Posts Tagged ‘Shawn Gioldman’

It’s silly season: Aliens and global warming “fun” paper picked up by the Guardian and others and the co-author apologises

August 20, 2011

It’s August and the silly season is on us.

Global warming >> detection by advanced aliens >> humanity exterminated

Even a science fiction author would have qualms.

The Guardian carried a headline: Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civilisations, say scientists saying Rising greenhouse emissions could tip off aliens that we are a rapidly expanding threat, warns a report. They had picked up on a “fun” paper which was a couple of months old. It was attributed – now admitted by a co-author – quite wrongly to NASA.

Though the Guardian actually does say that one of the authors is a “NASA affiliated scientist” and does not explicitly say NASA was behind the paper the report does imply that this was a “formal” NASA paper. This was of course picked up by a number of other media outlets – Svenska Dagbladet among them – which merely carried the Guardian report headline and all. Not one of the journalists who reported the Guardian silly season story actually bothered to read the original paper which is here:

Acta Astronautica, 2011, 68(11-12): 2114-2129. Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis by Seth D. Baum-1, Jacob D. Haqq-Misra-2 & Shawn D. Domagal-Goldman-3

1. Department of Geography, Pennsylvania State University.
2. Department of Meteorology, Pennsylvania State University
3. NASA Planetary Science Division

The third author, Shawn Goldman, who happens to work at NASA organising conferences and workshops, has been forced to explain and clarify that this was just a “fun” scenario done in his spare time and has nothing to do with NASA.

Shawn Domagal-Goldman is currently a postdoc at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. For 3-4 days a week he works in the astrobiology program office, organizing conferences and workshops. The other 1-2 days are dedicated to research focused on exoplanet characterization lessons from the “pale orange dot” that was the Archean Earth.

(Archean Earth was similar to but somewhat warmer than today, existed some 3800 – 2500 million years ago and is thought to have contained no free Oxygen. Bacteria were around. I suppose if you can get your mind around imagining the Archean Earth then imagining aliens picking up on global warming and emissions signals and destroying humanity is child’s play).

Shawn D. Domagal-Goldman

Alien expert?: Shawn D. Domagal-Goldman

He writes:

Yes, I work at NASA. It’s also true that I work at NASA Headquarters. But I am not a civil servant… just a lowly postdoc. More importantly, this paper has nothing to do with my work there. I wasn’t funded for it, nor did I spend any of my time at work or any resources provided to me by NASA to participate in this effort. There are at least a hundred more important and urgent things to be done on any given work day than speculate on the different scenarios for contact with alien civilizations… However, in my free time (what precious little I have), I didn’t mind working on stuff like this every once in a while. Why? Well, because I’m a geek and stuff like this is fun to think about. Unfortunately, there is not enough time for fun. Indeed, I felt guilty at times because this has led to a lack of effort on my part in my interactions with Seth and Jacob. Beyond adding some comments here or there, I did very little for the paper.

But I do admit to making a horrible mistake. It was an honest one, and a naive one… but it was a mistake nonetheless. I should not have listed my affiliation as “NASA Headquarters.” I did so because that is my current academic affiliation. But when I did so I did not realize the full implications that has. …..

One last thing: I stand by the analysis in the paper. Is such a scenario likely? I don’t think so. But it’s one of a myriad of possible (albeit unlikely) scenarios, and the point of the paper was to review them. 

Perhaps the aliens picked up on Archean Earth and actually seeded the progression of the bacteria into humanity.

Oh well! It is August and we are all entitled to be silly – even the Guardian.


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