Ups & Downs of SETI
The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence arouses excitement in some, boredom in others. The SETI Institute has taken lumps recently; due to a $5 million shortfall in funding, they had to mothball a search using the Allen Telescope Array. But PhysOrg announced that an unspecified group of astronomers will be using the Green Bank Radio Telescope in West Virginia, the world’s largest steerable antenna, to watch 86 stars identified by the Kepler spacecraft as potential sites for habitable planets. The article did not say who is funding the project.
A press release from UC Berkeley contained more detail. The astronomers involved are from UC Berkeley. The press release said that the Green Bank Observatory is funded by the National Science Foundation, but did not specify if NSF funds are being used for the SETI activity. Volunteers around the world will parse the data using SETI@home software after a year of searching. SETI@home is partly funded by the NSF and NASA, the article said, but did not specify the amount.
As long as taxpayers are not forced to fund it, let the SETI enthusiasts look. It might keep them out of mischief. Just don’t let them lie that SETI is a science project, because it has no data. Would using scientific equipment to search for gnomes be scientific? You have to have data to have any claim to being a science, and not just any data (like habitable planets), but data that pertain to the question you are investigating (intelligent life).
Don’t let them lie, further, that it reinforces evolutionary theory. They are not looking for purposeless, unguided phenomena, but for SETID: search for extra-terrestrial intelligent design. Tell them that and they get very angry… another unscientific response.