What Has The Thirty Meter Telescope Already Shown Us?

What Has The Thirty Meter Telescope Already Shown Us?

by Guest Blogger,
Tyler Kokjohn, Ph.D.

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a 2 billion-dollar behemoth, will not see first light for years (1), but the effort to build it might have already illuminated something important.  It seems nothing for the proposal to locate the TMT on the summit of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea has come without controversy and while the state supreme court recently settled the legal issues, the situation on the mountain is now clearly deteriorating (2).

This forthcoming technological marvel will assure continued U.S. national leadership in astronomy research and be a job-creating boon for the local economy (3).  Locating this advanced concept telescope at the premier observing site of Mauna Kea will enable researchers to study fainter and more distant astronomical objects than has been possible previously (3).  However, Mauna Kea is a sacred site to some persons who feel that the construction of observatories has interfered with cultural and religious practices (1).  Unimpressed with the promised gains and unsatisfied by the legal process the elders have drawn their line.  Protestors are now blocking the start of TMT construction activities and forcing other existing installations to cease operations (2).  It is unclear how or when this dispute will end (2). 

Too Far From Home?

Mauna Kea is geographically remote for most of us.  Neither Islanders nor Astronomers, our sense of investment in this quarrel is accordingly limited.  Although this particular situation is unique, the basic story might seem familiar; authoritative official interests align promises and/or economic incentives to generate a broad-based popular consensus supporting an action or decision.  It is making a case by touting indisputable benefits combined with a subtle divide and conquer strategy spiced with a touch of nationalism.  Mauna Kea may be far away, but some similar issues as to where and how we are permitted to decide to best utilize science and technology hit us directly.          

Eat This

Reflecting consumer preferences, suppliers offer a range of food products including organically grown produce, free range chickens and fair trade products.  However, for consumers wishing to actively avoid genetically modified (GM) crops due to concerns about safety or the environmental impacts of the pesticides that must be used with many of them, the story is a little different.  Notwithstanding an often expressed deep reverence for free enterprise and the wisdom of the markets, U.S. government authorities are not making it easy for retail consumers to identify GM crop-based foods (4).  The market will meet a consumer preference to avoid GM food, but the government seems uninterested in facilitating such decisions.

Can We Say No?     

The first babies genetically engineered using the new CRISPR technology were born a few months ago.  This reckless and unethical experiment on unborn human beings was immediately denounced by most colleagues and opinion leaders in the scientific community as “substandard, superficial and absurd” (6).   Now another scientist insists such work cannot be halted and demands he be allowed to perform similar unethical experiments (6).  Hard on the heels of CRISPR DNA editing technology has come a new invention commonly known as a gene drive (7).  The ultimate double-edged sword, gene drives might allow us to control scourges such as malaria.  However, they might also exact terrible ecological tolls in the bargain.  

Scientists have birthed genetic manipulation technologies they are unable to fully control.  The new techniques could bring enormous benefits and the research community is anxious to develop the means to employ them ethically and safely.  Will ordinary citizens get a chance to express their wishes regarding the acceptable uses of genome editing methods before impatient investigators, profit-seeking private corporations or foundations keen to deploy the latest inventions for their own purposes decide matters for everyone?  Will our elected representatives heed the voice of the voters or the vested interests?  

We Are the Instrumentality

Combining tangible reality with spiritual significance Mauna Kea provides a physical focus and sharp clarity other discussions over adopting technology lack.  No hard-to-visualize scientific concepts or imagining the great things to come in the future, the site itself is the heart of this dispute.  In this case the elders have declared the limits and we can both see as well as feel what they are defending.  Perhaps a concrete example will inspire those of us silently watching from afar as events unfold to extrapolate this lesson to other situations.  The Thirty Meter Telescope situation has revealed something important.  It is now up to us to figure out how to make good use of what we have seen.       

  1. Dennis Overbye.  2019.  Hawaii Telescope Project, Long Disputed, Will Begin Construction.  The New York Times, 10 July 2019.  https://nyti.ms/2LOhJde 
  1. Alexandra Witze.  2019.  Hawaii Telescope Protest Shuts Down 13 Observatories on Mauna Kea.  Nature, 18 July 2019.  https://nyti.ms/1OyZy6p 
  1. Anonymous.  Maunakea and TMT.  The Facts About TMT on Maunakea.  http://www.maunakeaandtmt.org/facts-about-tmt/ 
  1. Anonymous.  2018.  U.S.D.A. Announces G.M.O Labeling Standard.  Food Business News, 20 December 2018.    https://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/13064-usda-announces-gmo-labeling-standard 
  1. George Dvorsky.  2019.  Substandard, Superficial and Absurd: Experts Slam the Science Behind the CRISPR Baby Experiment.  Gizmodo, 30 April 2019.   https://gizmodo.com/substandard-superficial-and-absurd-experts-slam-the-1834417285  
  1. Jon Cohen.  2019.  Russian Geneticist Answers Challenges to His Plan to Make Gene-Edited Babies.  Science, 13 June 2019. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/06/russian-geneticist-answers-challenges-his-plan-make-gene-edited-babies    
  2. Megan Scudellari.  2019.  Self-Destructing Mosquitoes and Sterilized Rodents: The Promise of Gene Drives.  Nature, 9 July 2019.  https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02087-5 

2018 Paratopia Update (1 of 2)

Aloha, People of Paratopia! Paratopians! Is that still a thing? You bet it is!

Jeff Ritzmann and I are thrilled to announce that the Paratopia Archive has just grown stronger, with the addition of all 13 Paratopia Oculus shows! That’s the 12 you’ve heard, plus a bonus episode that never saw the light of day, until now. So, if you haven’t already, go ahead and purchase the archive. There’s never been a better time. If you have purchased it, head on over and enjoy Paratopia Oculus!

Gee, it’s kinda like we’re cleaning house. Spring cleaning? Hmmm…. Wonder what that could be about. Perhaps we will find out in the next update.

Dear Ufology: I’m Out

Dear Ufology:

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while but just never got around to it. Then I got an email from someone claiming to be a legitimate UFO documents researcher telling me what a great writer I am and requesting that I write more blog posts poking fun at one of my favorite sham people in this, because he and his colleagues think it’s hysterical. From the totality of his email I gathered that he was one who believed in the stale extraterrestrial hypothesis and hadn’t read anything else on my blog. To him, I am just a a satirist–a noble profession, but for me it comes from a deeper place than parody for parody’s sake, or taking it to con men as a comedic power trip.

At least it should. But does it anymore?

Ufology, it’s not you, it’s me. I’ve changed. I don’t care about pedophile puppet makers and pretend-poor podcasters. Doctors who aren’t doctors and lobbyists who don’t lobby. I’ve done my part in helping expose hypnosis as the wrong tool for memory retrieval and the pseudo therapists taking advantage of people. Done my part in illuminating alternative theories to the extraterrestrial hypothesis. Done my part in helping to foster a legitimate scientific survey of experiencers. Done my part in holding conferences. Done my part in exposing my life of high strangeness for your scrutiny. Done my part in trying to lighten up a dreary field full of self-serious noisemakers, opportunists, and whatever wannabe-famous people from five steps below wishing to be a youtube sensation are.

Whatever positive impact all of that has had on anyone’s life was worth it. But I’m not really angry anymore about the stuff I despise. It’s all vastly, wildly uninteresting. And so maybe I am becoming a parody for parody’s sake kinda guy. The next inevitable step is becoming an unaware parody of myself. Meh. Who wants to be that guy?

I have one more ufological book in me, as promised. A sequel of sorts to, I Know Why The Aliens Don’t Land!. And I’ll keep doing The Experience for as long as experiencers are willing to talk. The occasional Paratopia Oculus? Sure. But really, that’s it, for I have already moved on.

Of all the books I’ve written, perhaps the most useful for readers has been Urgency. And over the years many readers have told me they wished I’d take that part of my life more seriously. I never didn’t take it seriously, personally, but publicly, I tend to be serious in spurts. Mainly, I’ve been a clown show of contradiction. (Is it any wonder that I find Trickster Theory so appealing?)

Well, no more. I’m hunkering down. I’m doing the work. I’m moving on into the serious phase. Not Marky Mark into Mark Wahlberg serious. I mean, I am bringing my sense of humor with me as I go, but it’s not coming from a place of anger, because where I’m going, only those truly, deeply concerned with life the universe and everything will follow. It is the place at the heart of all this Mystery that we claim to care about. It is a place not of debate, self-agrandizement, and fruitless commotion. It is a place of undoing. Our undoing. And I hope to see whomever is ready for the grad school version of Urgency. there.

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