Recently, Avi Loeb, who’s chair of the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University published a book: Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth which details his hypothesis about Oumuamua and that it’s actually an alien ship visiting our solar system!
Kim Hill, on Radio New Zealand, interviewed him. The interview is fairly wide-ranging, and Kim does a reasonable job of asking some skeptical questions.
Towards the end of the interview it truly goes off the rails with Loeb proposing a solution to the Fermi Paradox that we’re just not that interesting, and that most of the stars in our galaxy are infrared emitters and so our planet is not that interesting for interstellar tourism because of our green grass. (Paint me skeptical, but much of the appeal of travel is seeing interesting and unique stuff that’s out of the ordinary!)
Alarmingly, Loeb thinks that science should be driven by public interest - and that scientists (because they’re funded by the public) shouldn’t be working on stuff that the public’s not interested in! Obviously there have been a ton of discoveries in science that have produced real-world benefits but wouldn’t have been obvious from the outset that were produced by fundamental and esoteric research.
Today I listened to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe which also covered the item, but this time with an explanation for the anomalous behaviour of Oumuamua. It turns out that the anomalous behaviour is actually well explained by it being composed of Nitrogen ice, rather than water ice.
Steven Novella does a good job of detailing this on his blog and why this is just another example of the “aliens of the gap” fallacy.
Onto my second item from my weekend away - this time to do with the spreading of fake news. During the weekend I happened to visit the local markets in Russell, and there was a stallholder selling some quite nice art, some of which features birds - penguins in particular. I happened to overhear a conversation where a woman was relating to the stallholder the story of the penguins in Melbourne that were watching the pretty lights of the Melbourne skyline together - and that they were comforting each other due to loss of their loved ones. The source of this was an award-winning photograph by Tobias Baumgaetner of the pair staring off into the distance.
I resisted the urge to comment that the story wasn’t really true (which would have been a “dick move”). While the photo is excellent the story behind it has been investigated and found to be less than perfectly accurate. This does go to show the power of a good story though, in sticking in peoples’ minds.