Sunday, 21 October 2007

SETI; I blame Stan Friedman.

I was delighted for SETI the week before last that they got such a tremendous PR boost from the coming-on-line of the Allen Array at Hat Creek. Furthermore, one is reminded of how fortunate they are to have such a generous benefactor in Paul Allen. This is a classic example of putting your money where your mouth is except that in Mr. Allen’s case, I never actually heard him talking about the search for extraterrestrial life before he became involved with SETI. To be honest, I’ve not heard him talk much about it since then either, so he’s obviously a very discrete individual.

The fact that there is antagonism between the SETI and the UFO camps is down to Stan. He has set the tone and the pace over the years and the rest of us, incapable of independent thought and sheep like, have followed suit. The Silly Effort To Investigate is quite a catchy jingle and one wonders why Stanley has never forsaken UFOs and nuclear physics and turned instead to the wonderful world of advertising, where his intellect might have earned him a crumb or two.

And it is all so self serving. Inevitably over the years, Stan and Seth have crossed swords and Stan has continued to lick his wounds. Seth of course, cannot for a moment give any ground because if he does, the game is up. If he even hints at the possibility that ET has already been here then the big switch gets thrown at Mountain View and someone will be looking for other gainful employment.

To be fair to Stan, the work and the approach that SETI takes attracts almost as much universal criticism pro rata as does the study of UFOs. Many regard SETI as simply pissing in the wind; that their whole premise is based on an erroneousness assumption and they should be using other methods other than the radio spectrum or, they should instead be transmitting instead of just listening, and so on. And most interestingly, they too have been accused of being faith based and not much better than a religion, something that will be familiar to UFO advocates. The more you consider it, the more alarming the scenario becomes as you realise that the niggles between the two groups are like two siblings squabbling.

That said, SETI have my unquestioning full support. We should be grateful for any properly organised attempt at discovering ET and if there is any honesty and generosity of spirit within UFO circles, then it behoves them to support Seth and his tribe. But there isn’t, so they won’t. Nonetheless, I can’t help feeling that both sides are going to miss out and that it will be the astrobiological mob that will plant the flag and be the first to discover and confirm the existence of extraterrestrial life.

As in many conflicts, there is great irony. Stan and Seth both seek intelligent life. The astro crowd want that too but are arguably the party with their feet most firmly planted in the world of reality and probability. The bugs will win.

I do have my own criticisms of SETI but they are more to do with their PR side. Their web site is poor, despite a recent overhaul and their general publicity machine could do an awful lot more than it does. But their heart is in the right place and their goals are spot on.

I wish them well and I thank Paul Allen.


graylien said...

It would be interesting to see what effect the discovery of a 'positive' signal by SETI would have on Ufology.

Presumably Seth Shostak would still think that Ufology was a load of nonsense. However, Stan Friedman and his ilk would be placed in the rather awkward position of having to admit that they had been wrong about SETI.

Would Ufology be strengthened or weakened by news of a positive signal? I don't think the answer to that one is as obvious as it may first seem.

Stuart said...

It's arguable that overnight, UFOlogy would suddenly become irrelevant if SETI detected a confirmed signal. The essential point is that the two disciplines are in philosphical conflict as one cancels out the other. Although UFO sightings continue, in America UFOlogy is a field that is principally anchored in the past. The best cases are those from previous decades while SETI is an institution that is obliged to look to the future.

There is a smell of vested interest in both camps but what I find interesting to consider is if hostilities were to be set aside, could common ground be found which could enable the two sides to work together?

Dustin said...

I may be naive, but I'd like to think that the two camps could actually work together. I think that a start would be a more comprehensive approach, beyond just looking for radio signals(which might be a bit anthropomorphic) would be necessary, as would a bit of backing down from the other side. It would be an interesting collaboration, but one which we probably won't ever see, unfortunately.

Stuart said...

I think the best we can hope for is tolerance. As far as SETI is concerned, UFOlogy doesn't exist as a going concern but I bet they wouldn't mind our computers for SETI@Home processing!

The flaming should stop and a respectful coexistence should prevail.