Avi Loeb’s Journal
Against the Wind
Stigma and ridicule by the mainstream could flag an upcoming revolution, especially in science.
Recently, the publicist of my book, Extraterrestrial, asked me whether I am planning to celebrate some accolades it received. I replied that as a result of the heat generated by the book’s publication, my skin hardened to a material that resembles titanium. I do not get pleasure, nor pain, from what people think about me.
Stigma and ridicule are often used by the mainstream of science like a shepherd’s crook for herding sheep.
In the early 1990s, when I started my extensive study of the first stars in the Universe, I learned about a referee report that rejected a paper suggesting a method for finding high-redshift galaxies and stated: “This is ridiculous. The paper should not be published since everyone knows that there are no galaxies beyond a redshift of 2 — because the universe was barely three billion years old then.” During the subsequent two decades, I published hundreds of scientific papers and two textbooks, showing that the first stars started to form when the universe was a hundred times younger than this referee envisioned. This scientific forecast laid the foundation for launching JWST with the goal to find evidence for galaxies beyond redshift 10.
In January 2013, I gave an overview on “Gravitational Wave Astrophysics” at the 30th Jerusalem Winter School. Within ten minutes from the start of my lecture, one of the other lecturers, a young tenured professor, stood up and in front of the audience argued without hesitation: “why are you wasting the time of these students on a topic that will never be useful for them throughout their careers?” In September 2015, when most of the students in the audience were still working on their PhD, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) discovered the first gravitational wave signal and the subject of gravitational wave astrophysics became one of the most exciting frontiers in physics.
Now, this déjà vu moment repeats in the context of the search for technological equipment from extraterrestrial civilizations. The first interstellar object discovered in 2017, `Oumuamua, did not resemble a comet or asteroid seen before, and so I wrote many articles and a book about the possibility that it might be of an artificial origin. In December 2021, the US Congress legislated the establishment of a new office in government that will coordinate the assembly and analysis of classified data on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP), whose nature is unknown. The report delivered in June 2021 by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to Congress explains that “Sociocultural stigmas and sensor limitations remain obstacles to collecting data on UAP.“
The possibility that hints for extraterrestrial equipment may have been spotted near Earth is ridiculed and stigmatized by the academic mainstream, even though the conservative branches of government take it seriously.
The resistance to changes is not simply a reflection of rigidity of mind and lack of imagination. It also stems from an attempt to preserve the existing narrative in which the mainstream scientists play a dominant role, even when they speculate about the nature of dark matter or the multiverse. If the intellectual landscape of science would change drastically, the current “experts” would lose their authority and influence. Clearly, Marie Antoinette did not embrace the principles of the French Revolution because she benefited from the old system.
Fortunately, scientific progress cannot be halted in the face of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather than feeling frustrated, I translated the uncertainties about the nature of `Oumuamua and UAP into an endeavor to assemble the necessary data — in the form of the Galileo Project. Here’s hoping that by searching for evidence we will pass the intelligence test required for joining the club of advanced species that flourished in the Cosmos after the first stars started producing the heavy elements that we are all made of.