Friday, March 19, 2010

"Confessions of an alien hunter"

Hi readers

The pile of books by my bed is getting no smaller! I have just finished reading "Confessions of an alien hunter: a scientist's search for extraterrestrial intelligence." The author is Seth Shostak. The book is published by National Geographic. Washington DC 2009. ISBN 978-1-4262-0392-3.

Shostak is a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in California (click here for more on the Institute.)

This work is an excellent overview of the topic of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and brings with it Shostak's personal story, which I found of great interest.

Many books on SETI usually contain a small section on the topic of UFOs. This is usually due to the inevitable question raised by talking about SETI, which is "could aliens already be visiting us?" However, Shostak's work has a lengthy chapter dealing with the topic of UFOs and other anomalies.

"I receive a lot of calls and correspondence from folks who have something to say on the subject of aliens. Many of them, like Ralph, are having difficulties with otherworldly visitors in their personal lives. " p112.

Shostak spends time describing the 1947 Arnold sighting; touches on Roswell, even mentioning Nick Redfern's alternative explanation ( click here for more details on Redfern's provocative theory ); covers Project Sign and the UK Ministry of Defence's release of UFO files. Then (p123) "By now the attentive reader may sense that I doubt that our planet is actually host to interstellar visitors."

His perspective is that, after 60 years, the evidence for UFOs isn't good enough. "Frankly, if the evidence were good enough, my colleagues and I would abandon our antennas and begin crawling the countryside." p123.

Shostak then looks at crop circles as evidence aliens are here. "The claims of alien authorship are flimsy, based on the way the wheat stalks are bent, to the fact that some of the patterns are ambitiously complex." p 124. "These plant patterns seem oddly inconsistent with true alien messages, however...they simply don't make sense as a method of interstellar communication."

Interestingly, Shostak then turns to the topic of alien abductions, seemingly separating them from the earlier topic of UFOs. Shostak's view is that "A phenomenon known as sleep paralysis (click here for more on this theory) may be causing the experience of those who believe they've been hauled off by little gray guys." p127. Abducting single individuals for personal inspection is not only inappropriate, but suspiciously convenient...Given the enormous number of people who claim to be abducted over and over, why has no one been prescient enough to take along a camera?" p127.

Following this, Shostak takes a look at claims of alien constructions on Mars. He offers the suggestion that "This penchant for recognising faces is part of a phenomenon called pareidolia, and we all have it." p 128.

Richard C Hoagland comes under scrutiny, as an example of someone promoting martian anomalies.

Finally, in a lengthy section, Shopstak asks the question "Do visits make senses?" He reviews the issue of the vast distances in space, and why would aliens visit us now?

Shostak sums up his perspective with "The major reason I'm reluctant to believe is the dicey nature of the evidence." p145. "I've repeatedly asked members of the UFO fraternity ...where's the physical evidence?...The response to my queries almost invariably boils down to two excuses...First, the UFOers allege that the academic's skepticism stems from their own pigheaded reluctance to look at the reports...The second excuse is that good physical evidence does exist. It's just been hidden away by a government anxious to keep the populace from rioting in the streets." p146.

In summary, "I hope I've shown that my mind is not closed, but merely skeptical. Until someone shows me better evidence, I'm strongly inclined to say that the aliens are likely to be out there, but not here." p149.


It is very good to be able to find a SETI researcher willing to lay out his opinions on the UFO question in such detail. Shostak is to be congratulated for spending so much time in his book setting out his views. There are some things which I agree with him, and others where I strongly disagree.

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