I should be grateful to Avi Loeb. He’s done so much to besmirch the power of the phrase “Harvard professor,” which journalists like to deploy as evidence that someone must be a super-smart guy when it means nothing of the kind. Someone must be able to see through the bullshit in his latest claims, right?
A Harvard professor said Monday he may have uncovered evidence of alien life in the universe and told Americans it would fundamentally change their understanding of their existence.
Harvard Professor Avi Loeb said Monday on “Fox & Friends” that he examined an object moving through spacefaster than 95% of stars near the sunthat hadmaterial strengthand was tougher than most rocks.
The professor, who is also an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, explained that he could notquantifythe object that he was studying just yet.
He’s got nothin’, but he’ll babble about nothing to get his airtime on Fox News and his tabloid coverage.
What actually happened is that a meteor plunging through the atmosphere over Papua New Guinea melted and exploded, and Loeb rushed to the area, trawled a magnet through the ocean, and pulled up some tiny metal spherules that he wants to pretend are alien artifacts.
Here, want to see some of his evidence?
Yeah, that’s it. They’re doing an isotope analysis and plan to publish a paper on it. I’m not sure what result that they expect to get that would constitute evidence of alien life — they’re going to find that they’re mostly iron, and any reliable isotope data might show that they’re billions of years old, as we’d expect from an extraterrestrial rock.
Fortunately, some scientists are speaking out.
Now, though, a number of scientists have countered Loeb’s claims. The New York Times piece, for example, points out that Steve Desch, an astrophysicist at Arizona State University, explained that the meteorite would have been completely incinerated entering Earth’s atmosphere if it was traveling at the speed that Loeb claims.
Desch went as far as saying that Loeb’s comments constitute “a real breakdown of the peer review process and the scientific method, and it’s so demoralizing and tiring.”
Peter Brown, a meteor physicist at Western University in Ontario, concurred, suggesting that Loeb shouldn’t make such bold proclamations during the early analysis phase — it’s not uncommon for detected events to appear interstellar at first only to be chalked up to a measurement error.
I think the reason that Loeb still has his position and his appointment to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences is that it is “so demoralizing and tiring” to deal with gullible journalists who’ve fallen for this ridiculous charlatanry.
Hey, journalists: here’s the real question that popped into my head when I read this story. Avi Loeb was able to charter a ship (expensive!) and crew (more expensive!) and load it with some specialized mining gear (not cheap, I imagine) and drag it back and forth across the ocean floor, while getting photos taken of his smug, grinning face. He has sent samples to various labs around the world to be assayed, not something you’ll pay for out of pocket.
Who’s paying for it? I would be shocked if this barebones speculation and literal fishing expedition could have passed peer review, and if it did, there are some committees at NSF that need to be flensed.
So please, this is journalism 101. Follow the money.