Thursday, 2 November 2017

I'm not saying it's aliens...

"ALIENS COULD BE JUST LIKE US—DARWIN'S THEORY OF EVOLUTION MEANS E.T. WOULD BE HUMAN-LIKE", according to the Newsweek headline. "What would aliens look like? More similar to us than people realise, scientists suggest", is the Independent's headline offering.  "Now, scientists are suggesting that ... if other intelligent species are indeed lurking in the depths of space, they might look a whole lot like us", claims another journalist.

Klingons and Romulans and Vulcans, oh my! Except, when you see what the scientists' speculations/educated guesses actually were, you begin to wonder whether the folks at Newsweek, the Indy and BGR even bothered to read what the boffins wrote:
Aliens may not have two legs, or any legs at all, but their structure, from an evolutionary standpoint, will be much more familiar than we might have thought. By familiar, I don’t mean superficially familiar. They may look, on the surface, wildly different from anything on Earth. But they will be similar on a more fundamental level: their bodies will be constructed in the same way (formerly free-living parts within formerly free-living parts), and they will have undergone a similar evolutionary history (independent organisms cooperating to form new, higher level organisms).
The piece is helpfully illustrated with pictures of imagined aliens which look, respectively, like some kind of tentacled polyp surmounted by a tiny umbrella and a giant mutant tardigrade.

Some journalists* could do better (even the hacks at the Sun got as far as looking at the pictures before writing their article, so it's not as if I'm setting the bar unreasonably high here, folks).

*Even the UFO-believers-style aliens at the top of the article in The Conversation look several times more human than anything the article is actually suggesting.


 Update - while it's easy to sum up what these scientists weren't claiming (that aliens will look anything like  humans or, for that matter, like anything else on earth), it's harder to make out what specific claim they were making. You only need to read the title of P. Z. Myers' post on the subject ("We can predict that aliens exist, if aliens exist") to tell that at least one biologist is completely unimpressed by the alleged specificity of these "predictions" about alien biology.