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SETI and Its Critics

From the Paramus Post, a story by Bruce Lieberman looks at contrasting views of SETI:

On both sides of the SETI debate, scientists acknowledge that what’s certain is the limit of what they know.

“I personally think that because the origin of life is an extremely difficult process … even simple life is very rare in the galaxy,” Zuckerman said. “But I have no particular claims other than my gut feeling.”

Shostak has publicly debated Zuckerman on the issue, and he remains confident that future searches will make contact. “I doubt that I would conclude that nobody’s out there,” he said. “To me that seems like a last-resort option. But that’s simply my feeling on the matter. And my feeling on the matter … actually means nothing because what counts is what you can find.

“That’s the difference between science and belief.”

A quick overview of the topic, available here.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Adam January 24, 2007, 17:48

    Hi Paul

    Shostak makes a good point – the difference between science and belief is that science keeps looking even when belief has written off the search based on non-evidence. It’s rational to keep looking because one’s knowledge is limited and more information can always be gathered. When we’ve visited every star system in the Galaxy, then we can make reasonable decisions on SETI’s value or otherwise. Until then all our reasons for giving up are non-scientific and usually irrational.

  • Ron S January 24, 2007, 20:26

    An exhaustive search can be limitless in expense and attention required. Stopping at some point of course does not prove extraterrestrial life doesn’t exist, only that a judgment on resource allocation needs to be made. It’s a rational though perhaps unscientific decision. It may only mean a pause until we develop new or more economical tools.

    At some point, for example, we may have to stop looking under rocks on Mars to decide we’re just not going to keep looking. Unless under that next rock…

  • Adam January 25, 2007, 1:24

    Hi Ron

    Good point. Considering the value of a positive SETI outcome I’d say our current meager efforts haven’t reached the economic “time for Smoke-O” stage.


  • Ron S January 25, 2007, 11:17

    Adam, I agree with you. And then we have to consider that the resources required to keep searching are controlled or gated by those with less enthusiasm (or perhaps I should say, shorter attention span) despite their general interest. Science meets politics, possibly in a good way. It may hurt, but there will come a point when “stop!” is an appropriate decision if nothing continues to be found.

  • ljk January 29, 2007, 23:23

    Book Review: Science, Society, and the Search for Life in the Universe

    January 25, 2007


    Science, Society, and the Search for Life in the Universe

    Where is our search for life taking us? Or, even simpler, why are we searching? Bruce Jakosky in his book Science, Society and the Search for Life in the Universe considers these questions and many others. However, he shows that searching for answers is almost as difficult as the search itself for life off of Earth.

    Astrobiology, in various guises, is taking over many space agendas. Mars beckons and Europa positively gleams, while we find planets popping up all around nearby stars. There is great excitement and debate for finding other life and other intelligent life. Pursuing answers is thus a significant or near total reason for many space missions. But are we prepared for whatever we may find, no matter how exciting?

    Full review here:


  • ljk May 28, 2007, 20:44

    Search for alien life to go round-the-clock

    SETI to have 42 radio astronomy dishes in California by end of 2007

    By Ed Stoddard

    Updated: 12:36 p.m. ET May 28, 2007

    DALLAS – The search for life around the universe will now take place around the clock.

    The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute plans to have 42 radio astronomy dishes up and running in northern California by the end of 2007, which will enable it to scan the heavens for alien radio waves on a continuous basis.

    “There are a number of groups around the world doing SETI
    research. They are listening for radio signals out there, but it
    is not 24/7,” said Scott Hubbard, who holds the Carl Sagan
    Chair for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute
    in Mountain View, California.

    Full article here:


  • ljk June 12, 2007, 14:52

    Scientists Gather to Celebrate Anniversary

    of National Radio Astronomy Observatory

    Scientists from around the world will gather in Charlottesville,

    Virginia, June 18-21 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the

    National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). In a star-studded

    scientific meeting, astronomers will look forward to how NRAO’s

    current and planned facilities will tackle the challenges of

    21st-Century astrophysics and review the landmark discoveries

    made with NRAO’s telescopes.

    Karl Jansky’s 1932 discovery of radio waves originating

    from beyond the Earth opened astronomy’s first “window”

    on the “invisible Universe” — celestial objects and

    processes revealed by other than visible light. Over the

    next decades, radio observations revolutionized humanity’s

    understanding of the cosmos with discoveries of objects

    such as quasars and pulsars, and the faint, remnant

    radiation left over from the violent beginning of the

    Universe in the Big Bang.

    In the Charlottesville symposium, scientists will look at

    the big questions facing astronomy today, and how radio

    telescopes can help answer those questions. Speakers will

    address topics including studying the nature of Dark Energy,

    refining the cosmic distance scale, studying fundamental

    physics through astronomical observations, detecting

    possible radio emission from extrasolar planets, searching

    for extraterrestrial civilizations, finding the first stars

    and galaxies in the Universe, and deciphering the physics

    of cosmic explosions.

    Speakers include Nobel Laureate Robert Wilson, co-discoverer

    of the Cosmic Microwave Background, SETI pioneer Frank Drake,

    prolific extrasolar planet discoverer Paul Butler, and a

    host of leading experts in numerous specialties of astronomy.

    The symposium will be held at the Omni Charlottesville

    Hotel. News media representatives may obtain free

    registration, and a press room will be available. For

    press registration, additional information, or to

    arrange interviews, contact NRAO Public Information

    Officer Dave Finley.


    NRAO Fact Sheet:


    NRAO 50th Anniversary Homepage:


    Complete NRAO Timeline:


  • ljk June 25, 2007, 17:02

    Planetary Radio

    Going South to Look for ET

    Airdate: Monday, June 25, 2007

    Running Time: 00:28:52

    Listen: Windows Media | MP3

    Southern SETI Director Guillermo Lemarchand describes from Buenos Aires why his search for extraterrestrial intelligence is uniquely exciting. Emily Lakdawalla sheds light on how spacecraft take pictures in the darkness of the outer solar system. Bruce Betts tells Mat Kaplan about the night sky and digs up the derivation of the mineral Armalcolite, winning a Planetary Radio t-shirt for a listener. He also announces a new space trivia contest.


    A detailed related article from February 21, with very nice photos:


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