Friday, February 24, 2012

Astrobiology and UFOs - new book alert

Dear readers

Adelaide is about to experience three days of 37 degree Celsius, very hot weather, so it's again time to bring out books from my "waiting to read" pile. The one I have chosen to post about is "Talking About Life: conversations on astrobiology" edited by Chris Impey. It is published by Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK. 2010. ISBN987-0-521-51492-7.

The book consists of 37 interviews between the editor and a variety of scientists about the subject of astrobiology. It is divided into five parts; introduction to the topic; Earth; the solar system; exoplanets and frontiers of the subject.

Of course, I went straight to the index to look for anything on UFOs, to see what these distinguished scientists would have to say on the topic. It was illuminating.

Astrobiology and UFOs:

Steven Dick - "Until his recent retirement , he was NASA's Chief Historian." (p22.)

"CI What's your view of popular culture and the way it sees astrobiology?

SD There's not much recognition about what's been discovered in this field. I think of exobiology and the whole idea of life in the universe as a world view. A lot of people have that world view, not so much based on the scientific evidence, but on the general philisophical idea that there are so many stars out there, and we shouldn't be the only intelligence in the universe. Pop-culture arenas like science  fiction and the UFO debate are the ways of working out that world view."

Neil deGrasse Tyson - "...director of the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium." (p.50.)

"CI The first UFO sightings in Jules Verne's time were flying galleons, because that's all they could imagine. Once we could make sleek, shiny metal, we saw sleek, shiny metal things.

NT [Laughs] Right. It's charming and unimaginative, and I'm certain we are as guilty of that today." (p.54.)

David Grinspoon - "Curator of Astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science..." (p.178.)

"DG If you poll scientists who grew up on science fiction and ask them, "Do you think they are out there? " most will say, "Yes, we simply don't have evidence yet." The difference is whether there is definitive evidence or not. But, in an odd way, the astrobiology community and the SETI community are in agreement with the UFO community regarding the ultimate question of "Are we alone?" It's just that some of us want to believe.

CI Like Agent Mulder with his "I want to believe" poster." (p.186.)

Jill Tarter - "Director of SETI's Project Phoenix." (p.305.)

"CI In addition to struggling with astronomers who raise their eyebrows at SETI, the public tends to believe that we've already made contact and UFOs are real. How do you convery the scientific aspects of SETI to the public, given this backdrop that what you're looking for is already known and the government is hiding it?

JT I address it up front and say," If I ever claim that I have detected a signal, you need to demand from me incredible data and proof, and I have to demand the same level of verification and validation from anyone else who claims to have seen something or been abducted." (p.313.)

Seth Shostak - "SETI Institute, where he is senior astronomer and in charge of all outreach activities..." (p .316.)

"CI You discovered dark matter and then got rid of it! How long were you in Holland?

SS Thirteen years. I was still interested in the idea of life in space, because as a kid I'd read all these books about UFOs. There was a book with photos of flying saucers.  At thirteen years old, looking at those photos, I thought, this looks like a hubcap - I could make a better photo than this! " (p 317.)

Paul Davies - "...currently leads the BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University." (p347.)

"CI Astrobiology's tricky because, at least in the United States, the slate is not clean. People have been inculcated by the popular culture to believe that not only the aliens exist, but they've visited us. Getting back to a scientific reference points for astrobiology is even harder than in physics.

"PD That's quite true. It's even worse for SETI, which is the speculative end of astrobiology by anybody's standards, and yet the populist media is awash with alien  abduction and UFO stories. The difficulty is that we like to play off that intrinsic fascination - as a teenager I was blown away by these stories, thinking we're not alone, and we're surrounded by advanced alien beings. It's a thrilling  concept, and it's unfortunate that when we look at the scientific evidence, all that stuff melts away. (p.349.)

"PD I've often wondered how I got into this game. The interest goes back a long way, to my early teens and reading those UFO stories..." (p.350.)

Finally, in the glossary on page 394 we read:

"UFOs. Unidentified Flying Objects, purported to be visitations by aliens, but there is no compelling evidence to support this  assertion."


Although in my opinion, the views expressed about the UFO subject show that most of those interviewed who referred to UFOs, show that these individuals have not taken the time, say like Dr James E McDonald, to look in detail at the evidence, I really enjoyed the rest of the book.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, those dastardly scientists refuse to look at the crashed saucer wreckage and all the other good evidence.