Science And The Global Addiction To Publicity


They assure me that the very first 250 year old man (or maybe it’s a woman) has already been born. I don’t believe them of course, but I do know that there’s a man in Indonesia who claims to be 145. He says he’s more than ready to die, according to reports, but somehow it just won’t happen.

It’s tough when you get to a place like that. It sounds like the ultimate in dream inversion. We’re supposed to want to be ‘immortal,’ or so Elon Musk and a load of other ‘people who matter’ keep telling us. But what if we make it and then find out we don’t want to be there? I could hit 250, keep throwing myself off mountains, drinking litres of absinthe and going on one way trips to Mars, but it just won’t happen.

Be careful what you wish for. Thoroughly double check those dreams. Nobody wants to end up like those male porn actors who allegedly off themselves because they can no longer ‘perform’ at their dream jobs.

Whatever about all that, one side effect of the Internet seems to be that science has become dangerously addicted to racy headlines.

In the past few weeks alone, I’ve read upmarket clickbait which claims (a) that humans will be immortal within ten years, (b) that last year, Russian astronomers discovered proof of life on another planet, (c) that a massive artefact similar to a Dyson Sphere (ask the sci fi fan nearest you) has been detected in orbit round another star, (d) that there’s another Earth in orbit round the nearest star in space and (e) that NASA has accidentally discovered a form of propulsion which breaks all the known laws of physics and could therefore enable us to travel at faster than the speed 0f light, a la Star Trek.

Some of these headlines, such as the immortality ones, can be easily dismissed as the pleadings of geneticists endlessly hungry for more funding or the narcissistic witterings of billionaires who believe that, since they’ve conquered everything else, death should be just another number.

There’s an easy way to check out their claims too. Turn to the obituary section in your nearest newspaper. If they’re empty, the guys are on to something. If they’re not, it’s rubbish.

(On a side note, would it be stretching credulity to suggest that, 20 or so years hence, Elon Musk will be running for the US Presidency, addressing eager voters as ‘my fellow holograms’?)

The space headlines, on the other hand, refer to some of the wettest dreams of the species. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a thriving, economically solvent Galactic Federation, jetting off to Alpha Centauri B for the weekend, going rocket skiing down the thousand mile glaciers of Gargantua, getting all worked up about the nine-headed Donald Trump figure running for Emperor of Romulus?

It’s all marvellous. I can’t wait. The niggling fear that, as Stephen Hawking and others have warned, our alien brothers and sisters might just want to use us as a cheap alternative to junk food troubles me not a whit. I only have one question, my own down home version of the Fermi Paradox, if you will: why are we only hearing about all this in the last few months?

Alien hunters still scratch their heads over the so called ‘WOW’ signal, picked up randomly by a radio telescope back in 1977, which seemed to signify the presence of some sort of intelligent life in deep space. The problem is, it has never been repeated, despite dedicated efforts to find it again.

Now, we’ve heard that another one was detected only last year. Call me a pessimistic old fool, but I’ve a funny feeling we’ll be hearing about another one before the year is out.

And it’s not just the more hyper-excitable among the science community who are getting carried away. NASA is not normally regarded as a bastion of hysteria, but over the past couple of years, the breathless tones which accompany press releases about the discovery of fossilised micro globs of liquid from 100 Million years ago on Mars which might or might not hint obliquely at the possibility of long extinct life give pause for thought.

We are told, as a matter of established fact, that there are underground oceans on Europa (a moon of Jupiter) and Enceladus (a moon of Saturn), and lately I’ve even heard similar bizarre speculation about Pluto. Really? Can we be sure about any of that? Surely the only way is to actually drill down into one of them, and therein lies the point, and the problem.

The entire world suffers more than ever from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and science is finding that it has to stand in line and scream for attention with everyone else: all the politicians and porn stars, the juice salesmen and the eco cults, the kitchen fitters and the X Factor contestants.

It is having to make exaggerated claims for its own significance. Stick with us and we’ll invent something really, really useful, not like the iPhone and all those other things that just turned out to be traps.

Of course, the problem with hysterical claims is that, sooner or later, even the most slow witted among us are going to stop believing them, and stop believing the messenger. The conundrum here is that science is the only thing we’re officially allowed to believe in any more. What happens when the last guru turns to dust?

There has to be more than money and nihilism, doesn’t there? Does there?


One thought on “Science And The Global Addiction To Publicity

  1. Lol also interesting sci-fi. Also (hope this is not too ADHD) but of course there is something. To believe that there isn’t is scientifically untenable – nothing comes from nothing??


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