We are not entitled to warp drive

We are not entitled to warp drive April 28, 2015

Lesson: IFLS cares about clicks more than science.
Lesson: IFLS cares about clicks more than science.

Dear fellow skeptics, trekkies, and readers of IFLS: No. NASA has not discovered Warp Drive. It is sad for me to see people taken in by very exciting but very wrong hoaxes about science. It happens relatively infrequently, but I think it’s always important for us to pay attention when when we make these kinds of mistakes so we can hit ourselves in the head and scream ‘no! bad skeptic!’.

Part of the issue is that we’ve all seen Star Trek and Star Wars and Spaceballs and we feel positively entitled to faster-than-light travel. We know the vast, monstrous distances of outer space and the impossibility of space travel at sub-light speeds. Consider this: the fastest man-made object ever travelled at 87,000 mph (and then broke). At that seemingly impossible speed, it’s a respectable 23 days to Mars, 3.5 years to Neptune, and over 90,000 years to the nearest extra-solar habitable planet. That sucks, but it doesn’t change the laws of physics and it doesn’t change what we know today. So when you see anything that says otherwise, turn your skeptic up to Creationism and think before sharing.

So the picture at the right has been shared by lots of my otherwise skeptical FB fiends. But it’s total BS. Just up front, let’s see what NASA has to say:

The bulk of scientific knowledge concludes that it’s impossible… traveling at the speed of light is simply imaginary… warp drive remains a dream.

So. We have very quickly and easily resolved the question of whether NASA has created a warp drive. For all of you who didn’t do that bit of research: For shame. We have learned that IFLS, while an awesome bit of social media (and an awesome bit of woman-run science) that posts lots of cool science stuff, is more interested in clicks than science and will clickbait, fabricate, or even misrepresent science just for attention. But this isn’t about bashing IFLS. I’m just saying be skeptical of everyone, even IFLS.

Just for good measure, let’s look a bit more. In defense of IFLS, NASA seems to have made an announcement or similar announcements in the past, maybe, but they’re now nowhere to be found. One would expect a retraction or clarification at the IFLS page, but there isn’t one. A sensible review of propellant/propulsion theories is at this Planetarium blog, with videos just for future reference.

Shawyer’s proposal (referring to faster than light “EM Drive”) has received some positive coverage in engineering journals and websites but not from many scientific publications (apart from New Scientist, which positively gushed enthusiasm). The science community has been largely reluctant to repeat Shawyer’s research because his theoretical justification sounds frankly absurd.

So feel free to look around, but always be skeptical, even from friends and even when you’d really like the story to be true.

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