Sunday, December 10, 2017

Carl Sagan and the Pollution of Science

While most scientists do not lie (except when they play poker), they can be easily encouraged to do so with the offer of financial renumeration. We call them 'biostitutes.' They pollute science and do not care (as they turn the key to their new SUV). But we have to live in the wreck of the world which their lies have made.

Carl Sagan (1980) wrote that "science is self-correcting" (contrasting with religious dogma). But this is only sometimes true and only under certain special conditions. Sagan's thesis requires a lack of financial incentive for scientists to lie. Sagan's postulate ('science is self-correcting') is virtually impossible to attain (and is strongly disfavored) in a capitalist society. As such Sagan's 'Rule' is the exception which proves the opposite.

Sagan was afflicted with personal/psychological bias regarding the life experiments conducted on NASA's Viking 1 and 2 landers on Mars in 1976. His apologia for the failure of Viking 1 and 2 to find any present or past evidence of life on Mars, in his book Cosmos ('Blues for a Red Planet') is almost the same 'special pleading' used by the Church to explain away Galileo's discovery with a telescope of moons around Jupiter. The hidden bias in Sagan's special pleading that he knew the only justification for spending $1 billion to put two landers on Mars was the chance of finding signs of life. When Viking 1 and 2 found no signs of life, it was hard for a non-biased observer not to describe the effort as a failure. This is shown simply: if NASA had hard evidence there was no life on Mars, Congress would not have given them $1 billion to put two landers on it. So were Sagan and the JPL liars? Were they 'astrobiostitutes'? No. Just the opposite. They were conducting an experiment which could only be conducted by physically going to Mars. And that does cost a billion dollars.

Percival Lowell and Carl Sagan

"Blues for a Red Planet" tells the strange story of a wealthy Bostonian, Percival Lowell, who had an interest in astronomy, and funded a giant telescope to be built for him in Flagstaff, Arizona around 1910. Through this telescope, Lowell viewed Mars incessantly and was convinced he saw giant man-made canals on it. Nobody could shake Lowell of this conviction, and because he was the richest guy around (and paid everybody), everyone said, 'Whatever you say, Mr. Lowell (you freakin' nut).'

In 1910, the diameter of Mars and its distance from Earth had been calculated to a few percent. A 'canal' of the size and width Lowell drew while looking at Mars would have to be 100 times wider than the Mississippi River. Why did nobody point this out to Lowell? Some did. But most, who were dependent on his patronage, dutifully said, "Yup, Mr. Lowell, that sure looks like a man-made canal to me." [The resolution of Lowell's 24-inch dia. refractor telescope was so poor that it could barely discern a feature on Mars smaller than the British Isles on Earth, let alone the Thames River or London, or a canal along the Thames near London. But Lowell swore he 'saw them.']

Like Lowell, Carl Sagan was like Fox Mulder of the X-Files, burrowed in a cellar office with a poster on the wall which said, "I Want To Believe." For Lowell, it was canals on Mars. For Sagan it was life on Mars -- of any type. Carl Sagan almost religiously hoped to find scientific evidence of life on Mars. His 'telescope' was the $1 billion Viking 1 and 2 landers. But like Lowell should have known in his time (1910), Sagan should have known in his time (1976) that finding any life on Mars was as likely as finding a Suez Canal on Mars. The clue? Atmosphere.

NASA knew in the 1970s that the atmosphere of Mars was ridiculously thin; on Earth it would be called a very good vacuum. Atmospheric pressure on the lowest section of Mars (Hellas Basin) is less than the highest altitude of a jet fighter (10 mbar). The best conditions on the surface of Mars are what you would expect at 60,000 feet of altitude on Earth. Sagan knew all this well before Viking. But like Lowell and Fox Mulder, Sagan wanted to believe. Why?

1. If Viking discovered life on Mars it would be biggest scientific discovery in the history of Homo sapiens.
2. If Viking discovered no signs of life on Mars it could be called a colossal waste of $1 billion dollars and cripple NASA and space exploration in perpetuity.

So when the Viking data came back and said, "No life -- not even a chance." It was a colossal bummer for the Viking team and NASA, as in -- we are so screwed.  Hence the PBS television show 'Cosmos,' which could be called, "Carl Sagan Bitching About Nobody Being Excited That Viking Found No Life On Mars."

If Viking 1 or 2 had found any evidence of life on Mars, the news would have been headline on every newspaper and TV station in the world. It would be much bigger news than Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the Moon in 1969. The NASA-JPL team would all get Nobel Prizes and biographies in Encyclopedia Britannica. But what Sagan forgot is that Viking 1 and 2 didn't find any signs of life on Mars. Finding life on Mars is big news. Not finding it is not big news. But from Carl's disappointment he created Cosmos -- the PBS series -- and from his chagrin did more to popularize basic science than any person. So was Sagan a 'biostitute?' No.

While Carl Sagan financially benefitted from science (he was a professor of science at Cornell), he was not doing science solely for the financial benefits. He did not start looking up at the stars as boy in Brooklyn and say, "I can make some money off of this." And in reality, most biostitutes never start that way either. They usually start quite pure, much like Carl, but upon college gradumacation start to get sucked slowly and relentlessly into the culture of biostitution. Which raises the question: what is a biostitute?

A biostitute is an otherwise competent scientist who steers and shifts and shades their factual data and conclusions so that they 'magically' coincide with the specific wishes and desires of their financial patron -- and suppresses data which their patron might get butt-hurt about (ie. lose money).

It is in this sense that Carl Sagan's statement, 'science is self-correcting,' must be appended with its initial clause, "Unlike religious belief, science is self-correcting." If modern capitalism becomes synonymous with the position of religion in the 1600s, then we can say, "Science is not self-correcting." The scientists who work slavishly to ensure that science does not rid itself of empirical errors are called biostitutes. They do this for a check, a job, prestige, a trophy wife, a new SUV, an Asian hooker, or whatever modern capital can offer them. Proof of this is that biostitutes do not publish. They keep their written utterances in the 'grey literature' -- one or several steps below peer-reviewed science.

Q: Why doesn't a biostitute say the Earth is flat?
A: No one has paid them to.

Q: When will a biostitute say the Earth is flat?
A: As soon as someone pays them to.

Percival Lowell's 1910 belief there were no canals on Mars is no different than those who claim there is no man-made global warming on Earth with one exception: Lowell had no skin in the game. Lowell was not trying to pull the wool over peoples' eyes so as to make a buck. Lowell was not suppressing science done by others so as to make a buck (he was already as rich as Midas). Lowell was not trying to deliberately fool the groundlings in the back row (like the Duke and the Dauphin in Huckleberry Finn). Lowell actually believed there were canals on Mars. His posthumous reputation has taken the consequent hit for it (rich guy, built a big telescope, crazy as a bedbug). If the American Petroleum Institute thought increasing global temperatures was good for their stock price they would now be funding the same main-stream climate scientists they are now defunding and defaming. But since AGW will negatively hit oil stock prices, they need Ph.D biostitutes. Thankfully, University geology departments breed them like rabbits. In the meeting hall of every local Biostitute Klavern is a flag with the slogan, "Hey, I gotta feed my family, man."

Apollo 11 and the Two Million Parts

Author Craig Jackson ('Rocket Men') describes the Saturn V rocket and Apollo space capsules as having more than 2 million individual parts; even its contractors and builders could not give an accurate count. Each part was individually fabricated by a collective of 400,000 workers. If any of one the key parts had fatal flaws, Apollo 11 would never survive an Earth-Moon trip. Try and imagine biostitutes designing and building the Saturn V and Apollo 11. Actually, you don't have to. Apollo 1 was designed by biostitutes, which caused astronauts Ed White, Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee to be fried to a crisp in a capsule test in 1964. This disaster caused NASA to weed out the biostitutes in its contractor-chain. A space craft like Apollo is a one-use device. It either works or it doesn't. It doesn't have to work over and over and over for millions of iterations. But a highway bridge does and a natural environment does and the Earth's environment does. This reveals to us the biostitute's secret:

They get paid in full with no fear of consequence when their lies hurt people.

This is why biostitutes have that name -- "bio" -- meaning living systems, which tend to have long consequence and feedback circles (ie. will catching 20 million cod a year affect the cod stock in 20 years?). By a biostitute's correct calculation, by the time their lie is revealed they will be comfortably retired, in their SUV and Florida vacation home, and legally immune from retribution. This delayed cycle cannot happen on Apollo 11 (if they screw up, the crew dies on national TV).

What Happens When the Client Says, "We Don't Care If it Works."

As any car owner knows, there are a million more ways to make a car not work than work. Neil Armstrong once said of Apollo 11, "This is a great statement about American craftsmanship." He meant that it worked -- as in it didn't blow up and kill him and Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins. But what if biostitutes worked on Apollo 11? What if the contractors and CEOs didn't care if it worked or not? What if everyone was completely unconcerned whether what they built worked or not -- so long as they got paid? That's what Armstrong, Grissom, White et al. were deeply worried about from 1964-1969 [Do these jackasses even care?]. It's one reason why NASA had all the astronauts do repeated 'meet and greets' at all the factories making parts for Apollo -- to remind the contractors that real peoples' lives were at stake if they sloughed off the job or their boss told them to skimp on the details.

Now think of the Earth as Apollo 11 - but 10 billion times larger. Both are space capsules floating in absolute zero. What if biostitutes run the Earth?


1 comment:

Tim MacSweeney said...

Hey man! I was wondering where you were - happy to see you back!