February 17, 2020 | David F. Coppedge

SETI Wants Your Money to Look at Nothing

Since one cannot prove a universal negative, SETI believers can search forever without accountability.

If people want to engage in fruitless searchers on their own dime, that’s fine. The people’s representatives long ago considered SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) a low-priority endeavor that should not be funded by tax dollars. (In 1979, it won the “Golden Fleece Award” for government waste). The SETI Institute and other groups have gotten by on private donations, and made progress by updating equipment and improving search techniques. In 2016, Russian rich guy Yuri Milner gave SETI $100 million to spend on projects like “Breakthrough Listen” to keep the dream alive. So far, they have found nothing. They can always claim they haven’t looked at enough stars yet. The dreamers crave money, and there’s never enough. Now, some are crying for a spot at the public till again.

Astronomers want public funds for intelligent life search (Pallab Ghosh at BBC News). This article includes a prominent pull quote by Lord Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, saying, “I’d feel far more confident arguing the case for public funding for for the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence than for a particle accelerator.” OK, so go ask the queen for the dough. She could hock a few jewels, can’t she? Americans have had it with that royal jazz, comedian Stan Freberg would say. Do taxpayers really need to take SETI more seriously?

Dr Anthony Beasley told the BBC that there should be greater government support for a field that has been shunned by government research funders for decades.

His backing for the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (Seti) marks a sea change in attitudes to a field regarded until recently as fringe science.

He’s speaking to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Why doesn’t he get Buckingham Palace on the line? Oh, it’s because America has the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico that the Setians would like to use for projects. And that costs money. But with a little more plunder from taxpayer wallets, they could look at nothing 100 times more than they can now. The chances for success are low, Rees says, but the stakes are high. Just think if they actually found the snipe. It would change the world forever!

Other SETI News

Breakthrough Listen releases 2 petabytes of data from SETI survey of Milky Way (UC Berkeley via Phys.org). Wow! That’s a lot of data! Look at the payoff from Milner’s millions of dollars! Two petabytes (1015 bytes) is two thousand terabytes, or two million billion bytes! It sounds very impressive, until the reader notices this little line buried in the article: “We didn’t find any aliens….” All haystack and no needle.

New Technologies, Strategies Expanding Search for Extraterrestrial Life (National Radio Astronomy Observatory). The NRAO is colluding with the SETI Institute to use America’s radio astronomy equipment, which is owned by the National Science Foundation, for their fruitless quests. The NSF has a budget of almost $8 billion taxpayer dollars per year. So far, SETI is using private funding, including Milner money, for their searches, but it does take time away from real work the observatories might be doing instead. This article boasts about the wonderful new technologies for searching. But if nobody is out there, technology doesn’t matter.

SETI search of interstellar Comet Borisov finds no sign of alien ‘technosignatures’ (Space.com). It was a nice idea, but SETI’s valentine was a no-show.

Our solar system’s second known interstellar visitor appears to be keeping quiet, just like the first.

The Breakthrough Listen SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) project has scanned the interstellar Comet Borisov for “technosignatures” but come up empty so far, scientists announced today (Feb. 14).

The rest of the article tells how the public can get involved in SETI by looking for aliens in the one’s and zero’s collected by Yuri’s pet project. Better than Solitaire, perhaps.

Astronomers to sweep entire sky for signs of extraterrestrial life (The Guardian). UK reporter Hannah Devlin is swept up in the euphoria about what the SETI visionaries say might be possible. Jill Tarter (SETI prima donna) makes her swoon:

“Now that there might be more habitable real estate out there than we ever imagined early on … it seems to make this next question about intelligent life more realistic,” she said. “It’s not as far on the fringes as it once was – it’s almost mainstream.”

Almost… but not quite. A satirist could whisper in Jill’s ear that going mainstream is not necessarily an honorable quest.

They’re wasting their time. All the aliens perished from climate change.

 

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