Planetary infestations

Stephen Hawking proposes that humans need to begin colonizing other planets in order to ensure the survival of the species. Now, I don’t normally approve of beating up a man in a wheelchair, but I definitely enjoyed the verbal thrashing delivered to Hawking by Chris Clarke:

Let’s say you had a horrible cockroach infestation, and the bugs were trashing your house, spreading filth and eating the bindings of your irreplaceable antique books and breeding profligately and an electrician came to you one day and told you that they were eating your circuit breaker insulation, and you needed to do something about it or your house would burn down.
I don’t know about you, but my first reaction would not be to put a bunch of roaches in a Tupperware container and then release them into a neighbor’s house so that the species would live on.
We are the problem here.

The whole post is definitely worth reading.

12 thoughts on “Planetary infestations

  1. Mason

    That post definitely was amusing (completely undeserved shot at Brent Spoiner notwithstanding).
    In the part you excerpt, he mentions what the humans wouldn’t do with the cockroaches. But the cockroaches would try to colonize elsewhere, so the analogy breaks down a bit in terms of motivations for preserving the species.
    Certainly I agree with the point of the problems being man-made.
    Also, he mentioned in his brief bio on his blog that he does freelance writing for Science and Nature. (Well, he didn’t capitalize them, but I assume he meant them.) One thing that’s really cool with blogs from science writers (or other people who write other public stuff in addition to their blogs) is to see the entirely different style and (in this case, one would expect) the much more aggressive language. (Not that I’ve ever read anything written by this guy, but on a general level, it amuses me to see this from somebody whose normal stuff would be a lot more sedate.)

  2. Josh

    Is there a general scientific academia equivalent of “Zing!” that would sum up this article?

  3. Chris Clarke

    Mason, the “science” and “nature” in my little blurb refer to writing about the metaphenomena as opposed to writing for the fine publications that go by those names. But thanks for the vote of confidence! And yes, my writing for hire is often (but not uniformly) more sedate.

  4. Justin

    Via Pandagon, looks like Al Gore is on board with the Hawking bashing too. Not surprising, considering the topic… For those who haven’t seen it, Gore’s movie is quite good, btw.
    While I completely agree with the criticisms of Hawking, my inner (OK, maybe not-so-inner…) sci-fi geek can’t help but approve of the long-term sentiment. I just think Hawking is more than a bit optimistic about timescales, and dead wrong about the motivations. Until reading Chris Clarke’s article, I hadn’t realized how badly the Biosphere thing failed. Not a good sign for present-day long-term space exploration plans. Then there’s the astropolitics of manned spaceflight. Since budgets just don’t increase to match the increased demands, NASA is very rapidly becoming Not A Science Agency. So while colonies (motivated by exploration and discovery, rather than Save the Rich White People from Hellhole Earth) may be really cool 22nd (or 23rd?) century projects, we’ve definitely got more important things to do during my lifetime…

  5. Mason

    Now that the site is working again, I can actually submit my post…
    Chris: Aspects of Science and Nature are fine (conveying cool research to the public, etc), but in general I find the idea of a so-called research publication that chooses its articles in large part based on how many magazines it can sell to be quite appalling. (Basically, I’m part of a large group of scientists who can’t stand those “journals,” but want to get published in them anyway because of what it means for our careers.) I was thinking you were one of the people who occasionally writes the one-page blurbs in those magazines. They are a bit hit-or-miss as far as their quality, but I think they do their job. (And my stuff has been covered there a little bit, so I can’t dis it entirely.)
    Justin: Astronomers have wacky ideas sometimes.
    Hopefully, I avoided typos this time.

  6. Arcane Gazebo

    Josh: If not, we should invent one and popularize it at seminars and conferences.
    Justin: I agree about the appeal of planetary colonization on longer timescales. With current technology it would be an insanely expensive project that would divert resources from the sustainability problem, but in the future it could conceivably be much more feasible.

  7. Lanth

    Hmm, I’m getting mysql errors from that site :(
    *wanders off towards the nearest Google cache*

  8. shellock

    I am all for the intelectual of this planet either:
    a) pulling out and leaving the idiots behind to fend for them selves
    b) sening the idiots into space and claiming earth
    the only issue with my plan was listed in Hichhikers Guide to the Galaxy with the virus spread by dirty phones

  9. Lemming

    Damnit shellock, I need to actually write/submit these posts faster. I’ve been sitting on a half-written comment about telephone phole cleaners for a while now, in this lonely firefox tab right here.
    Screw it then, I’m taking a bubble bath.

  10. Mason

    I’m all for coming up with a version of “Zing!” for seminars. I’ve certainly encountered enough times when something like that should have been uttered.
    Maybe we should try a solution along the lines of what’s in Dr. Strangelove, and I think we ought to use the same male:female ratio that was proposed in the movie. (Sadly, I can’t do this with the proper accent.)

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