If we do find alien life, what kind will it be?

Three lines of evidence point to the idea of complex, multicellular alien life being a wild goose chase. But are we clever enough to know?

A scene from the 1996 Tim Burton film "Mars Attacks!"

Credit: "Mars Attacks!" / Warner Bros
  • Everyone wants to know if there is alien life in the universe, but Earth may give us clues that if it exists it may not be the civilization-building kind.
  • Most of Earth's history shows life that is single-celled. That doesn't mean it was simple, though. Stunning molecular machines were being evolved by those tiny critters.
  • What's in a planet's atmosphere may also determine what evolution can produce. Is there a habitable zone for complex life that's much smaller than what's allowed for microbes?
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When does an idea die? Plato and string theory clash with data

How long should one wait until an idea like string theory, seductive as it may be, is deemed unrealistic?

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  • How far should we defend an idea in the face of contrarian evidence?
  • Who decides when it's time to abandon an idea and deem it wrong?
  • Science carries within it its seeds from ancient Greece, including certain prejudices of how reality should or shouldn't be.
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Best. Science. Fiction. Show. Ever.

"The Expanse" is the best vision I've ever seen of a space-faring future that may be just a few generations away.

Credit: "The Expanse" / Syfy
  • Want three reasons why that headline is justified? Characters and acting, universe building, and science.
  • For those who don't know, "The Expanse" is a series that's run on SyFy and Amazon Prime set about 200 years in the future in a mostly settled solar system with three waring factions: Earth, Mars, and Belters.
  • No other show I know of manages to use real science so adeptly in the service of its story and its grand universe building.
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Why science denial and science negation are different

Surprising as it may seem, we are all very good at denial. Negation, however, is a different phenomena.

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  • What makes a person espouse an ideology so intensely as to negate the reality of well-established facts? Perhaps the differences between negation and denial can help us understand.
  • Negation looks to the past, while denial looks to the present and future. We negate a historical fact and we deny the reality in front of us. Negation involves a conscious choice to lie, even if it involves the suffering of millions. Denial is subtler and, surprisingly, we all do it.
  • Climate change conflates both negation and denial. Hopefully, understanding why will spur more into action, as we choose to become heroes of a new anti-denialist narrative.
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What democracy and science demand: The ‘Smartmatic vs Fox News’ case

The opening lines of Smartmatic's $2.7 billion lawsuit against Fox News lay bare the culture of denial in the US.

Advertisements featuring Fox News personalities, including Bret Baier, Martha MacCallum, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity, on the front of the News Corporation building in New York City.

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  • Smartmatic, an election technology company, has filed a $2.7-billion-dollar defamation suit against Fox News for making false claims about its voting machines during Fox's dishonest campaign against the 2020 US presidential election results.
  • The lawsuit opens with three powerful statements of fact: A scientific truth, a mathematical proof, and an objective political fact: More people voted for Joe Biden than for Donald Trump.
  • We owe the Smartmatic lawyers a debt of gratitude for so cleanly demonstrating what this ongoing election battle is all about. What is at stake is not a political ideology. It's a fight to acknowledge the shared reality we all live in.
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One year of COVID-19: What will we learn?

Pandemics have historically given way to social revolution. What will the post-COVID revolution be?

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  • The US is approaching 500,000 COVID-19 deaths. What can we learn from one year of loss and chaos?
  • The lessons are clear. Among them are realizing our fragility as a species, our codependence as humans, and the urgent need to move beyond social injustice and inequity.
  • As with the Renaissance following the Black Plague of the 14th century and the explosive creativity of the 1920s post Spanish influenza, this is our turn to redefine the course of history. Let's not mess this up.
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