A story published last week was clearly inspired by a new TV series about his work. No wonder he has been a little sceptical. At various points in his life and career, he has been a very successful geologist and an astrobiologist and has won a Nobel prize. He is also a very humble, modest scientist and has had a tendency to see himself as a “co-author” of his own results. He often gets annoyed with journalists who simply post his quotes on the internet without quoting him carefully. He has been as surprised as anyone that he is a celebrity.
What he doesn’t like is having his work cited so often in book reviews. “I get very pissed off when I read rubbish comments that make me look stupid,” he says. “We’ve had enough on this. A short blogpost won’t make any scientific difference in papers that go on for a decade and have reviewed a hundred times.”
It’s a good question, and here’s his short answer: “If I can’t refute them, then I might as well admit that it is a concept or a theory that is genuinely new and worth considering. If we use it in the press, that’s fine. But if we publish a paper pointing out that it can’t work, that would just be lazy and unethical. It makes a solid example of the ‘new idea is not evidence’ problem. And I don’t want to be lazy and unethical.”
What about a recent headline that “Stonehenge could be connected to extraterrestrial life?” He laughs. “Yes, I know. But it is fanciful.”
“Do you ever worry that your work is being used in pop culture without being evidence-based?” he adds. “My work is starting to appeal to many people in pop culture. I love it.”