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MASTIO: Know-nothing scientists

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This March 28, 2011 image provided by NASA shows composited images from Swift’s Ultraviolet/Optical and X-ray telescopes of a gamma-ray explosion designated GRB 110328A. Scientists say this blast is unusual because the effects are long-lasting. More than a week later, they continue to see high-energy radiation spiking and fading at the source. Flaring from such an event usually lasts a couple of hours. (AP Photo/NASA, Swift, Stefan Immler)

The extraterrestrial (ET) study by NASA and Penn State scientists isn’t so much an example of loony liberalism run amok as it is a perfect case of how useless deep scientific knowledge can be in a practical sense.

The trio of ET scientists, now backtracking and mocked the world over, put together a reasonable overview of what we know and what we can guess about a possible alien encounter - 33 pages of not much. But when it came to guessing how people - both human and non- - would react to such an encounter, the geographer, the meteorologist and NASA’s planetary scientist went from typical academic time-wasting to scientific fraud.

The “scientists” offered three “practical recommendations.”

Two were obvious: (1) Watch what you say because (2) we don’t really know much about them. That happens to be what my mother told me when a new boy moved in down the street - common sense, for which you don’t need a graduate education or a taxpayer-financed job.

The only other recommendation - and the one that led to all the global-warming headlines - is that “humanity should avoid the appearance of being a rapidly expanding civilization” because aliens might see our polluted atmosphere and view us as a future threat. Aggressive aliens would attack us. Eco-fanatic aliens would punish us. Therefore, we should fight global warming or something.

But that ignores the “scientists” more banal recommendations: We don’t know how they’ll react to what we communicate or what values they’ll use to decide. Thus, if we stop “rapidly expanding” and become the “sustainable” or shrinking society these experts suggest, we could just as easily cause aggressive aliens to attack because we look weak or offend them for some reason we’ll never understand.

It’s a good reason to remember that just because someone has a Ph.D., it doesn’t mean he knows much more than your mother.

David Mastio is deputy editorial page editor at The Washington Times.

About the Author
David Mastio

David Mastio, former Deputy Editorial Page Editor at The Washington Times, was an editorial writer and op-ed editor for USA Today, Washington correspondent for The Detroit News, editorial writer for The Virginian-Pilot, founding Editorial Page Editor of The Washington Examiner and speechwriter for World Bank President Robert Zoellick when he was the United States Trade Representative under President George W. ...

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