Why is Childlike Bullying More Prevalent Than Childlike Curiosity?

Avi Loeb
6 min readMar 20, 2024


Avi Loeb jogging at sunrise on the deck of “Silver Star” during the expedition to the Pacific Ocean on June 14–28, 2023.

Last night, I attended a concert at Symphony Hall in Boston. Under my jacket, I wore a T-shirt from the scientific ocean expedition that I led in June 2023. To my surprise, MIT’s President, Sally Kornbluth, arrived at the reception hall and recognized who I am instantly even though we had never met before.

By now, any room I enter contains people who recognize me from media coverage or from my writings. There is nothing I can do to avoid that. I have no footprint on social media. I never subscribed to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, X or TikTok. But other people in these outlets talk about me. When reporters cover my research, they often adopt an article title that distorts my scientific statements and injects controversy into their description in order to spice up their story and get more clickbait. Some of the reporters have a prescribed narrative that they wish to follow irrespective of what I say. And when readers believe these reports, they respond to the journalistic distortions rather than to what I actually say on podcasts and video-taped interviews. In one long profile by The New York Times Magazine, the fact-checking procedure consumed 8 hours of my time, but there were plenty of mistakes in the rest of the story that the fact-checkers did not bring to my attention. This creates a bubble of toxicity manufactured by others, not me.

The fame that results from these unfortunate journalistic traits motivates some scientists who wish to get into the limelight to make ridiculous statements in press releases, such as the claim that “a meteor could have been a truck.” This statement was based on secondary data and ignored the primary data from NASA and the U.S. Space Command that guided the scientific expedition that I led to a meteor site as can be easily seen from the surveyed region, shown in Figure 2 of our scientific paper.

By now, it became evident to me that misinformation is created for the sole purpose of having a target that can be attacked. This target has little to do with the facts. It has to do with the desire of some people to attract attention and signal their virtues to their tribe. In order to do that, they need a target, even a fictitious target of their own making.

This misinformation cycle is contradictory to the goals of evidence-based science. It harms the scientific mission of my research team. The team includes thirty people who planned for a full year an expedition to the Pacific Ocean to retrieve materials from the first reported interstellar meteor, based on data reported by sensors onboard U.S. Government satellites. Over the past eight months, our rigorous research team analyzed the retrieved materials in the laboratories of Professor Stein Jacobsen at Harvard University and Dr. Roald Tagle at the Bruker Corporation in Berlin, Germany. Last week, the U.S. Government data was dismissed by scientists who used lower-quality localization data from public seismometers and infrasound sensors to argue that we went to the wrong place. Science journalists or editors of scientific journals amplified this message without respecting the facts about the U.S. Government localization data, which I summarized in a new paper.

So let me ask the question that is on the mind of any reasonable person who witnesses this sequence of events. What is wrong with our culture? Can we really claim to be an intelligent species given our focus on conflicts and toxicity rather than being driven by curiosity to explore what lies outside the solar system?

The main problem with the current culture of stoning any innovative messenger in the town center is that it deters scientists from innovating. The audience in my most recent public lectures was filled with young people who are inspired by my research and wish to become scientists after reading my books. Every day I get new requests from young scientists who wish to work with me. The toxic culture promoted by some of the “adults in the room” poisons the aspirations of young adults to become scientists. The message they get is that scientific work better be guided by past knowledge in traditional echo chambers, or else any deviation from the beaten path will get bullied.

Why is childlike bullying more prevalent than childlike curiosity? I discussed this question at length this morning with a journalist who reports about science for kids. I also plan to discuss it in a future book for young adults who wish to become scientists.

This toxic culture inflicts a devastating blow to those who are already engaged in science by installing fear from innovation. If your data shows that the pre-existing paradigm is wrong, you might choose to postpone the publication of your insights, possibly after you die. This was the approach taken by Nicolaus Copernicus as a priest in order to avoid controversy with the church. Galileo Galilei acted differently and was put in house arrest. Today, Galileo would have been cancelled on social media.

In a toxic culture of this nature, progress is slowed down. The mark of a truly intelligent species is that new knowledge is encouraged and past mistakes are forgiven. The collection of evidence implicitly demands tolerating mistakes, because some of what we know based on fewer facts ends up being proven wrong after more facts are collected. A learning experience involves growth. Metaphorically, in order for our skin to grow, old skin must be shed off. We better not hold on to old skin with a masking tape. Arguing that an interstellar meteor is a truck is equivalent to raising dust and claiming that we do not see anything. By avoiding new data about interstellar objects whenever it does not conform with past knowledge about solar-system rocks, we will never be ready to learn something new about what lies outside the solar system.

Perhaps all of this is an intelligence test. As long as we hang on to our past tribal wisdom and ignore facts, we do not deserve to be regarded as a truly intelligent species. In this regime of self-inflicted ignorance, Fermi’s paradox is inevitable. We cannot belong to a club of intelligent civilizations that we refuse to recognize.

As to my personal fate, you need not worry whatsoever. I follow my daily routines of jogging every morning at sunrise and acquiring half of my daily calories from dark chocolates. I continue to lead the Galileo Project which is seeking new evidence about our cosmic neighborhood, within those distant lights in the night sky. In a few decades I will not be around, and in 8 billion years the sun will stop shining, so the morning jogs are definitely temporary. In the long run, it does not really matter what the critics do to maintain their ignorance. I just wished that they would not pretend to know more than they actually do. That’s all. Is it too much to ask scientists to be curious?


Image credit: Chris Michel (October 2023)

Avi Loeb is the head of the Galileo Project, founding director of Harvard University’s — Black Hole Initiative, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University (2011–2020). He is a former member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and a former chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. He is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” and a co-author of the textbook “Life in the Cosmos”, both published in 2021. His new book, titled “Interstellar”, was published in August 2023.



Avi Loeb

Avi Loeb is the Baird Professor of Science and Institute director at Harvard University and the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial” and "Interstellar".