September 4, 2010

Michio Kaku credibility FAIL: "UFOs are real"

Look, I'm a true believer in the right for academic freedom, but to see a prominent public intellectual and science popularizer go on like this about UFOs is too much for me to take.

To denote extraterrestrial intelligence as a viable reason behind 5% of all unexplained atmospheric phenomenon is the same tendency creationists have when then claim that God is responsible for all unknown aspects of Darwinian processes. It's the facile fill-in-the-gaps with God/UFOs routine, where neither solution has any basis in empirical reality.

Further reading:

Via Daily Galaxy.


George said...

Note to commenters: Unless you say something of import or substance your comment will not be posted.

Sedicious said...

Um, I watched the video, and he actually does not say that extraterrestrial intelligence is the only possible explanation.

It's one thing to think his investigation of the topic is silly, but it's another to appear to put words in his mouth. I think you were just writing this quickly and didn't realize it reads that way, but I think it's worth correcting.

George said...

Um, this is clearly a conversation about linking extraterrestrials to "flying objects" that cannot otherwise be explained. Kaku did not offer one single alternative solution that wasn't extraterrestrial in nature during the course of the discussion, and that's what I find disturbing.

Sedicious said...

It's only a 3-minute spot, so he didn't exactly have time to go through all his reasons why he believes he has ruled out any more plausible explanation. I assume he does that in the book, but I have better things to do with my time right now than read it to decide whether I agree.

I still find your reaction surprising though. It's not too long ago that you wrote "The Fermi Paradox: Back with a Vengeance. If you find the paradox so puzzling, then why the strong skepticism at the same time?

I'm inferring that you think that if ETIs ever visited, that we would all know it, that our militaries would tell us if they had spotted any. Do you believe that?

George said...

Read my Unidentified Flying Idiots article for your answers.

Anonymous said...

I don't see where you are getting at. You say if you are mad that he says Unindentified Flying Objects are real and they are in the sense that they have not been unindentified.

Also, this is TV and TV rushes to simplification. We see the "journalist" trying to corner him into saying that there is no doubt about extraterestial life and he made it very clear that there is no proof of that.

Of course there are a more considerations to the subject, but he had only like 2 minutes and had to create a simplified message. What do you suppose he could do differently? Kudos for Kaku I say.

And he never said that that ETs are the only answer to the 5% of the unintentified cases. You did. He only just had time to raise that argument.

Sorry for the spelling, english is not my native language.

Joel said...

UFOs are exactly that: Unexplained Flying Objects.

Kaku is saying that 5% of the recording sightings are unexplainable with our current knowledge of physics and natural phenomenon. Furthermore. he denies that it *proves* life exists on other planets, even if there is a focus on extraterrestrials

Perhaps you have some insight as to what those are?

I'm actually in the middle of reading Kaku's Physics of the Impossible, and while some of it is fantastical it's all rooted in what we currently understand about physics and the universe.

Refusing to acknowledge the evidence of sightings we have no way of currently explaining seems contrary to science. Should we only accept the data that we have laws to explain and disregard the rest?

Note, I'm not a strong believer that these are "aliens" or whatever. But to shoot down Kaku like this just because UFO believers reference your blog and cause you to equate UFOs (in your referenced blog post) to the hollywood depictions of aliens seems disingenuous.

George said...

Joel et al: I'm looking forward to the day (that will never come) when we can talk about the 5% of unexplained phenomenon without having to discuss the possibility of ETIs. Kaku often shows a remarkably pedestrian understanding of the potentials for advanced life. His 'ants' analogy is as tiresome as it is baseless.

IMO, Kaku exercised poor judgement (and not courage as others have pointed out) by appearing on a ridiculous TV segment that was clearly geared toward linking unexplained phenomenon with aliens.

I'm not saying we shouldn't acknowledge this phenomenon. It's clearly there. But to tread forth and make assumptions about it falling outside of the known laws of physics borders on the pseudoscientific. Let's exhaust all scientific avenues of inquiry before we start making extraordinary claims like these.

Matt Sigl said...

Dare I say it...Kaku loves to be on TV. I think that is perfectly clear. I'm sure he's pining for the day when Dancing With The Stars is looking for a celeb Physicist. He shouldn't hold his breath.

In his defense, though he consistently milks scientific facts for maximal commercial sensationalism, he doesn't say anything demonstrably false, here or elsewhere. Kaku should be more careful however in what contexts he chooses to elucidate his ideas; in the wrong environment, like this, they can help give credence to some bad scientific ideas.

Ben Goertzel said...

Hmmm... George, while I'm a big supporter of your perspective most of the time, I really don't think "UFOs are real" is a fair summary of Kaku's perspective as he expressed in that interview. What he said is that 5% of UFO sightings are currently inexplicable in terms of known science, and that nonhuman intelligence is one viable explanation of these. I agree with Kaku that it's important to acknowledge this fact and not brush it under the rug. Maybe new physics is required to explain this stuff, or maybe it just requires us to revise our understanding how currently known physics manifests itself. Or maybe it really is due to aliens ;D .... But Kaku correctly makes the point that if some UFOs are a manifestation of some kind of alien intelligence, it's unlikely to be of the Bug Eyed Monster variety. Lem's novel Solaris is perhaps relevant here, with its depiction of an alien intelligence that is SO alien we can barely even recognize it as a mind or an organism, though its intelligence is undeniable.

Unknown said...

It seemed to me that Dr. Kaku was waffling pretty hard: we don't have the smoking gun ... but this is as close as you can get to the smoking gun (which means what, exactly?), senior officials saying that they are clueless, etc. from which it seems as though he then intimates (without saying as much) that this (through some sort of argument from ignorance?) implies that aliens are responsible. The interviewer was definitely trying to pin him into saying something sensational and it seemed as though Dr. Kaku was trying to be about as sensational as possible without stating something that was an outright falsehood. I agree with your comment: "to tread forth and make assumptions about it falling outside of the known laws of physics borders on the pseudoscientific. Let's exhaust all scientific avenues of inquiry before we start making extraordinary claims like these." I think that a little parsimony would go a long way here.

Anonymous said...

In the video from 1:40 to 2:00 Kaku explains that the 5% of legit UFO sightings does not equate to "smoking gun" proof that extraterrestrials exist. However during his statement he says that the book is as close as one can get to "smoking gun" proof.

In the video, from 2:00 to 2:13, Dylan Ratigan chooses to stick with the idea that UFOs are manned by extraterrestrials. Then Kaku responds following Dylan's topic lead. Kaku goes into this whole explanation about how extraterrestrials could be ahead of us technologically by 1000 to 1000000 years. This response just means that Kaku is open to the idea of extraterrestrials being a reality. He never said that the 5% of legit "spooky" UFO sightings are linked with extraterrestrials. Of course it seems like he might believe that because these 2 topics are being discussed with in 30 seconds of each other. In reality Kaku seems to have just gone with the flow. He is not taking any one side, rather all sides.

George, I understand that at 2:13 you wanted Kaku to respond with a statement saying something to the effect of "Why do you keep bringing up the idea that these UFOs are being piloted by extraterrestrials? This matter has nothing to do with extraterrestrials.". I felt that same feeling. Then again Kaku just rolled with the conversation because, like I said earlier, he is open to the idea of extraterrestrials existing. I would not go so far as to say this is he suffered from a credibility fail. Yes it would have been nice for him to stick with the idea that UFOs and extraterrestrials are not proven to be connected but, given that he is already very open to extraterrestrials being a reality I am not surprised that he just rolled with Dylan's lead.

Sometimes hosts like Dylan try to make people they interview sound as if they believe something that they do not necessarily believe. Now I am not saying that definitely happening in this case but, I am also not saying that it definitely did not happen in this case. Who really knows. Now we are getting into conspiracy theories and how news tries to program the populous to believe in an idea. Is there really a conspiracy going on? I will not take a side on this matter. Not enough proof on either side. So scratch the beginning of this paragraph.

Perhaps I should have said:

Sometimes hosts like Dylan try to stick on a sensational subject because it peaks viewer interest thus improving ratings thus making more money for the show and station. That sounds about right :)