Back in 2015, Stephen Colbert hosted Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Seth MacFarlane on his show. Stephen brought up Tabby’s star, explaining that one of the explanations for the drastic dips, although improbable, was that an alien megastructure could be orbiting the star. Although I would have preferred he listed the other possible explanations, I suppose I’m okay with how he introduced the topic because he mentioned that the likelihood of it being aliens was low.
It’s the next statement that bothers me. Seth MacFarlane chimes in with “Ya, I read that on Buzzfeed, so it must be true” (sarcastically), but this annoys me! Since the 2000’s with Wikipedia, there has been this sarcastic statement going around of “well I read it on the internet, so it must be true.” In extension to this, outlets such as Buzzfeed have started developing reputations as only there for their fans, publishing anything their fans might like, regardless of whether it was true or not (I’m saying this is becoming their reputation, not that they don’t fact check because honestly I don’t know). With all this, if Buzzfeed posts something about an alien megastructure found by astronomers, it will either reflect poorly on them or on astronomers.
Unfortunately, there is no way to get around the fact that the general population automatically calls BS to anything about aliens. As shown in this clip from Late Night, it is near impossible to have a legitimate discussion about SETI without astronomers rolling their eyes and everyone else just thinking it “fake news” (another popular statement these days). Neil responds to this statement with an exasperated expression and the statement “Just because you don’t understand something, doesn’t mean it’s aliens.” Well you know what, Neil?? No one said it *was* aliens! It was proposed as a solution, along with a ton of other things, but it *is* a solution to this anomalous data. The media picked up on that one little thing, and went crazy with it. Neil is right, in general, but I think it is important to remember that aliens are an explanation to different things we don’t understand, and while all other explanations should always be explored first (and with more fervor), aliens should not be removed as a solution just because sci-fi has trained us all to believe this silly and impractical.