riding it hard. He found a UFO fanatic sugar daddy, and is milking him for everything he can.

From a scientific standpoint, all this money seems wasted on a zany quest that is akin to the search for Bigfoot or Atlantis. The same might be said of Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb’s recent hunt for evidence of extraterrestrial life off the coast of Papua New Guinea, which cost $150,000 and was funded by cryptocurrency mogul Charles Hoskinson. Loeb’s polarizing claims of finding traces of alien technology and of having a more open-minded and dispassionate approach to fringe science have garnered a truly staggering amount of media coverage, but his peers in the scientific community are rolling their eyes.

It’s the latest stunt by Loeb, who also helms a controversial UFO project and previously drew the ire of his colleagues with outlandish claims about the supposedly artificial nature of an (admittedly weird) interstellar comet. Steve Desch, an astrophysicist at Arizona State University, recently told the New York Times: “What the public is seeing in Loeb is not how science works. And they shouldn’t go away thinking that.”

Exactly. Loeb is just the latest in a long line of ignoramuses and charlatans who claim to have extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims, but when asked to show it reveal a thimble full of cherry-picked dirt. Unfortunately, it’s another symptom of the inequitable and unearned distribution of wealth, which allows absurdly wealthy people to throw barrels of cash undiscriminatingly at anyone willing to endorse their delusions. They keep sucking up unwarranted acknowledgements from prestigious institutions as well!

Unfortunately, much of this nonsense has, at one point or another, been masked with an aura of legitimacy by prestigious institutions. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lent its imprimatur to an alien abduction conference in the early 1990s—which Robert Bigelow helped pay for. A generous benefactor to academia, Bigelow also gave millions to the University of Nevada during the 1990s to study supposed psychic phenomena, such as telepathy, clairvoyance and the possibility of life after death. (In recent years, the billionaire has turned his attention and money largely to the afterlife.)

Indeed, there is a long tradition of fringe science at prestigious universities. The dubious field of parapsychology, for instance, owes its existence to the decades of pseudoscholarship churned out at Duke and Harvard University–and financed by wealthy private patrons. Some of our most illustrious thinkers, such as the eminent psychologist William James, have fallen for it. Belief in Martians sprang in large part from a wealthy amateur astronomer, Percival Lowell, who built the observatory that still bears his name. A University of Arizona psychology professor attracted criticism in recent years for taking money from the Pioneer Fund, founded in 1937 by textiles magnate to promote the racist science of eugenics.

You know, universities — especially the large already rich ones — are often fueled by capitalistic grasping at money, right? And when idiots have lots of money, they aren’t shy about pandering to them.

By the way, Loeb made this announcement on the day his new book, Interstellar, was released. Very convenient.

So a few billion people die? It’s just a number

The lunatics in Silicon Valley are in a panic about Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), but they can’t really explain why. They are just certain that the results would be dire, and therefore justifies almost-as-dire responses to an existential threat. Just listen to Eliezer Yudkowsky…or better yet, don’t listen to him.

Consider a recent TIME magazine article by Eliezer Yudkowsky, a central figure within the TESCREAL movement who calls himself a “genius” and has built a cult-like following in the San Francisco Bay Area. Yudkowsky contends that we may be on the cusp of creating AGI, and that if we do this “under anything remotely like the current circumstances,” the “most likely result” will be “that literally everyone on Earth will die.” Since an all-out thermonuclear war probably won’t kill everyone on Earth—the science backs this up—he thus argues that countries should sign an international treaty that would sanction military strikes against countries that might be developing AGI, even at the risk of triggering a “full nuclear exchange.”

Well, first of all, it’s a sign of how far TIME magazine has declined that they’re giving space to a kook like Yudkowsky, who is most definitely not a genius (first clue: anyone who calls himself a genius isn’t one), and whose main claim to fame is that he’s the leader of the incestuous, babbling Less Wrong cult. But look at that “logic”!

Oh, but the alternative would be so much worse!

  • AGI will kill everyone (Evidence not shown)
  • All-out nuclear war will only kill almost everyone
  • Therefore, we should trigger nuclear war to prevent AGI

Yudkowsky then doubled-down on the stupidity.

Many people found these claims shocking. Three days after the article was published, someone asked Yudkowsky on social media: “How many people are allowed to die to prevent AGI?” His response was: “There should be enough survivors on Earth in close contact to form a viable reproductive population, with room to spare, and they should have a sustainable food supply. So long as that’s true, there’s still a chance of reaching the stars someday.”

That’s simply insane. He has decided that A) the primary goal of our existence is to build starships, B) AGI would prevent us from building starships, and C) the fiery extermination of billions of people and near-total poisoning of our environment is a small price to pay to let a small breeding population survive and go to space. I’m kinda wondering how he thinks we can abruptly kill the majority of people on Earth without triggering an extinction vortex. You know, this well-documented phenomenon:

Jesus. Someone needs to tell him that Dr Strangelove was neither a documentary nor a utopian fantasy.

But, you might say, that is so incredibly nuts that no one would take Yudkowsky seriously…well, except for TIME magazine. And also…

Astonishingly, after Yudkowsky published his article and made the comments above, TED invited him to give a talk. He also appeared on major podcast’s like Lex Fridman’s, and last month appeared on the “Hold These Truths Podcast” hosted by the Republican congressman Dan Crenshaw. The extremism that Yudkowsky represents is starting to circulate within the public and political arenas, and his prophecies about an imminent AGI apocalypse are gaining traction.

Keep in mind that this is the era of clickbait, when the key to lucrative popularity is to be extremely loud about passionate bullshit, to tap into the wallets and mind-space of paranoid delusionists. Yudkowsky is realizing that being MoreWrong pays a hell of a lot better than LessWrong.

I learned some Latin this morning

Mark Meadows, the creationist ninny who also happened to be Trump’s chief of staff and self-serving MAGA nut, rushed to testify in an Atlanta court on Monday. He was basically trying to get himself off the hook — I expect a lot of the indicted are thinking about how to get out from under a prison sentence — and his defense was the good ol’ “I was just following orders” excuse. The cute thing about that is that he just passed the buck to the ex-president.

It’s all the more curious, then, that Meadows decided to take the witness stand on Monday and assert that he was merely doing his job as Trump’s chief of staff when he partook in what Atlanta prosecutors call a pressure campaign to flip the vote there. Because in doing so, he’s essentially pointing the finger at his boss.

“He now cannot ever say, ‘I wasn’t doing this for the president, I was acting on my own,’” said Peter Odom, a former prosecutor at the Fulton County DA’s office.

Indeed, Meadows’ entire defense rests upon the idea that he was just doing his job, that his efforts to connect Trump with people who would help to overturn the election was at the direction of the former president himself. It’s precisely that point which Fulton County DA Fani Willis is trying to prove: that Trump was at the center of this entire criminal conspiracy.

Anyway, more important than yet another day of legal maneuvering is that I learned a Latin phrase!

“There’s an ancient legal doctrine: Respondeat superior. It’s Latin for ‘Let the master answer,’” which means that a boss is ultimately responsible if he “directs the agent to do something,” Carlson said.

That’s going to be so useful in the coming months.

Uh-oh, Florida

It’s looking ominous this morning for Florida’s Gulf coast. Is “ominous” maybe the wrong word? The situation is more than just threatening, they’re about to be slammed hard today by Hurricane Idalia. Just yesterday I was reading that meteorologists expected it would be a Category 3 hurricane with winds above 100mph, but today they’re saying it’s going to be much worse, with 130+ mph winds.

Idalia rapidly intensified to a Category 4 hurricane overnight as forecasters warned that a “catastrophic” storm surge and “destructive” winds were nearing Florida’s northern Gulf Coast. Idalia is set to make landfall Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center said. The agency warned Florida residents to prepare for long power outages and said some locations may be uninhabitable for several weeks or months. Parts of eastern Georgia and southeastern South Carolina also could experience damaging winds.

Unfortunately, hurricanes are not discriminating and this one won’t be selectively plucking up the idiots who voted for their climate-change-denying governor. I’ve never experienced winds that fierce — y’all stay safe now.

A small step to a happier planet

We need to get rid of outmoded regulations on lawns. There’s a growing movement to restore native plants to our yards, and they have many virtues.

Homeowners with native gardens from Florida and Maryland to Missouri and Kentucky have gotten slapped with fines or even have their yards mowed without permission. The reason – taller native plants can get mistaken for weeds. Many cities don’t allow weeds to grow above a certain height, and they don’t have the time or staff to find out what’s what. But native plants have a lot of benefits for the planet. For one, they keep the land cooler. Indiana University biology professor Heather Reynolds says they use heat from their environment to pull water up from the soil and out their leaves.

That got me wondering…how do we define weeds? Is big bluestem ( Andropogon gerardi) a “weed”? That stuff grows to be 8 feet tall with roots diving down 10 feet — it was the native grass that grew all over the region I’m living in, which has since been mostly replaced by corn, which also grows to be 8 feet tall, but has much more shallow roots. Is corn a weed? I live in one of those cities that defines “weeds” by their height. The city of Morris has defined 8 inches as the acceptable height for plants in our yards.

Subd. 1. It is the primary responsibility of any owner or occupant of any lot or
parcel of land to maintain any weeds or grass growing thereon at a height of not more than eight
(8”) inches (except for native grasses and wildflowers indigenous to Minnesota, planted and
maintained on any occupied lot or parcel of land, set back a minimum of ten (10’) feet from the
front property line as part of a garden or landscape treatment, which are exempt from being no
more than 8”); to remove all public health or safety hazards therefrom; to install or repair water
service lines upon any property which is improved with commercial or habitable structures; and
to treat or remove insect-infested or diseased trees thereon. It shall also be unlawful for any such
person or persons to cause, suffer or allow noxious weeds or plants identified and defined by the
Minnesota Department of Agriculture to grow on any such lot or parcel of land so as to endanger
the health, safety and welfare of the City.

I’m pleased with the exemption for native plants, as long as they’re not too close to the front of the property, but I’d like to see a different standard. Let’s call Kentucky bluegrass a weed. Let’s condemn any lawn that is too uniform, that doesn’t support species diversity, that is lacking in flowers to support pollinators.

Who needs a privacy fence when your lawn is made up of grasses and forbs climbing up above window height? Think of all the interesting insects and spiders you’ll get, too, and the birds that will thrive in that environment. It might be a problem when the bison come back and start migrating through your yard, but I think that would be amazing. (Sorry, can’t come in to work today, I’ve got a small herd of a few thousand bison blocking my driveway.)

Who the heck is Clay Clark?

I never heard of him before, but suddenly my email is flooded with crap from him — some troll probably signed me up. What I’m seeing is flyers portraying stark raving madness, like this one.

WTF? Straight-up MAGA Jesus, with some of the more outrageous hate-ranters available, like Greg Locke. Oh, look, they got “comedian” Jim Breuer making funny faces, which is pretty much the entirety of his act (oh, wait, there are also obnoxious noises.) This tent-revival-style shrieking looks like my personal vision of Hell, but the impresario isn’t Satan, it’s some asshole named Clay Clark. So I looked him up on Wikipedia.

The ReAwaken America tour was founded by Clay Clark, a business coach and entrepreneur and former mayoral candidate in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In August 2020, Clark initiated a lawsuit against the city of Tulsa for its mask mandate to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The lawsuit alleged that wearing masks caused oxygen deprivation, leading to “migraine headaches, shortness of breath and dizziness.” The lawsuit was dropped in March 2021.

Clark has publicly espoused his belief in COVID-19 conspiracy theories. When he spoke at the January 5, 2021 rally held at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. in support of Donald Trump’s protest of the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Clark told attendees that the coronavirus pandemic was a hoax and instructed them to “turn to the person next to you and give them a hug, someone you don’t know. Go hug somebody. Go ahead and spread it out, mass spreader. It’s a mass-spreader event!”

On a June 2021 episode of the Stew Peters Show, he argued that the COVID-19 vaccine contained luciferase, which he believed was a cryptocurrency technology associated with the Mark of the Beast prophesied in Revelation 13:16-18. This conspiracy theory, according to Clark, included Bill Gates (under the influence of performance artist and alleged Satanist Marina Abramović), and Jeffrey Epstein. Clark accused Gates and Epstein of attempting to create a new race of humans by combining luciferase and Epstein’s DNA into the COVID-19 vaccine.

At an October 2021 rally in Salt Lake City, Utah, Clark made the unproven claim that “COVID-19 is 100 percent treatable using budesonide, hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.” He also accused George Soros of funding remdesivir, a drug used to treat severe cases of COVID-19 but which Clark said was “killing COVID-19 patients in the hospital because it causes renal failure”.

Oh. So he’s like the stupid version of Satan, then. He seems to believe that COVID, a disease that killed over a million Americans over the last few years, is a hoax…and that wearing a mask, which I still do for hours every day, causes oxygen deprivation. I’ve used luciferase, it’s just an enzyme. Epstein’s DNA isn’t in any vaccine. Ivermectin doesn’t work. But he has turned these loony beliefs into a big money-maker for himself.

There is also a nice Rolling Stone expose, which mainly reveals what a colossal asshole the man is. At least I was happy to learn that devout Christians are waking up and protesting these MAGA megachurch vermin as enemies of their faith.

Each stop on the tour now draws protests, of varying size, and the show is sometimes booted from venues — as it was in upstate New York this summer — leaving Clark scrambling. In Virginia, a lone van sent by the liberal clergy group Faithful America, which has been organizing against the tour since early this year, putters past the location with a rented billboard denouncing the speakers. (No one from that group is in attendance, citing safety concerns.) Reached by phone, Nathan Empsall, Faithful America’s director, says, “This tour is the face of unholy Christian Nationalism and they are bringing this deadly message to many churches.”

We atheists despise him, too. This sounds like the kind of thing where atheists and theists can find common cause. At least on agreeing that Jim Breuer is not funny at all.

A woman has to be brave to work at a remote research station

I wonder if NSF regrets making their logo so prominent in these photos of the McMurdo research station in Antarctica. I can see where there is some pride.

Antarctica’s ancient ice sheet and remoteness make it ideal for scientists studying everything from the earliest moments of the universe to changes in the planet’s climate.

The population at McMurdo, the hub of US operations, usually swells from 200-300 in the southern winter to over 1,000 in the summer. Typically, around 70 per cent are men.

Funded and overseen by the NSF, the US Antarctic Programme is run by a tangle of contractors and subcontractors, with billions of dollars at stake. Since 2017, Leidos has held the main contract, now worth over $200 million per year. Subcontractor PAE, which employs many of the base’s workers, was bought last year by the government services giant Amentum.

Money, isolation, lots of men, it does look like an opportunity for research, but you’d think someone would recognize that it’s also an opportunity for men to behave badly, and that precautions would be taken to protect all the workers there. They weren’t.

The National Science Foundation, the federal agency that oversees the US Antarctic Programme, published a report in 2022 in which 59 per cent of women said they’d experienced harassment or assault while on the ice, and 72 per cent of women said such behaviour was a problem in Antarctica.

But the problem goes beyond the harassment, the Associated Press found. In reviewing court records and internal communications, and in interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, the AP uncovered a pattern of women who said their claims of harassment or assault were minimised by their employers, often leading to them or others being put in further danger.

In one case, a woman who reported a colleague had groped her was made to work alongside him again. In another, a woman who told her employer she was sexually assaulted was later fired. Another woman said that bosses at the base downgraded her allegations from rape to harassment. The AP generally does not identify those who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they publicly identify themselves.

72%! That’s a rather significant number. You’d think that would be enough to prompt major changes in policy and enforcement. Nope. Instead, it encouraged denial.

Buckingham was hired by PAE. Amentum didn’t respond to questions from the AP. Leidos senior vice-president Melissa Lee Dueñas said it conducts background checks on all its employees.

“Our stance on sexual harassment or assault couldn’t be more clear: we have zero tolerance for such behavior,” Dueñas said in an email. “Each case is thoroughly investigated.”

Those are words that put me on edge: you’re saying “zero tolerance,” but when you’ve got a strong majority of women reporting harassment, that says you’re pretty tolerant. “Thoroughly investigated” sounds more like “thoroughly covered-up.”

I’ll spare you the many personal accounts of sexual abuse documented in the article. I’m most appalled by how the contractors who profit from McMurdo respond to the reports. Here’s how a woman, Liz Monahan, who was assaulted, was dealt with.

With her employers doing nothing to address her concerns, Monahon’s immediate boss and co-workers came up with their own plan, according to two employees familiar with the situation.

Monahon was told to pack her bags, and the next morning joined a group trying to navigate a safe route across the sea ice over eight days to resupply a tiny US outpost. The crossing is risky because the ice can crumble in the spring.

“To protect her, they put her in a dangerous situation,” said Wes Thurmann, a fire department supervisor who had worked in Antarctica every year since 2012.

But they all felt it was safer than her remaining at McMurdo.

It’s a pattern of neglect, denial, and protection of the abusers.

The woman told her bosses she’d been sexually assaulted by a coworker. Her performance was subsequently criticised by a supervisor, who was also the girlfriend of the accused man. Two months later, she was fired.

Many of the woman’s colleagues were outraged. Julie Grundberg, then the McMurdo area manager for Leidos, repeatedly emailed her concerns to her superiors in Denver.

“The fact that we haven’t come out with some sort of public statement is making the community trust our organisation even less,” Grundberg wrote.

Supervisor Ethan Norris replied: “We need your help to keep this calm and be a neutral party, as you have only one side of the story at this point.”

Wow. Leidos has been contracted by the NSF to manage the station since at least 2017; their contract expires in 2025. It’s part of the problem that their incompetence didn’t get them immediately terminated.

The deeper pattern here is that our scientific organizations are setting up remote research stations in places like Antarctica or the tropics while neglecting basic social obligations. They’re building cozy little cabins free of accountability that draw in rapists and abusers.

I don’t think Facebook understands the word ‘privacy’

They’d probably fail the vocabulary section of the SAT.

Many students have no choice about working with the College Board, the company that administers the SAT test and Advanced Placement exams. Part of that relationship involves a long history of privacy issues. Tests by Gizmodo found if you use some of the handy tools promoted by College Board’s website, the organization sends details about your SAT scores, GPA, and other data to Facebook, TikTok, and a variety of companies.

Gizmodo observed the College Board’s website sharing data with Facebook and TikTok when a user fills in information about their GPA and SAT scores. When this reporter used the College Board’s search filtering tools to find colleges that might accept a student with a C+ grade-point average and a SAT score of 420 out of 1600, the site let the social media companies know. Whether a student is acing their tests or struggling, Facebook and TikTok get the details.

No one should be surprised that Facebook and TikTok are stealing their users information. No one should be surprised that the College Board is pulling this crap, too. It’s cute that they were flat out caught lying.

“We do not share SAT scores or GPAs with Facebook or TikTok, and any other third parties using pixel or cookies,” said a College Board spokesperson. “In fact, we do not send any personally identifiable information (PII) through our pixels on the site. In addition, we do not use SAT scores or GPAs for any targeting.”

After receiving this comment, Gizmodo shared a screenshot of the College Board sending GPAs and SAT scores to TikTok using a pixel. The spokesperson then acknowledged that the College Board’s website actually does share this data.

Yeah, that’s the College Board all over the place. They’re a for-profit company(it claims to be a non-profit, but keep in mind the CEO makes over a million dollars a year) founded during the era of eugenics on the lie that a standardized test can be used to quantify the intelligence and ability of young people.