Media uses ‘bait and switch’ when discussing alien life

Because Congress surely needs a break from the unimportant stuff…

US Congress has close encounter over extraterrestrial life | Science | theguardian.com.

Witnesses from Nasa and MIT suggest to House committee that scientists may be on verge of breakthrough in search for aliens.

A House committee convened on Wednesday to take up an abiding mystery of the universe: are we Earthlings alone? After about 90 minutes of testimony, committee chair Lamar Smith of Texas gaveled the hearing to an inconclusive close.

It was not, however, a fruitless outing. In impassioned testimony, witnesses from Nasa, MIT and the Library of Congress described a crossroads in the search for life out there and suggested scientists may be on the verge of a breakthrough.

“This is the first time in human history we have the technological reach to cross the threshold,” said Dr Sara Seager, an MIT professor and 2013 MacArthur “genius grant” recipient. Her work focuses on the detection of “biosignature” gases on distant planets, large volumes of which might indicate life, whether intelligent life or single-cell bacteria.

AHA, notice the bait-and-switch. For shame! Media pulls this crap a lot when they talk about “alien life”. The scientists are talking reasonable assumptions – bacteria and finding biological traces through testing. The non-scientists are extrapolating to extraterrestrials and intelligent beings in UFOs. These are two COMPLETELY different discussions.

It’s reasonable to say “yes” to the question “is there life out there?” but unreasonable to ask if there is “intelligent” life out there (whatever that means, unless you think bacteria should be classified as ‘smart’).

So watch these stories carefully. Scientists are desperate for funding their projects to do good, solid, astrobiology, but are not asking to search for little grey men. Don’t throw the good programs out with the pseudoscience.

OH YOU alien

  6 comments for “Media uses ‘bait and switch’ when discussing alien life

  1. Chris Howard
    December 5, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    “Possible microbial life” sounds a lot less exciting than “Rectal probing Greys.”

    Band name. Called it.

  2. Takashi Toyooka
    December 5, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    To be fair, the only reference to intelligent aliens or UFOs is in the picture of ET; I don’t see any bait-and-switch in the text of the article.

  3. spookyparadigm
    December 5, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    I have seen stories on this that suggested it was silly stuff ala UFOs. Also, it echoes the infamous shutdown of SETI over little green men.

  4. cplamb
    December 5, 2013 at 3:13 PM

    “Witnesses from Nasa and MIT suggest to House committee that scientists may be on verge of breakthrough in search for aliens.” This should be of great interest to two agencies in the U.S. government–The Department of State (which is responsible for dealings with aliens in their native habitats) and the Customs and Border Protection (which is responsible for dealing with aliens within the USA).

  5. December 5, 2013 at 8:12 PM

    “a crossroads in the search for life out there” and “scientists may be on the verge of a breakthrough”…yet the story turnes out to be “detection of biosignature gases on distant planets, large volumes of which might indicate life” — that sounds like bait and switch to me. The only question is who is doing the switch: enthusiastic scientists testifying to Congress, or journalists looking for a dramatic flair to the story?

  6. xes4eyes@gmail.com
    December 10, 2013 at 10:43 AM

    Include in the Weather Channel’s “In Antarctica: Visitors From Beyond the Galaxy?” http://www.weather.com/video/in-antarctica-visitors-from-beyond-the-galaxy-41504 They are neutrinos. “Visitor” implies intelligent life. It’s a publicity tactic unworthy of the subject. It’s an interesting enough subject by itself. It doesn’t require a gimmick to publicize this subject. It probably turned away a number of readers who would be skeptical of a headline featuring “Aliens”.

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