Saturday, January 26, 2008

Science’s biggest guns weigh in on need for presidential science debate

The American Academy for the Advancement of Science is calling for just such a debate.

“Science and engineering have driven half the nation’s growth in GDP over the last half-century,” said AAAS CEO Alan Leshner, “and lie at the center of many of the major policy and economic challenges the next president will face. We feel that a presidential debate on science would be helpful to America’s national political dialogue.” Leshner has also joined the group’s steering committee.

Between Mike Huckabee on evolution, incumbent George Bush on global warming, and just-dropped-out Dennis Kucinich on UFOs (hey, anti-scientism can be bipartisan), this is a needed clarion call.

Fortunately, the debate call is also bipartisan.
The effort is being co-chaired by Congressmen Vern Ehlers, R-MI, and Rush Holt, D-NJ, and is also being championed by Congressman Bart Gordon, chair of the House Science & Technology Committee. It includes several former presidential science advisers from both major political parties.

And, the need is definitely there:
There have been several recent reports warning of potential erosion of the American economy and recommending changes in science and technology policies, said Shawn Lawrence Otto, one of the group’s organizers. “A recent Business Roundtable report shows that if current trends continue, in another two years over 90 percent of all scientists and engineers will live in Asia,” Otto said.

The bottom of the webpage linked above has several links itself, including to the Business Roundtable report and one by Congressman Bart Gordon, chair of the House Science & Technology Committee.

UpdatemeTo Barbara, in response to her comment to this post, I’m using “UFO” as shorthand, in the generic way, for people like Dennis, who claims to have actually talked with aliens.

So, it does make sense. Just about every “UFO” to “visit” has been scientifically proven something else; those that haven't actually been proven away have strongly been shown to be something explainable.

Yes, I’ve heard of SETI, but I think Drake, in his initial calculations, overestimated the likelihood of life in the universe, or our galaxy, at least as intelligent as us.

Beyond that, there’s two related psychological issues.

The first is psychological/technological/political. Would aliens advanced enough to have interstellar space travel just “bop in” in random individuals for short visits and then fly away? Absolutely not. They would either visit national and world leaders and share information, etc., or else find ways to shield their presence here from everybody, or else attack and invade (and, borrowing some susceptibility to Earth pathogens) easily conquer.

In light of that, here’s the second psychological issue. Many people who claim to have seen a “UFO” give detailed descriptions that indicate they’re not describing a “UFO” at all. For example, about 100 miles west of Dallas, people claim to have seen “UFOs.” However, at least one person described not a “UFO,” but a disc-shaped “flying saucer.”

In short, IMO, most people claiming to see “UFOs” are either lying, for their Warholian 15 minutes of fame, or delusional, the Harvard psych professor John Mack notwithstanding. Of course, from cognitive science, I argue the only difference between lying and delusion is ultimately that, in a delusion, you’re not even aware to yourself that you’re actually lying. (I’m distinguishing cognitive delusions from hallucinations.)