SETI – Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter: part 1
Ha ha! The title should garner angry crowds bearing sharpened spoons*, chanting before my office window in Mountain View.
*Because spoons are the only tools their caretakers will allow.
Even the link is funny! An apparently reputable journal recently published results of interviews with 116 college undergraduates describing their scientific “opinions” about SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence). We leave aside the societal relevance of opinions from 18-23 year olds who’ve never worked a day in their life! (Uh oh, I hear jingling spoons again.) Ha ha, just kidding, all you large, young, and physically intimidating people attending their first years of college! The crucial results:
(a) 82.1% think it is important to have a space agency.
(b) 71.4% think the military should have the main role in the event of contact with an alien civilisation.
(c) 80% believe if we find aliens more advanced than us they will try to conquer us.
(d) 78% believe there is a chance we’ve been visited by aliens in the past.
From (d) we infer that most undergraduates received their foundational science education from science fiction movies. This helps explain the rest. I’m most worried about question (b). Should the military be the first of “diplomats” that aliens meet? The army has a hammer, called war. What better way to start a war than by throwing spitballs at aliens?
Actual posted comments to the article:
” When the Old Ones, who dwell among the stars return, they will put us in our place.”
“It would destroy religion and the oil industry.”
” The Vatican is at this very moment expecting to meet an alien to save the world. This will be the seed of Satan!”
The point I’m making is that SETI is a branch of science. The opposite of “science,” for want of a better word, might be called “belief.” (jingle, jingle…) Example: Recently at the ATA (visitor hours 9am-3pm M-F), a courageous young man told me straight to my face, “I don’t believe in aliens.” What was I to do? I said, “Well, it’s not a religion.” (jingle, jingle…) Ah! Not to disparage religion or any other system of beliefs. To avoid the imminent mobs, I’ll re-label what I called “beliefs” as, “convicted opinions that cannot be tested by observations of nature,” or opinions for short.
Whether or not aliens exist is not a matter of anyone’s opinion. It is a scientific question that can and should be answered with science.
For more see parts 2 and 3 on this blog topic.