What's new for me is a science skepticism that goes far beyond the ever-shifting winds of dietary advice (e.g., as the "eat margarine" mantra of the '80s changed to "avoid margarine and all such trans-fats"). The latest reversal-type news is wonderful music: Being a little overweight is better than being thin. And getting too much sun is better than getting too little. (This because sun-derived vitamin D is the most potent anti-cancer substance you can possess. Americans apparently suffer 100 times more lethal cancers that would have been prevented by more sun than fatal melanomas caused by sunburns. So it's far better to err on the side of getting too much rather than too little.) Everything has gone topsy-turvy.
But even the nice, hard physical sciences can't be trusted when it comes to promises and future predictions. Just as some New Age stuff was valid, wild science claims aren't all wrong either. But you really have to take them with a grain of salt.
Case in point: a National Geographic TV special about Pluto. In addition to showing the same computer-generated graphics over and over, the hour-long show featured selected scientists making countless unsupportable assumptions. "Pluto will probably look just like Neptune's big moon Triton." "Pluto may have geysers." "It may have subsurface water, and there may be life in those oceans." "The spacecraft due to arrive in 2015 will answer our questions." "This New Horizons Mission will be the astronomical event of the 21st century." "En route it's already photographed Jupiter's largest moon, Io."
I'm sitting there going, "Io's not Jupiter's largest moon; Ganymede is." And, "The Pluto mission isn't the major event of the 21st century." And, "How does anyone know Pluto will resemble Triton?" And, "How will the spacecraft answer all our questions when it's zooming past Pluto in a matter of hours, not orbiting at all, let alone landing?"
On and on it went. One expert made a half-dozen claims; the next expert said we had no clue about Pluto. For 15 minutes they showed various imaginary, sharply detailed Pluto "images" with no disclaimers, then finally showed a real picture from Hubble, where Pluto and its moon Charon are just a double blur: two pinpoints.
Bottom line: Don't believe the future talk on TV. We're not going to terraform and then colonize Mars, ever. It would be impossibly expensive even if it was doable, and no one's going to pay for it. We could transform Antarctica a thousand times more easily, and nobody's even doing that. We'll send some astronauts to Mars maybe a quarter-century from now. If more go, a fair proportion of them will die there, and no queues of volunteers will form after that. Don't let TV make you imagine that if we mess up our home planet, there's a spare world out there.
We'll maybe go back to the moon by 2030 - even if NASA says 2020. But who cares? It's a hostile, colorless, radiation-filled wasteland. And if microbes live in an ocean 50 miles below Pluto's surface, as the TV show suggested, so what? Will we ever go there and drill 50 miles to find out? We can't even drill that deeply here on Earth. It's all speculation and talk - talk and more talk, to fill the hour.
I must have had some bad coffee this morning. Sorry.