Onion accurately predicts GOP opposition to anti-asteroid initiative



As I pointed out before and I repeat again: meteors are not a plausible threat from a probabilistic point of view. And even if they were, nobody has ever given an analysis on how much we should spend on the threat. The main argument seems to be “infinity!” as in the loss of humanity would carry an infinite value. But when I ask why we shouldn’t use all human resources to stop meteors (since they carry an infinite risk) I get a blank stare.

There are a million different reasons to go study asteroids. And I wholly support missions into investigating them. But the Apocalypse is not one of them.

In any case, this story is misrepresented. The GOP isn’t fighting over meteor defense as much as over whether the future of US manned spaceflight efforts should be directed towards asteroids or to the Moon. The GOP likes the Moon. The Democrats like studying asteroids. This is the conflict here. In my opinion, we should do both. Asteroid wrangling would step up our ability to explore our Solar System by an order of magnitude. And exploring the Moon would allow us to begin creating the technology for colonization. And both would allow us to potentially divert mining operations to bodies away from the Earth, allowing us to have the resources we need without the environmental damage.

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Straw men are like that.


[quote=“bzishi, post:2, topic:5904”]
As I pointed out before and I repeat again: meteors are not a plausible threat from a probabilistic point of view.
[/quote]That makes no sense at all. The probability of a deadly asteroid strike approaches 100% over a long enough time frame. It’s only been about a century since the Tunguska impact, and an object of similar size could easily take out millions of people if it struck near a populated area. Cost/benefit analysis is fine, but “not a plausible threat” is just silly.


not the onion


Yes. Why do you assume a long enough time frame? What is the time frame you are assuming?

True. What is the probability of that occurring?

Everyone knows that asteroids will fall into the sun long before they pass it into the central, static celestial-sphere where the earth resides.


Good point but I think if you erg up just a little, the total annihilation of all invertebrates on the planet starts to make the unlikelihood of the occurrence pale into insignificance.

It only has to happen once and by my reckoning we’re overdue for a cleanse.

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Famous last words: “What’re the chances of that 'appenin!?”


[quote=“bzishi, post:6, topic:5904”]
Why do you assume a long enough time frame? What is the time frame you are assuming?
[/quote]I’m optimistic enough to assume humanity will still be living on this planet for many thousands of years at least. At some point during that time there will almost certainly be more events on the order of Tunguska or greater, so it would behoove us to start thinking of ways to prevent such a disaster.

I’m not a statistician or a quant so I can’t name a precise number on how many resources we should invest in such an effort, but I’m thinking it’s a lot more than “zero.”


I suspect the real issue here is that the asteroid in question isn’t in the district of an important Representative. Also, they have to hurry up and repeal Obamacare, because repealing it 40 times just isn’t enough.


I’ve said this before, but I think Obama should extol the virtues of breathing. I would dearly love to see the more dysfunctional members of congress choking themselves out.


Good. Now you have to take two factors into account:

  1. The probability of an meteor causing massive devastation in that time period, and
  2. The technological advances of humanity in that time period.

Point #2 is the most significant here. It would make no sense to invest in meteor defense during the 15th century. The technology available simply wasn’t up to the threat. The question then becomes: when is the technology up to the threat, and when does the risk justify it? And does the rate of advancement of technology reduce the value of an investment at an earlier period? The probability of a meteor causing massive devastation in the next 100 years is tiny. But the technology available in 100 years to deal with such a threat would be significant. So does it make sense to use resources** on it now?

** By this I mean resources such as defensive measures like deploying nuclear weapons, paintballs, etc., and not the halting of research that may contribute to the advancement of society.

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Nobody is saying we’re ready now, that’s the point. We’re only beginning the research which, with any luck, will eventually advance to the point where we can deploy effective countermeasures one day. This anti-asteroid initiative is exactly the kind of thing that might result in such technologies.


The vast majority of impact scenarios are best dealt with by moving our population away from predicted impact zones. It is going to be hundreds of years before trimming the trajectory of potential impactors becomes practical.

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Then let’s stop the Apocalypse stories on it. Meteors aren’t a grave threat. They are a trivial threat.

Again, that depends on whether you’re thinking long-term or short-term.

Again, there are two variables. The differential gain in safety per year per investment would be expected to significantly increase as technology advanced. So an investment today that provides 1000 years of 97% coverage would be significantly more expensive than an investment in 50 years that provides 1000 years of 97% coverage.

But that’s not the choice that’s being offered, we won’t be launching any anti-asteroid defense systems in the near future. We’re talking about researching the kinds of technologies that might give us something worthwhile to invest in 50 (or 100, or 500) years down the road.


We can’t just wait for technology to arrive on it’s own, we need to prod it in that direction. That prodding should start as soon as possible.