You may remember, as I do, how quickly even the most fervent anti-science hyper-skeptics went into fits of excitement over the announced discovery of the Higgs boson earlier this summer. I doubt any of them could tell you what a Higgs boson is, beyond the fact that some wag once called it “the God particle,” and the nickname stuck. That didn’t seem to matter. The moment that some physicists announced that they’d completed their analysis and had the expected result, people who have been droning on for years about how the evidence for climate change “just isn’t persuasive” dropped everything and jumped onboard the God Particle bandwagon.
I was especially bothered by the National Post’s uncritical reception. The Post is Canada’s climate change denialist media par excellence. Their columnists host an annual Junk Science Week, dedicated to junking real science, especially climate change. The irony in the Higgs boson case was bad enough. But this one takes the cake:
Warp drive is possible. And NASA is on it . . .
Alcubierre’s formula was reviewed and held to be . . . practically unusable. That may have changed.
That’s Matt Gurney in last week’s National Post, sharing his justifiable excitement at the news that a NASA physicist thinks he’s come up with a usable warp drive. On paper. According to mathematical formulae. Gurney is optimistic, although he admits that “it might take 100 years, or a thousand.” Contrast that with his fellow columnists, who think climate change was invented by a bunch of ignorant socialist lefties.
The reference, incidentally, is to a concept known as an Alcubierre drive. It’s one of several hypothetical methods of faster-than-light space travel. As a rule, nothing can travel through space faster than the speed of light. Miguel Alcubierre argued in the 1990s that you could essentially “cheat” by creating a special region of space around the ship, which he referred to as a bubble, which could flow through space-time like a wave. The ship would never travel at faster than the speed of light within the bubble, but the bubble itself would move at much higher speeds. The science Gurney is excited about is a new paper from a NASA scientist arguing that the energy requirements for the Alcubierre drive might be a fraction of what Alcubierre thought they would be. Hence, interstellar space travel is possible.
Well, maybe. Alcubierre didn’t explain how to create a warp bubble, or how to get your spaceship out of one once you’re in it. The drive also needs about a ton of exotic matter with negative mass (which we don’t have any of, and can’t get any of, and which may not exist anyways). These are not small problems. So I’m truly befuddled at why the Post would be promoting warp drives but dismissing climate science.
I should point out: I don’t think interstellar travel is actually a kooky idea. The first plans were drawn up by British and American researchers in the 1960s, with cool names like Valkyrie, Daedalus, and (hilariously) Longshot. Maybe if we’d put some serious thought into the subject, we’d be well on our way to experimenting with starship design by now. Instead, we’re fighting religious idiocy and facing the prospect of less than a century left before the only planet we do have becomes mostly uninhabitable.