Todd Hartley: I’m With Stupid |

Todd Hartley: I’m With Stupid

Todd Hartley
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

Once upon a time, I actually believed that one needed to be exceptionally smart to be a scientist. Turns out I was wrong. All it really takes, apparently, is the ability to make sweeping pronouncements that nobody can prove one way or the other.

It’s possible that there are hundreds of millions of planets in our galaxy that could support life. Is that true? Maybe, maybe not. Chances are we’ll never find out, but by saying that, I’m now an astrophysicist.

Aliens, or at least creatures unlike any we’re used to seeing, could be living on Earth right now. Seriously? Sure. They could be living here. Right now we don’t know, but by making that claim, I’m whatever the heck type of scientist deals with that sort of thing.

When we collide subatomic particles together in an atom smasher, there’s a chance we’ll find a previously undiscovered particle called the Hartley quark. Will we really? Probably not, but there’s always a chance, isn’t there? And by making such an intelligent-sounding assertion, I could be a nuclear physicist.

OK, fine, I have a confession to make. I’m actually not a physicist or scientist of any sort. I’ve never even played one on TV or stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. You’re shocked, I know, because the things I just wrote sound so brilliantly scientific, don’t they?

Well, to be fair, I have to admit that none of the preceding statements were in fact my own. I was merely paraphrasing three theories put forth at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting held last week in Chicago. The AAAS, which bills itself as “The World’s Largest General Scientific Community,” publishes Science magazine and “spearheads programs that raise the bar of understanding for science worldwide,” according to its website.

With that as the association’s stated mission, I find it odd that the three biggest stories to come out of the AAAS convention were theoretical concepts that did nothing to further anyone’s understanding of anything.

The first came courtesy of Dr. Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution for Science. Dr. Boss told the conference that there could be one hundred billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy. Not only that, but these planets most likely “are going to be inhabited with things which are perhaps more common to what Earth was like three or four billion years ago.”

That’s just idiotic. So far we’ve discovered roughly 300 planets outside our solar system, and none of them is remotely similar to Earth. There could just as easily be less than a million Earth-like planets in our galaxy, for all we know, and to assert that you know what life will be like on these planets that may not exist defies all logic. Anyone could make such an unprovable claim. You don’t need to be a doctor of astrophysics for that.

The second pronouncement was the brainchild of Professor Paul Davies, a physicist at Arizona State University, who told the conference that “weird life” unrelated to life as we know it might exist in places such as deep sea hydrothermal vents or toxic arsenic lakes.

No duh. When you consider that nearly every trip into the jungles of New Guinea or the Amazon yields dozens of new species, it stands to reason that there is undiscovered life in lots of places we haven’t looked yet. It’s not exactly advancing science to state something so obvious.

Lastly, we have the Hartley quark, which, as you probably guessed, is not the Hartley quark at all but a theoretical particle called the Higgs boson. The existence (or nonexistence) of the Higgs is nothing new, having been predicted for some time now by physicists. It made news at the AAAS meeting, however, because it was announced that CERN, the European nuclear research organization, is losing ground to its U.S. counterpart, Fermilab, in the race to discover the Higgs.

How one agency can be losing ground in the race to discover something that may not exist is beyond me, but scientists tell us they are, so they must be. The important thing is that, just like the Earth-like planets and the weird life, nobody can prove the scientists incorrect.

So next year I’m going to attend the AAAS meeting and tell everyone that there might be a planet in our galaxy made up entirely of Preparation H hemorrhoid cream. Sure, I might sound like an imbecile, but I defy you to tell me I’m wrong.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User