By Michael Shermer
I’m a big fan of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) and I think their search program constitutes the best chance we have of making contact. In fact, on a recent Saturday I was rained out of my normal 4-hour bike ride, so I read SETI scientist Seth Shostak’s new book, Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (published by National Geographic), a brilliant and fun read. Seth has a fantastic sense of humor and in his book he presents some of great one-liners to use when dealing with UFOlogists, alien abductees, and the saucerites. For example:
Regarding the time it would take to traverse the vast distances between the stars, which would be millions of years (it will take Voyager II 300,000 years to reach a nearby star), Shostak notes: “That’s a long time to be squirming in a coach seat.”
As for the lack of tangible evidence for UFOs: “Physical evidence - a taillight or knob from an alien craft - is in short supply.”
UFOlogists claim that they have tens of thousands of UFO sightings, as if this is a good thing, but Shostak notes that this actually argues against UFOs being ET, because to date not one of these tens of thousands of sightings has materialized into concrete evidence that UFOs = ETIs. It’s counter-intuitive, but more sightings equals less certainty because with so many saucers zipping around we would have captured one by now, and we haven’t.
Shostak notes that crop circles are a very poor means of communication because they represent only a few hundred bits of information, 1,679 bits in the most complex crop circle to date, which is less than a paragraph of text! If ETIs are advanced enough for interstellar space travel, why resort to using wheat fields, which are only ripe a couple of months a year, and then the crop-circle communication is quickly mowed down by angry farmers!
As for alien abductees, Shostak points out that Whitley Strieber’s book, Communion: A True Story, launched the modern alien abduction movement. And guess what Strieber does for a living? He is a SciFi/fantasy/horror writer! Actually, I knew this already because I met Strieber in the green room at Bill Maher’s ABC show, Politically Incorrect, and Whitley and I were chatting it up over coffee and granola bars in the green room before the show when I asked him what he did when he wasn’t writing about being abducted by aliens. He told me that he writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels. The show was over right there in the green room! What else is there to say to a guy who writes this stuff as fiction, then slaps a “nonfiction” label on the book jacket?
Image source: unfortunately abducted by aliens
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