The head of Harvard University’s astronomy department, Professor Avi Loeb has called out other scientists and astronomers for their smallmindedness after he and another Harvard researcher suggested that ‘Oumuamua, our solar system’s first detected interstellar visitor may be an alien probe.
Earlier this month, Professor Avi Loeb and Harvard astrophysicist Shmuel Bialy published a study where they claimed that ‘Oumuamua may be a mysterious, solar-sail-powered alien probe.
‘Oumuamua, which is the first-known interstellar object to enter our solar system accelerated faster away from the Sun than what is expected in a space rock, hence why Harvard experts suggested it may be a sort of spacecraft powered by a Solar Sail, which is pushing it out towards open space.
This theory was not welcomed by other astronomers and scientists.
Now, professor Loeb sat down for an in-depth interview with Ars Technica, which the website published on Thursday, in which he defended the science behind his conclusions.
The head of Harvard University’s astronomy department turned the issue around, though, going on the offensive by suggesting that his critics were abdicating their responsibility as academics and scientists rather than taking risks and remaining humble.
“I regard being a scientist as a great privilege of maintaining your childhood curiosity because children ask questions. They are not afraid of being wrong,” Loeb explained to Ars Technica’s Rob Reid.
“Somehow, when they become adults, adults lose that inner sense. That includes scientists as well. Many of my colleagues are not willing to take risks. Not daring to be wrong, and that’s a problem because sometimes we just don’t know in advance what’s right and what’s wrong. We have to take the risk in order to make discoveries because what I want to understand is what ‘Oumuamua is. For that purpose, it doesn’t really matter how popular is one idea versus the other on Twitter. It is what it is, and we want to find out.”
In fact, Professor Loeb commented that humans have not progressed a great deal since Galileo’s time when academics were persecuted for speaking out against established facts about the universe.
And that’s kind of like what’s happening with Loeb’s and Bialy ‘s theory about ‘Oumuamua.
They said aliens, and the internet, as well as the academic world, went haywire.
“Many people think they know the answer in advance,” he said. “People still have a lot of prejudice about what the outcome of science should be, and they want to see that answer,” Loeb said.
“One should remain humble,” he emphasized.
“The academic community has this concept of tenure, where someone has a faculty position for life, [irrespective] of what happens, OK? As long as that person doesn’t commit a crime. That is a great privilege. It’s a privilege to follow ideas to where they lead you without worrying about what other people think. However, many practitioners in academia do not use that privilege. Once they get to the position of tenure, they worry about their image and about not being wrong. By doing so, they betray the purpose of their profession. The tenure process is aimed at allowing you the freedom of coming up with your own conclusions, and therefore, if people have a problem with this idea, they should come up with a specific alternative interpretation of the extra push that ‘Oumuamua has, rather than calling names or saying things without scientific context.”
You can read the lengthy interview here.