Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Numbers + Aliens = DOOM!!!!!!

So it looks like the certified brainiacs at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the SETI Institute have been hard at work concocting a new formula for global destruction. Combining the pure evil of mathematics with the terrifying prospect of alien invasion, Hungary's Iván Almár and SETI's Margaret S. Race have arrived at the Grand Unified Theory of DOOM

In a paper published in January by the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Almár and Race propose the brilliant idea of creating a metric to "provide a scalar assessment of the scientific importance, validity and potential risks associated with putative evidence of ET life discovered on Earth, on nearby bodies in the Solar System or in our Galaxy."

Just what I always wanted! My two biggest fears in ONE CONVENIENT METRIC!!!!

Luckily, as Michael ShermerYOU FOUND THE SECRET MESSAGE points out in an article on Skepticblog, the metric is rather subjective:
Almár and Race propose the London Scale that multiplies Q x δ, where Q (scientific importance) is the sum of four parameters:
  • life form (1–5, from Earth-similar life to completely alien),
  • nature of evidence (1-6, from indirect biomarkers to obviously organized complex life),
  • type of method of discovery (1–5, from remote sensing to return mission sample), and
  • distance (1–4, from beyond the Solar System to on Earth).
This sum is then multiplied by δ (a reliability factor) ranging from 0.1–0.5, from probably not real to highly reliable. The maximum Q can be is 20 x .5 = 10.
All of which misses the point. Subjective or not, this juxtaposition of alien invasion with the unreliable science of mathematics is a recipe for disaster. More terrifyingly, by publishing this proto-panic metric where the alien eavesdroppers can see it, we've given the invading forces a handy guide to avoiding detection.

Now all the invaders from Tau Ceti b or Gliese 581 d have to do is make their biology look Earthlike or limit their evidentiary droppings to indirect biomarkers, and we'll give them a low rating on the Almár-Race scale and thus ignore them. Next thing you know, BAM! We're all toiling in a Manthourian beryllium mine or harvesting dry ice from Zarmina's perma-night side.

It's just a matter of time.

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