Over the past week or so, it looked like the Kepler telescope finally broke down for good. Luckily, it somehow recovered and may be able to run again. It’s already well past its original mission length but there’s still plenty of data to take if it’s able to. Even if it can’t take good data again, Kepler has already allowed scientists to make huge advances in the field of exoplanets (i.e. planets outside our solar system).
It’s been a while since I’ve heard much about creationism (or its “scientific” counterpart intelligent design), but one of its more prominent evangelists is in the news again for making badly misinformed remarks.
A couple days ago, prominent creationist Ken Ham chose to use the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing to call for the defunding of much of the US space research program (the linked article links to Ham’s actual piece).
Ham spends basically his entire piece conflating space research with the search for extraterrestrial life. He singles out exoplanet searches, which have become a hot topic in recent years and are something that a number of my friends and colleagues at MIT are involved in. The people I know who work on exoplanet searches aren’t going around looking for aliens.
Finding planets outside the solar system is an interesting activity in its own right. Exoplanets can teach us a lot about the history of our own planet. Determining properties of exoplanets (yes, including whether or not they might conceivably be capable of supporting life) lets us see just how common planets like ours actually are in the universe. These measurements allow astrophysicists to push current technology and analysis methods to their limits and can lead to improvements in both. Optics and image and spectral analysis are things that have many applications outside pure science, so any improvements made by scientists could help other fields. Finally, exoplanet searches are the kind of science projects that can capture the public’s imagination. Much of basic science will seem terribly dull and esoteric to the layperson, but the kinds of projects that attract a lot of attention help to make the case to the public for supporting basic science.
Note that I haven’t even addressed the creationist part of Ham’s argument. When his entire argument is based on a false assumption I don’t have to. These kinds of articles show that people like Ham really have no place in science – whether in actual research or in science policy. They are so misinformed as to potentially cause harm to scientific research – if people read their writings and assume that they might actually be experts. In short, creationists: not just wrong about biology.