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Why can top scientists get away with extraordinary claims?

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Could 'Oumuamua be an extra-terrestrial solar sail?
Artist’s impression of interstellar asteroid/comet, Oumuamua /ESO, M. Kornmesser

Space object Oumuamua was rushed into the limelight as an extraterrestrial light sail. Seems odd to be in such a hurry:

Hype in science can be seen as an outgrowth of the larger crisis in journalism, as the precipitous decline in journalism jobs has meant that few news outlets employ dedicated science journalists. While many scientists blame hyped-up science news on a lack of journalistic expertise, the reality is more complex: As the bottom fell out for science journalism jobs, many science journalists were faced with the choice between battling it out as freelancers or using their skills to work in the communications offices of the institutions housing scientists — usually universities.

So the National Hush Hush went mainstream.

Over at the Atlantic, Marina Koren has written about how institutional prestige — in this case, Loeb’s position as chairman of the Harvard Astronomy Department, along with his long list of other accomplishments — can add a certain gravitas to a claim that might be dismissed if it came from somewhere else. But it also shapes who can get away with extreme ideas in the first place. Pushing the boundaries of plausibility comes with risk to one’s career and reputation, so while anyone can use hyperbole as a tool, the risk that one bears is substantially higher if you are not insulated by a name-brand institution, along with titles and accomplishments from adjacent name-brand institutions. Outlandish claims are, in some sense, a luxury concentrated in the hands of those who already possess other luxuries — a kind of academic weight whose heft accumulates with time. Lucianne Walkowicz, “Why scientists sometimes make extraordinary claims” at Washington Post

These are all tales of an invented god, of course.

The opinion piece is basically an extended defense of the kind of atmosphere in which the most ridiculous claims for Darwinism, for example, flourish and any questioners had better be careful. There is a lot of that out there in many areas now and the faithful are continually exhorted all the more to trust science, whether it’s sense or nonsense.

Hat tip: Ken Francis, co-author with Theodore Dalrymple of The Terror of Existence: From Ecclesiastes to Theatre of the Absurd.

Note: A book on the new pop science religion might well be titled “Tales of an Invented God.” An author would likely be challenged to keep up with all the non-events breathlessly documented in both AI and ET and their merger in the extraterrestrial cyborg. After all, the technocrats who invent their future gods can change, re-envision, replace, upgrade, eliminate them at any time.

See also: Astronomers: Solar System Object In Transit, Oumuamua, Might Be A “Light Sail Of Extra-Terrestrial Origin”

Did Interstellar Object Oumuamua Normalize Space Aliens As Science In 2018?

and

Be kind to ET. He is some people’s deity

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One Reply to “Why can top scientists get away with extraordinary claims?

  1. 1
    Axel says:

    Generally speaking, as we must in order to make sense of the world, the higher up the socio-economic order, the less firm the grip on the basics of Christianity. Even with giants such as St Augustine of Hippo, alhough he posseessed a mind-boggling prophetic gift of the Holy Spirit, his proper domain tending to be worldly intelligence, the latter, rather than spiritual wisdom, is as integral to his nature in this life, as the firmer grasp on the primordial wisdom of the faith of most manual workers. The Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes are an acknowledgment of that, of the spiritual primacy of the Anawim, of the devout poor, indeed of Lazarus vis-a-vis the Rich Man.

    These scientists are not the very top ones are they, the pardigm changers, are they ? They tend to be the ones who collect degrees and network in overdrive, more keen on attaining a high status, than on actually making epochal discoveries. It’s what atheists do, because it makes sense according to their limited, essentially unscientific world-view.

    So, top scientists

    Despite Jesus’ urging all of us to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves, there has tended to be a ‘division of labour’ ; the world set up the way it was, grace building upon nature, was always going to be a long process. ‘Money gets money’ and succeeding genreations of families tend to become wealthier and more entrenched in the Establishment, until they become part of the caste – from which ejection apparently seems unthinkable. The totalitarian grip of the atheist Establishment on research students in the science faculties in Academia is often alluded to here – a feature of the degeneracy of many of the very wealthy, who do not want either their corporations or their private lives to be onstrained in any way by considerations of Christian morality. Only a foolish child would point to the Emperor’s sartorial deficiency, evidently unaware that no good could come of it – at least, not to him.

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