NASA says aliens may destroy earth over global warming. NASA says nothing of the kind.
Here’s a regrettable object lesson in the necessity of maintaining a properly skeptical attitude in today’s hype-prone mass media society, even in the face of the coolest headlines ever:
Word recently surfaced of a new report from NASA that sounds like something from a science fiction film. It started on August 18 in, of all places, the Guardian, with a story bearing the headline “Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civilizations, say scientists“:
It may not rank as the most compelling reason to curb greenhouse gases, but reducing our emissions might just save humanity from a pre-emptive alien attack, scientists claim. Watching from afar, extraterrestrial beings might view changes in Earth’s atmosphere as symptomatic of a civilisation growing out of control — and take drastic action to keep us from becoming a more serious threat, the researchers explain. This highly speculative scenario is one of several described by a Nasa-affiliated scientist and colleagues at Pennsylvania State University that, while considered unlikely, they say could play out were humans and alien life to make contact at some point in the future.
Naturally, attention was drawn, and the story was soon picked up and parroted by Fox News, the International Business Times, CNET, and more.
Then Universe Today, a damnably level-headed space-and-astronomy-oriented website with a well-documented history of trying to kill all the fun (see their May 2008 article “No Doomsday in 2012” for the smoking gun), stepped in less than 24 hours later to put the kibosh on the party with “No, NASA is Not Predicting We’ll Be Destroyed by Aliens“:
There were some interesting, if not shocking headlines this week regarding a study supposedly put out by NASA, with the articles saying that aliens might come and destroy Earth because of our global warming problems…While the report is real, and one of the authors was a NASA intern, NASA in no way sponsored or endorsed the article, which was basically an enjoyable thought-experiment and was titled: “Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis.” (Available as pdf here.) By comparing the title of the paper to the splashy headlines, as you can imagine, most of the news articles don’t accurately describe the paper’s content and conclusions — over-blowing just a tad the part about alien invasions — and the headlines portray NASA as being behind the paper and the research. But NASA didn’t really have a thing to do with the very speculative, if not fun paper.
Universe Today also noted that one of the paper’s authors, Shawn Domagal-Goldman, the NASA intern in question, acted out of probable embarrassment by posting a statement to NASA’s PaleBlue blog to explain how the whole thing had gotten so out of hand. Even NASA itself ended up tweeting an acknowledgment of the situation.
Killjoys, all. To hell with reasonableness and moderation. I want sensationalism. Thankfully, the culture’s moving my way here in Tabloid USA (and also, obviously, in Tabloid UK).