Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku must be a fairly smart guy in some respects. After all, he is a Professor of Theoretical Physics in the City College of New York. What he had to say yesterday on CNN was idiotic, however, and to the extent that he demeaned the scientific method , he should be ashamed for making all scientists look like buffoons.
I just happened to see a CNN “news” show as I was preparing lunch yesterday at my workplace kitchen (there is a TV hanging on the wall). At the end of one news segment, it was announced that we should stay tuned because there is new evidence of an ancient galaxy indicating that there are advanced civilizations living on other worlds. What??? This announcement immediately sent up red flags. I asked co-workers, “Who is the crackpot who is going to make these claims?” After the commercial ended, we met the crackpot: Michio Kaku.
What was evidence that Aliens exist? According to Kaku, it is the fact that that scientists have successfully been using the Kepler satellite to detect the existence of planets in our region of the Milky Way Galaxy. Already, scientists have detected the existence of more than 2,000 planets outside of our solar system. Well, it is true that we are discovering thousands of planets outside of the solar system. It is an exciting development. Actually, it is an amazing development based on rigorous and legitimate science.
It was at this point in the broadcast that the conversation turned surreal. Since many planets have been detected (something that has been assumed for many decades), Kaku asserted that there must be many civilizations out there, and some of them are highly advanced, much more advanced than we are here on earth. How does Kaku know this? He doesn’t say.
I should stop for a moment to reveal my gut feeling (which is merely a gut feeling). I assume that there are billions of planets in our galaxy, and that many of them sustain rudimentary forms of life. I also assume that some of them are inhabited by sentient beings of some sort, perhaps beings with whom we could communicate if only we weren’t so far away that electromagnetic wave communications would take hundreds or thousands of light years to reach them–I assume that if such sentient beings exist, many of them don’t have the technology to communicate with us through space. Thus, I’m not belittling Kaku for assuming that there might be such beings and civilizations; there are some good reasons for making such an assumption. Rather I’m belittling him for appearing on TV as a scientist and asserting that such beings and civilizations actually do exist, and that we can somehow base this conclusion on Kepler’s data. But this rampant speculation disguised as science was merely the launching point for some intensely xenophobic pseudo-science.
The conversation then turned to whether these other advanced civilizations are plotting against us. Kaku suggested that some of those alien civilizations likely have advanced weapons that they might use to destroy us. He argued that it would be “Bambi v Godzilla,” because we are so much less intelligent than they are. We would be helpless against their technology, because they are so much smarter. Then he held out some hope: Perhaps the threat from this common enemy, these aggressors from out space, will lead the nations of Earth to cooperate as never before, as we struggle against them.
To summarize the argument: We can detect the existence of more than 2,000 planets outside of the solar system, THEREFORE, some hostile aliens are out there and they would seek to overwhelm us with their hyper-intelligently designed weapons. This is like saying that because we discovered bacterium in the human digestive system, they will, within 2 years, evolve into a giant worm that will crawl up our abdomens and devour our hearts. This is rank speculation upon rank speculation.
We’ve already got too much bad science all over the airwaves in the form of groundless nutrition claims, quack medicine, intentional industry-driven lies regarding alleged food safety, the denial of global warming, and claims that we there is such a thing as “clean coal” technology. We don’t need more junk science on TV. Such groundless “scientific” claims put all scientists in a bad light at a time when we desperately need more evidence-based rigorous thinking to solve potentially insurmountable
issues relating to human survival.
This CNN “news” show featuring Michio Kaku (and a naive “news” host who could have and should have punctured Kaku’s wild claims with a good question or two) is a good example of the drivel that often passes for news these days. What the networks often feed us are freak shows, charlatans, conjured conflict (conflict pornography), entertainment, horse race politics, pundits arguing in the absence of facts, and politicians and their shills energetically shitting on each other.
We don’t need any more attention-craving reality-unhinged “scientists” who use their credentials as a basis for spouting nonsense or paranoia. There is a constant and notable lack of credible information presented on “news” shows, and this leaves leaves many viewers suspicious of all scientists. Instead of trusting science, then, many people conclude that any belief is as good as any other belief. Science versus religion? It’s all the same, right? Just pick one willy-nilly and you’ll be fine. Broadcasting goofball science as though it were rigorous science is making it difficult for our country to set meaningful priorities, and that is a national tragedy.
Next time CNN wants to have Kaku discuss the impending attacks by belligerent aliens, they should introduce him like this:
Professor Kaku has a science degree and a job as a professor, but nothing he is about to say is scientific. He is here to act like a comedian or a clown, akin to Dr. Science and nothing more.