Would you like to go back in time to an unspoilt Earth?

I looked at the leaflet again. Yup, still the same. Same promises, same stuff about some new habitable planet. Somewhere wild and unspoilt, and not overcrowded by eight billion or so people attempting to inhabit even its most inhospitable places.

Come and learn why Gianel is the perfect new home for humanity! Time, place, date. As if anyone needed selling on the idea that it’d be nice to live in a pretty, unspoilt paradise, and have the chance to keep it that way right from the start. Really, who needs selling on that idea?

Reserve your own plot of land FREE!

No, the thing all these scams have in common is the thing they don’t mention. The question they slide right past to get to the bait on their hook. I’m sure most of them really believe it, too, they’re good people, after all, trying to do others a favour. Most people are.

But what gets me every time is this: How Do They Know? Great, so you reckon this habitable-zone Earth-mass planet will support life like ours. It’d be really, amazingly, super-ultra-mega-big news if observations had actually confirmed that, but they haven’t: we don’t have the capability quite yet. The whole world would know the moment we did. And then there’s the other problem they don’t talk about: So, you’ve got a ship that can actually get us there, do you? It’s all hems and haws and something muttered about training and hey you should start training with us to become a space pilot so you can get there! Which, great, but again, where’s the spaceship?!

Asking if I want to go visit another Earth-like planet is like asking me if I want to eat delicious cake: of course I do. It’s also completely irrelevant. I’m hardly going to give up my life to start training to become an astronaut on a spaceship that can’t be built going to a planet that doesn’t exist. But people do. People sign up for this stuff, sometimes by the busload. Because by asking the wrong questions, the scammers distract people from thinking about the right questions: the ones about having a look at the data, or at the spaceship.

I sigh, and put the advert to recycle. Show me your ship, show me your planet, and you have a deal. Until then, you’re asking the wrong question. And it isn’t helpful at all.