The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

Earth seen by Apollo 11
Are we scientifically useful or useless? (credit: NASA)

Scientifically useless

The shuttle and space station are scientifically useless. The Apollo missions were scientifically useless. The Moon/Mars missions will be scientifically useless. Humans in space are scientifically useless, absolutely. While these statements are dubious, they are frequently heard. The usual response is to say that human spaceflight is scientifically useful, and it’s about other things too. It’s about engineering, and putting life and humankind beyond Earth permanently. There’s nothing wrong with that response, but this article will try something different.

Let’s say that the anti-human-spaceflight people are right, and that humans in space are absolutely scientifically useless. Now that they’ve won that battle, they can start using the same argument elsewhere. The argument that was so successful in space should be equally successful somewhere else. There are a few humans in space, but the overwhelming majority of humans are here on Earth. The question is, are humans on Earth scientifically useful or useless? More directly, are you scientifically useful or useless?

The question is, are humans on Earth scientifically useful or useless? More directly, are you scientifically useful or useless?

If you are a scientist, you are obviously scientifically useful. (Although anti-human-spaceflight humans have established that robots are much better scientists than humans, for the purposes of this article we’ll say that human scientists are okay.) There are many scientists in the world, but out of the total human population of more than six billion, scientists are a minority. The majority of people are non-scientists and engage in non-science activities. It would be fair to say that the majority of people are scientifically useless. They contribute no new scientific knowledge and conduct no scientific research; they are scientifically useless in every sense of the phrase. The odds are that you are in this category.

Anti-human-spaceflight people, after stating that humans in space are scientifically useless, usually conclude that humans in space must be eliminated. Now that we’ve established that most humans on Earth are scientifically useless, the only logical response is to eliminate most humans on Earth, which probably includes you.

This resolution is controversial, but it is the logical result of eliminating all non-science activities. Some people will whine that humans are intrinsically valuable, that living and existence are worthwhile in itself, and that human activity should not be limited to science exclusively, but should instead include science and a great many other things. But these whiners never get anything right.

One way to get around the elimination of most of humankind is to train everyone in science. Not everyone could be scientists all the time—we still need farmers and other occupations to keep people alive—but everyone could be part-time scientists. Part-time scientists would be partially scientifically useful and avoid elimination. The problem here is that humans in space would also become part-time scientists. Since the whole point of this exercise is to eliminate humans in space, training everyone in science, while good for humankind, would be bad for the anti-human-spaceflight lobby.

The ultimate answer is to have everyone on Earth become part-time scientists, and have everyone in space become non-scientists. Humans on Earth would be safe, and humans in space would be eliminated. This would be perfect, except for one small detail.

Are animals, plants, and rocks scientifically useful or useless?