Archive for Extraterrestrial Life

How not to behave in a Zoom discussion…

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on February 14, 2021 by telescoper

A couple of days ago, on February 12th, there was a ‘Golden webinar in Astrophysics’ one of a series that seeks to bring forefront research in astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology to the public in the English and Spanish languages. The speaker this time was Avi Loeb and the full title of his talk was  Extraterrestrial Life: Are We the Sharpest Cookies in the Jar? A video of the entire event can be viewed here.

Avi Loeb is a very distinguished theoretical physicist, with broad interests in the fields of astrophysics and cosmology who has done excellent rather mainstream work on the formation and evolution of black holes, the first generation of stars in the universe and the epoch of reionization, as well as high-redshift gamma-ray bursts. He has also produced a large number of much more speculative articles in areas such as extra-terrestrial life (including SETI) some of which, in my opinion, is rather flaky. Loeb was a long-serving Chair of the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University and is the current Director of the Institute for Theory and Computation there.

The following is a short excerpt from the panel discussion following his talk. I was surprised to Avi Loeb adopt such a dismissive and confrontational attitude towards Jill Tarter (who has worked in the field of SETI for over 40 years). I’m also surprised that there was no intervention by the moderator of the discussion.

Many members of the astrophysics community have worked very hard to ensure that conference talks, seminars and panel discussions (whether in person or virtual) are conducted in a collegiate and cooperative manner. I don’t think Loeb is setting a good example in this clip, especially for someone who is an experienced former Department Chair. We all have strong feelings about certain things, but there’s no need to adopt such an aggressive tone. No wonder so many people find academia a toxic environment.