The problem with probability

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LLankhmar Researcher
LLankhmar Researcher
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The problem with probability

Post by DazSavage »

I recently heard an astronomer calmly announce that there was definitely life on other planets. This was one of the main men at SETI and I won't bother to mention his name because there's no point... we've all heard the tale and no scientist ever refutes it.
With the 150trillion blah blah galaxies blah and given that star systems have planets that we know of blah blah etc we can say that the probability of alien life is a certainty yada yada.

My issue with this is that the scientists take a couple of leaps here that I don't like and it goes like this:
  • I am a physicist/astronomer/biologist/geologist/chemist/sociologist etc and I am part of the process that decides what life may need to exist in some form on another world and for that life to evolve socially to a point that we might recognize as 'advanced technologically.'
  • Given that we have laid out the foundations for a study we now have a number of statistics we can use.
  • These statistics are now given to another branch of science... MATHEMATICS so that these guys can do the probability study.
  • The probability is always an astronomical figure like 100,000,000 potential planets and from this they extrapolate quite reasonably (and very mathematically) that a planet must exist somewhere with life.
  • But here they take the toys from the mathematicians and announce their 'findings'.
Does anyone see the problem with this picture?

Well it's simple - if you can stand on a probability from the egg-heads in the Maths department down the hall then why kick them from the project at this point?
Why not ask them the further probability of any of those life-forms being more advanced than us?
Here's the statistics I would like to see given even a cursory glance:
  • 1. If a given number of planets probably have life then how many might have life forms that we would recognize (not just gaseous clouds or purple jelly)?
  • How many of these would probably be more advanced than us by 1000 years or more - especially given that our corner of the universe is ten billion years younger than some of the older bits?
  • How many of these advanced life-forms that we would recognize, that have advanced to 'Star Trek' levels of technology might have noticed us?
  • How many of the above might probably have visited us?
  • What is the likelihood that these life-forms that science knows are there might be able to travel to us using technology we don't even have the vocabulary to joke about?
A recent study mentioned in a news item said that our own little galaxy could actually have 60 BILLION! earth-like planets and that's just one of billions of galaxies.

Basically if we're gonna have to listen to physicists or a geologists talk about UFO's as thought they have the final word I find it a little disingenuous that they are happy to back up their work and justify their endeavours by saying they must study the heavens because the statistics provided by their maths buddies show that they must be out there... but then use absolutely no science or statistics for the inevitable next sentence which is always...
"But they couldn't get to us because it would be too far!"
Do I look like I'm making this up?
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Re: The problem with probability

Post by mj12cz »

Yep, the Drake equation explains it all....

The thing is they based every assumption of distance, and form of transport on what we know now. 500 years ago our boats were wooden and we relied on wind to move them about... I wonder what we will be doing in 500 years.
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