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-- Donkey Hotey


Interview with Seth Shostak —Reported 2001-12-21 19:42 by Siduri

Mulder, Are You Seriously Suggesting

"Jimmy Carter saw a UFO but it was Venus. Atmospheric phenomena, meteors, ball lightning, swamp gas."

Siduri: So, is there—I know it doesn't have anything to do with you, but when we first started talking, we were talking about all the calls you get from people who believe that there are aliens on Earth. Is there any serious research that's gone into investigating these claims?

Seth: Yeah, the whole UFO phone. Well, the bottom line is that half of America believes that—the most recent poll is only 38 percent, but usually it's fifty to fifty-five percent—roughly half of all Americans believe there's evidence for aliens visiting the planet. It's not just one percent of people; half the population believes it. So of course there have been plenty of investigations in the past.

In the early days, they would have these commissions composed of academics and so forth looking into it. The Air Force had various projects looking into it. Of course, I don't think the Air Force ever seriously thought that these lights in the sky were really aliens, but they may have thought that they were Russian aircraft that they didn't know about. And they were interested in learning that.


Illustration of Jimmy Carter's swamp
gas sighting by Paul Vortex

Anyhow, commission after commission would look at all these things, and they would look at the evidence, and they always decided the same thing: 90 percent of them we can explain, here's a whole list of phenomena that causes these—airplanes, balloons—Jimmy Carter saw a UFO but it was Venus. Atmospheric phenomena, meteors, ball lightning, swamp gas. There's all this stuff. And ten percent of them we can't explain, but those are usually the ones where there's only one witness. There's very little data.

And if you say, "Ha! Those are aliens!" Well, maybe you can't explain it, but you can only solve 80 percent of the murders up in San Francisco. What about the other 20 percent? Maybe they're committed by aliens. It's possible; it's just a pretty extreme assumption, just because there's some percentage you haven't worked out.

So all that was done. But of course the people who like to think that aliens are visiting figure that the lack of compelling evidence—because there is no compelling evidence: all that they'd have to do is walk into this room with a tailpipe from a UFO. "Here it is!" Put it on the table, and you check it out— "my god, this is an alloy that we've never tried," all that sort of stuff. It should be pretty obvious. If you went back to Neanderthal times and you gave them a cell radio, they would know Zorg did not make this. You can just tell. It doesn't take terribly sophisticated analysis.

So the question is why haven't you ever had that? And the answer that is given is, one, the government has covered it all up. Which presupposes that the government has managed to collect all the evidence, and to cover it up, neither of which seems very likely, given our government. But even if you think our government has done that, you also have to assume that every government has done this. Otherwise the aliens must prefer the US, but you know, maybe they occasionally land in Canada. The Canadian government has covered it up; maybe the Iraqis have also covered it up; the Brazilians, and the Argentinians, the Israelis, and everybody else. I find that rather hard to believe. They don't cover everything else up.

So that's one explanation, that the governments have covered it up. Nefarious governments have collected all the evidence and managed to keep it secret for 54 years. They couldn't keep Anita Hill quiet for two weeks, but they kept this secret for 54 years. I just find that beyond the pale.

The second argument that's usually made...

Siduri: ...Is that the aliens don't want us to have all this advanced technology? Is there that one, the one where they're studying us and they're...

Seth: Well, no, that's sometimes offered as an explanation for the Fermi paradox—why you don't see them. But if you do see them...

Mark: Following the Prime Directive.

Siduri: Right. Exactly.

Seth: What?

TCS: Following the Prime Directive, in Star Trek.

Seth: Yeah, the Prime Directive. How many times has human civilization followed the Prime Directive? Never! Forget this. The only prime directive is to get close to Kirk.

Siduri: [laughing] That's true.

Seth: The only Prime Directive humans follow is to go to the Angus House of Beef and have a steak. That's the prime directive for humans. The second thing is, yes, that scientists are not open to this idea. That they are close-minded and they're not willing to look into this.

Mark: Have you looked into that idea?

Seth: No, I don't even deign to consider it. In fact, I find that just about as bizarre as the first explanation. Because scientists, sure, they have their own view of the world. But if there's any group of people that does consider new ideas on a regular basis, it's science! Not all of the time, right, but if you're working on a problem and you see that, hey, there's a big discovery to made in this area, you don't say "well, I'm not going to do that." I mean, that's not what you do. They'd be laboring away on their own time or their own money if they thought there was any chance that some of this was right. I really do think that's true.

Siduri: I read a quote of yours on the web that I liked a lot, that said if there was even a one percent chance that aliens were among us, that's what you would spend 100 percent of your time working on.

Seth: Yeah. And I think that's true for a lot of people. I mean, a lot of people would be doing that, of course. Gosh, if you really want to go to Stockholm, all you have to do is prove that the aliens are here.

Mark: There are some people who have looked the religions throughout the history of the world, and seen certain patterns in their deity worship that they think fit more closely with the patterns that you would see in a civilization reacting to a visitor, rather than reacting to a phenomenon. I wonder if you could talk about that.

Seth: I have to say I'm not conversant with all the specifics. I've seen these arguments and I can make some very superficial comments. You don't know a heck of a lot about, maybe, some of these ancient cultures. And so that's one possible explanation—that they were entertaining visitors from another world. Another possible explanation is that they were entertaining visitors from the next hill over. Right? I mean, you have to use Occam's razor, and say, well, what requires less extreme assumptions?

Just consider some of the practices in our own religions. Imagine sort of stepping back, looking at these things 10,000 years from now. "These guys, they would take infants and they would dump them in water," and so forth. "So why were they doing that?" Out of context, sometimes these things aren't so clear. So I don't find that very convincing.

What would be convincing—it's easy, you see—is if you're digging through the rubble of somebody's cave and you come across an alien cellphone. It would last 10,000 years. Something would last. You never find that. What you find are bones of animals, things like that. We have to—let's think of this. We haven't done all the archaeology. I don't think we've been visited in historic times because we would have real evidence. But maybe the aliens visited 300,000,000 years ago. That evidence might be very hard to find. Unless they were widespread: if you found [unintelligible] everywhere at a certain level below ground. If they just—if a ship landed and took a few samples and flew off again, you would never know. You can't rule that out, but all I can say is that the evidence that we're being visited now is not very good.

Next page: The Face on Mars


Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.


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