Sociology Of Science

Sociology of science

Serious study of aliens has almost all been done by astrophysicists, but maybe that's just a historical accident? Also probably not true any more, in just the last few years. Maybe other disciplines have become interested in aliens because of advances in e.g. chemistry, and maybe they've become interested because having actual pictures of extrasolar planets has made the topic popular ouside astrophysics for the first time in modern science.

The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect is our tendency to believe popular accounts of science even though we know (from looking at the areas where we're expert) that they're rubbish:

The Intertial Theory of Scientific Progress

There is a problem in that scientific fields are inherently small communities; to talk about a field in detail means using inaccessible language, and therefore unexamined in-group biases can persist. There are many examples where a theory was widely held by the scientific establishment, and was often considered unquestionable, before being overturned.

Examples of theories widely accepted in a small community so we end up with biases held in the community


BIG NUMBERS and their connection to astrobiology

Laypeople often don't like to think about big numbers, but you have to - sorry - if you want to do things like estimate the probability of life evolving elsewhere.

17th century - approximate distance to the Sun and the nearest star approx. 1 light year = 10^15 kilometres

gradually we found distances for most of our galaxy - hundreds or thousands of light years

but not until the 1920s did we know that there were other galaxies, so then our estimate of the size ofthe universe went up to millions of light years

from 1915 to now our estimate of the volume of the observable universe has gone up by a factor of 10^23

THEREFORE the COSMEL tool used in Life Beyond Earth is really useful. (It's just a way of talking about exponential distances.)

Similarly, in Chapter 4, F&S use the analogy of the history of the world over one week.