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MASTIO: Know-nothing scientists

- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2011

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.

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