i hate when scientists are like ‘this planet cant have aliens on it because there’s no water! the atmosphere is wrong! theres not enough heat to sustain life!’ because dude theyre aliens, nobodys saying they need any of those things to exist

we’re so humanocentric it’s infuriating. just because we can’t live there doesn’t mean nothing can! like, never mind aliens, we do this with our own fucking planet! scientists used to think nothing could possibly live at the bottom of the oceans, because “all life needs sunlight to survive, of course!” yet what did we find when we invented submarines that could go deep enough? the barren wasteland the scientists were expecting? fuck no! the bottom of the sea is teeming with all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures even wackier than anything they ever came up with in star trek!

when we discover aliens, we probably won’t even fucking realise it, because they’ll be so different from what we’re used to as ‘life’, we won’t even recognise them as living beings

things are  heating up in the alien fandom

Another thing that bothers me is when scientists stumble upon a huge black hole or something and say shit like “it’s impossible, it shouldn’t exist, it breaks the laws of physics”…Buddy, do you know who made the laws of physics? HUMANS. HUMANS WHO HAVE NEVER EVEN LEFT THE SOLAR SYSTEM. It isn’t “breaking” anything. Maybe instead of saying it’s impossible to exist, you should look at these old laws from a different perspective. Science is an ever-changing field that’s full of discovery, but sometimes scientists are SO STUBBORN! I understand not wanting to have to rethink years of research but COME ON.

The problem with this discussion is that it’s based on false premises, i.e. that scientists are conservative people who view physics laws as religion and anything contradicting them as heresy. That’s a popular view often shown in fiction and in the popular press, and tends to make non-scientists feel good about themselves (”I may not know as much as them, but at least I’m not as close-minded”). It’s also a very inaccurate and insulting view of scientists.

While one can never generalise things across an entire group of people, and there are indeed scientists out there who are somewhat ossified (and in the end of the 19th century, it’s true that the science field in general was rather calcified. The public has just failed to notice scientists have moved on from this point of view), the vast majority are extremely forward-thinking and would like nothing better than being proven wrong in some cases. Science advances as much through its failures as through its successes, and it’s in fact the very basis of the scientific method to be ready to expose oneself to being proven wrong (that’s the meaning of having falsifiable theories: a theory is scientific only if it contains the seeds of its own potential destruction). When a scientist sees something incompatible with their previous knowledge, they don’t exclaim “that’s impossible!” but “that’s curious…”. Cracks in current theories are usually where new knowledge is hidden, so scientists actually actively look for them.

What the general audience mistakes as conservatism is actually a combination of traits that are vital for scientists to be able to do actual scientific work:

  • The threshold of proof is very high in science. Humans can easily be misled, our brains are specialists in fooling themselves, anecdote is not data, so don’t expect a scientist to take your tall tale at face value. To be worthy of scientific examination, a phenomenon must be repeatable, independent from the observer, and if possible noticeable in controlled conditions. While it’s true that some discoveries (like some animal species) have started as hearsay, a typical scientist will need more before they go on a wild goose chase for the Yeti;
  • Our current scientific theories (with “theory” used in its scientific meaning, which is “a
    well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation”, i.e. quite the opposite of a hunch or hypothesis) are extremely successful and have large amounts of data backing them up. This is especially true of General Relativity, Quantum Field Theory, and the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. These theories have been repeatedly tested and found correct, sometimes down to 10 figures or more after the decimal, both through observation and experimentation. If you want to claim that one of these theories is wrong, the quality of the evidence you are going to have to give will have to match the quality of the evidence in favour of these theories. And if the only evidence against them is your misguided ideas about how the world should be, whether due to religious belief or plain ignorance, don’t expect scientists to have a lot of patience listening to you;
  • While scientists value imagination, they are careful with trying to extrapolate too far from what is already known, and wild speculation is frowned upon, as it’s far too easy to fool oneself into expecting things that won’t happen. Scientific research is like walking in the dark: you make small steps and try to feel your way around. You don’t make long jumps and hope not to hit a wall or fall into a hole. Unless you have good reason, based on previous knowledge (like moving in an area you already know), to know that the direction you’re going is the right one.

So to take again the examples shown by the previous rebloggers, a scientist will never say: “this planet cant have aliens on it because there’s no water! the atmosphere is wrong! theres not enough heat to sustain life!“. At most, they will say: “This planet cannot support life as we know it (i.e. carbon-based water-dependent life)“, and that’s a perfectly correct statement. Could it support other types of life? Who knows? So far, we haven’t observed any other type of life, so it’s impossible to actually answer the question without a fair amount of speculation, and as I wrote, scientists prefer to leave speculation to others.

As for the “it’s impossible, it shouldn’t exist, it breaks the laws of physics“, it’s actually laughable that anyone could think a scientist would ever say that! Maybe in a bad Hollywood movie, but in real life? In real life, cosmologists and particle physicists are actually eager to observe stuff that cannot be explained by their current theories. General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory (and in particular the Standard Model) are extremely successful, but also desperately incomplete (and in the case of the Standard Model, rather inelegant), and actually completely incompatible with each other. Which is a shame, as some of the things we’d like to know depend on having a theory to bridge the two. That’s why scientists are eager to discover something that cannot appropriately be explained by these two theories. Such a crack, as I wrote above, would provide hints as to a better way to describe the universe.

So stop propagating this false image of the scientist as a kind of high priest that thinks they hold the truth in their hands and shout down any kind of alternative as heresy. That’s not how scientists are, that’s not how science works, and it reflects more on your own lack of understanding of science than on any imaginary scientist’s failings.