“There are two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you’ve made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery.” -Enrico Fermi

Given the huge number of stars, planets, and chances at life that the galaxy and the Universe has given us, it seems paradoxical that we haven’t yet encountered any form of alien intelligence or even life. The discoveries make in the field of exoplanet studies, particularly by the Kepler mission, make this an even bigger problem than we anticipated: more than 10^22 planets with Earth-like condition are expected to exist in our Universe.

Illustration of the planet-finding space telescope, Kepler, from NASA. Image credit: NASA Ames/ W Stenzel.

Illustration of the planet-finding space telescope, Kepler, from NASA. Image credit: NASA Ames/ W Stenzel.

So does this mean that intelligent life beyond Earth is pretty much a certainty, as Adam Frank asserted in the New York Times last week? Hardly; what it means is that we have a long way to go in the sciences of astrobiology, abiogenesis and exo-evolution. There’s so much to learn that drawing conclusions about what’s out there is more than premature: it’s not even science.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Lucianomendez, under a creative commons sharealike license.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Lucianomendez, under a creative commons sharealike license.

Come get the full story of what we know — and what we still need to learn — over on Forbes today.

Comments

  1. #1 See Noevo
    June 21, 2016

    “So does this mean that intelligent life beyond Earth is pretty much a certainty, as Adam Frank asserted in the New York Times last week? Hardly; what it means is that we have a long way to go in the sciences of astrobiology, abiogenesis and exo-evolution.”

    Three points:

    1) I’m not sure what “exo-evolution” is supposed to be, but I’m pretty confident I’ve never seen the term before.

    2) “Astrobiology” technically should mean ‘the study of life/biology in the cosmos outside of earth’.
    It’s always struck me as having the legitimacy and gravitas of “unicornbiology”.

    3) You’re effectively saying that abiogenesis is ‘hardly a certainty’.
    What is the alternative to abiogenesis, Ethan?
    (Note: Something like “panspermia” is not an alternative, because, well, you know.)

  2. #2 See Noevo
    June 21, 2016

    “Humanity may be alone in the Universe.”

    Eww!!!

    But then again, so what?

    So maybe we’re special.

    (Actually, that IS pretty special, if you think about it.)

  3. #3 Narad
    June 21, 2016

    2) “Astrobiology” technically should mean ‘the study of life/biology in the cosmos outside of earth’.
    It’s always struck me as having the legitimacy and gravitas of “unicornbiology”.

    Do go on.

  4. #4 Narad
    June 21, 2016

    ^ Oh, dear, I was remiss in finishing that reply to Mr. Y—be embeds: The Unicorn Problem has been solved biblically.

  5. #5 dean
    United States
    June 21, 2016

    “Something like “panspermia” is not an alternative, because, well, you know.”

    I’m sure he doesn’t, nor does anyone have what objection might be brewing in your essentially dead intellect. What glurge are you repeating (yet not understanding) now?

  6. #6 Ragtag Media
    United States
    June 21, 2016

    Thanks Ethan for an unbiased science article. Scientific publications are lacking these types lately.
    kudos.

  7. #7 Noah
    June 21, 2016

    Thank you for this Ethan. Since high school in the 80s I’ve been baffled by the general willingness to assign worth to the Drake equation. Even as a 16 year old it struck me as less than meaningful, when we have simply no idea what the likelihood of life arising is.

    To my mind, saying “we don’t know” when we don’t is critical to science. Doing so helps differentiate science from other modes of inquiry, and it reminds people (youth) of the important work still to be done.

  8. #8 MandoZink
    Louisville
    June 22, 2016

    It is going to be wonderful when we find enough clues to approximate out own evolutionary place in a galaxy that may already full of successful abiogenesis events.

    Then again, someone has to be first. I hope it doesn’t turn out we were civilization #1 or #2.

  9. #9 eric
    June 22, 2016

    @7: I’ve always considered the value in the Drake equation to be thinking about the factors: do we have the right ones, are they the complete set, how might we plan experiments to evaluate them and is that even realistically possible or not, and so on. Different numbers may be fun to crunch, but they aren’t the point of the thought experiment (IMO).

    • #10 Noah
      June 22, 2016

      @9 I know that’s generally accepted as it’s value by the scientific community and I don’t doubt it has some utility there
      Problem is, people continually plug numbers into it and report that “we’re not alone”
      This baseless assertion is then used to drive funding for snipe hunts like SETI or the ambitions of scientists who want some media time.
      The most recent NYT piece is a good example of how completely the legitimate use of the equation fails to be understood/represented in the larger culture.

  10. #11 eric
    June 22, 2016

    Couple more thoughts on the article:

    2.Life must survive and thrive for billions of years on a planet in order to evolve multicellularity, complexity, differentiation and what we call “intelligence.”

    Yeah, this is a big unknown. The Earth didn’t have multicellular life or sexual reproduction for the first 2.5 billion years – almost 75% of the time life has been on this planet. That speaks to a large number of historically contingent evolutionary steps being needed before it takes off. I’d be very skeptical of the thought that simple life on another planet would follow an evolutionary path even approximately the same.

    3.And finally, that intelligent life must then become a technological civilization, either gaining the ability to announce its presence to the Universe, to reach out beyond its home and explore the Universe, or to reach the stage where it can listen for other forms of intelligence in the Universe

    Having just read Domesticated, I’ve been impressed with the importance of our sociability – not our raw intelligence – in fashioning our psychology. Its not clear to me that another sentient, intelligent species would even care or bother with exploration, communication, etc. These are behavioral hallmarks of social animals that are highly adapted to living in groups, working with others, and which must move around or cover a wide range of territory to survive. Heck, my cat is much much psychologically closer to me than any alien will ever be, and she prioritizes sociability and communication far lower than any human. If other Earth mammals don’t care much about cross-species companionship or initiating social contact with other species, what are the odds some alien species would? The Drake equation rolls up two very different factors into one: formation of a technological capability, and the desire to use it to be sociable with other species. Because its not clear to me that sentience => sociability. Combining (or missing) factors like this is a good way to greatly overestimate the probability.

  11. #12 Sean T
    June 22, 2016

    SN

    Are you being deliberately obtuse again? Abiogenesis IS hardly a certainty. Even here on earth it was not a certainty. A good analogy is the Powerball lottery. The earth is analogous to a past winner. Looking at it NOW we know that the winner had a winning ticket, but it wasn’t a certainty that this particular person would win. Other planets are analogous to the ticket holders for the next drawing – they may be winners but we just don’t know right now.

  12. #13 eric
    June 22, 2016

    Problem is, people continually plug numbers into it and report that “we’re not alone”
    This baseless assertion is then used to drive funding for snipe hunts like SETI or the ambitions of scientists who want some media time.

    I agree the media often blows scientific findings or op-eds out of proportion. How many times annually does some headline proclaim some major theory of science is being overturned/rethought, and then you read it and discover its about some relatively minor tweak? And self-promotion occurs too, no doubt about it. Whether you consider that tawdry self-aggrandizement, a necessary evil, or of benefit to science is a different question.

    However, did you read Frank’s op-ed? He doesn’t claim aliens are there now and we should go find them. In fact he says almost the opposite: that his technique can’t answer the question of whether they’re around now. I still disagree with some of what he says, but his article doesn’t read like a “spend more money on communication, they’re listening!” promotional to me at all.

  13. #14 See Noevo
    June 22, 2016

    To Sean T #12:

    “SN
    Are you being deliberately obtuse again? Abiogenesis IS hardly a certainty.”

    As I asked Ethan,
    WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE TO ABIOGENESIS?

    P.S.
    I don’t think even the admittedly hardly-certain hypothesis of abiogenesis is scientific, since I don’t see it as falsifiable.
    Do you see it as falsifiable? If so, how?

  14. #15 Sean T
    June 22, 2016

    SN,

    The alternative to abiogenesis is no life ever arising. Clearly this historically was not the case on earth, but it may well be the case on other planets. Even on earth, it was no more a certainty than it was a certainty that the last Powerball winner would hit the jackpot. A lot of conditions had to go right for life to form and survive.

  15. #16 Sean T
    June 22, 2016

    As for falsifiability, yes, the proposition that life arose from non-living matter may not be falsifiable. That’s fine as far as it goes, but scientists who study the matter don’t stop at just the blanket statement that life arose from non-living matter. They look deeper into the mechanisms by which this might have occurred. Those ideas ARE falsifiable. For instance, suppose a proposed pathway to life involved the existence and stability of a certain organic compound. This compound is then synthesized in a lab, but is found to be unstable and quickly decomposes under conditions similar to those on the prebiotic earth. That would constitute a falsification of that particular hypothesis.

    What then constitutes a potential falsification of the hypothesis that God created life exactly as described by a literal reading of the Genesis creation account (pick either one, whichever you prefer)? It doesn’t actually have to falsify the idea that God created life, just that particular story.

  16. #17 eric
    June 22, 2016

    SN, did it ever occur to you that “we have a long way to go in the sciences of astrobiology, abiogenesis and exo-evolution” could be Ethan’s way of saying “we have a lot left to learn about these subjects,” and did not mean “I (Ethan) don’t think abiogenesis happened”? Just curious as to whether you missed that connotation entirely, or whether you considered it but then rejected it in favor of the interpretation you gave.

    I don’t think even the admittedly hardly-certain hypothesis of abiogenesis is scientific, since I don’t see it as falsifiable.

    The broad concept of life arising from nonliving matter somewhere could be falsified by you (or someone) building an elan vitale detector.

    The more specific hypothesis that life arose from nonliving matter on Earth could be falsified by that, or by a credible, reproducible find of DNA-based life on 5bn year-old comet or Mars or something like that. Or (more crazily) something like a crashed alien spaceship with DNA samples on it.

    Lesson of the day is “SN can’t see how it could be done” /= “it can’t be done.”

  17. #18 Noah
    June 22, 2016

    “we now have enough information to conclude that they almost certainly existed at some point in cosmic history.”
    With all due respect to Frank, this statement from his piece is exactly what I’m talking about.
    Using the equation makes this “conclusion” look like science to the general public when it actually isn’t (for all the reasons that Ethan discusses)
    Do you think he’d have gotten into the nyt with a piece titled “we still don’t know if there is now, or has ever been, et life”? Because that’s the truth…

  18. #19 eric
    June 22, 2016

    @18: I disagree with that statement too. As does Ethan, if I’m reading his post right. I would say Frank appears to believe it, I.e. he’s not being disingenuous about his own opinion to get published.

    As to your point about titles, you do know that authors of such pieces rarely or never get to pick the titles of their pieces, right? Even paid writers for print magazines like Time or Newsweek don’t get to do that, and this is merely an op-ed. I can practically guarantee you Frank didn’t get to decide what the title of his op-ed was going to be. This is a sore point that crops up on science blogs probably at least once a year (and sometimes more frequently): some scientist writes an article detailing some new finding, and the layperson editor gives it some crazy hyped up misleading title…and who pays for that mistake? It ends up tarnishing the reputation of science, not the media editors who do it.

  19. #20 Narad
    June 22, 2016

    What then constitutes a potential falsification of the hypothesis that God created life exactly as described by a literal reading of the Genesis creation account (pick either one, whichever you prefer)?

    It doesn’t matter; S.N. is trying to play “science” = “religion,” but he’s proving himself incompetent even to that routine shtick, as his version substitutes “science that I don’t like” for the left-hand side.

  20. #21 Narad
    June 22, 2016

    I don’t think even the admittedly hardly-certain hypothesis of abiogenesis is scientific, since I don’t see it as falsifiable.

    Translation: I don’t understand the demarcation problem, so I’ll just trot out a magic word.

    Hint: Abiogenesis is testable.

  21. #22 See Noevo
    June 22, 2016

    To Sean T #16:

    It seems then that we agree that the hypothesis of abiogenesis is not falsifiable.
    And if scientific hypotheses are supposed to be both testable AND falsifiable, we could agree that abiogenesis is NOT a scientific hypothesis.
    ………..
    “What then constitutes a potential falsification of the hypothesis that God created life exactly as described by a literal reading of the Genesis creation account…”

    I don’t know that it’s falsifiable in the sense of someone *proving* it to be false, i.e. producing contradictory data whose validity has 100% certainty.
    (I’m thinking particularly of the “timing” issue here.)

  22. #23 See Noevo
    June 22, 2016

    To eric #17:

    “SN, did it ever occur to you that “we have a long way to go in the sciences of astrobiology, abiogenesis and exo-evolution” could be Ethan’s way of saying “we have a lot left to learn about these subjects,” and did not mean “I (Ethan) don’t think abiogenesis happened”?

    Of course it occurred to me.
    Furthermore, I’m *guessing* Ethan actually *does* believe abiogenesis happened.
    But he here has acknowledged that abiogenesis is ‘hardly certain.’ So, he appears to be acknowledging that abiogenesis *might NOT* have happened.
    And so, I asked him the reasonable question of what the *alternative* to abiogenesis might be.
    ……………
    “The broad concept of life arising from nonliving matter somewhere could be falsified by you (or someone) building an elan vitale detector.”

    Ethan, will you weigh in on this?
    In the meantime, I’m thinking that *if* some chemicals or elements *were* detected to have the “vital force” or “life force”, then they’d be living things, and so the question would remain, namely, HOW did they acquire this “vital force” or “life force”?

    Also in the meantime, I’ll hold to the opinion that abiogenesis is not falsifiable and so not a scientific hypothesis.
    …………
    “The more specific hypothesis that life arose from nonliving matter on Earth could be falsified by that, or by a credible, reproducible find of DNA-based life on 5bn year-old comet or Mars or something like that. Or (more crazily) something like a crashed alien spaceship with DNA samples on it.”

    Yes, “more crazily”.
    I noted at the start that “Something like “panspermia” is not an alternative, because, well, you know.”
    I didn’t think I’d need to elaborate, I thought it kind of goes without saying.
    But I see that, for you, I’ll need to state the obvious. The “seeding” from an alien spaceship, Mars, etc. does NOT answer the question of HOW LIFE CAME TO BE. It only is a “more crazily” hypothesizing of how life appeared *on earth*. It just kicks the origin of life can down the road.

    Sad that I had to explain this to you.

  23. #24 Narad
    June 22, 2016

    Also in the meantime, I’ll hold to the opinion that abiogenesis is not falsifiable and so not a scientific hypothesis.

    Dollars to doughnuts that S.N.’s Popperianism was picked up second- or third-hand from creation-dot-something. Yoo-hoo!

  24. #25 Narad
    June 22, 2016

    ^ This tack on S.N.’s part does, I think, put his adherence to baraminology – of which this is just another, weaker version – in a more difficult place than usual.

    Then again, he never did respond to either the endospore or virus questions. Because RI asshurt, or something.

  25. #26 eric
    June 22, 2016

    But he here has acknowledged that abiogenesis is ‘hardly certain.’

    No, he didn’t. He said intelligent life on other planets was hardly certain. Then he wrote we have a long way to go on three subjects. And for some reason only you can explain, you took his response about intelligence life on other planets and interpreted as referring to one of the subjects in the later sentence.

    I’m thinking that *if* some chemicals or elements *were* detected to have the “vital force” or “life force”, then they’d be living things, and so the question would remain, namely, HOW did they acquire this “vital force” or “life force”?

    That would be a good follow-on question but it doesn’t change the fact that detecting some non-atomic substance required for life would falsify the concept that for life all you need is the right conformation of atoms. I answered your challenge.

  26. #27 Narad
    June 22, 2016

    Ethan, will you weigh in on this?

    This seems apropos.

    I’m thinking that *if* some chemicals or elements *were* detected to have the “vital force” or “life force”, then they’d be living things, and so the question would remain, namely, HOW did they acquire this “vital force” or “life force”?

    It’s as though S.N. has never even approached actual Catholic theology.

    “http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09238c.htm

  27. #28 See Noevo
    June 22, 2016

    To eric #26:

    Me: “But [Ethan] here has acknowledged that abiogenesis is ‘hardly certain.’”

    You: “No, he didn’t. He said intelligent life on other planets was hardly certain. Then he wrote we have a long way to go on three subjects.”

    You’re right. My bad.
    In retrospect, maybe I should have said
    “But Ethan thinks abiogenesis – along with astrobiology and exo-evolution – is CERTAIN.

    [Hey, Ethan:
    You could help out eric and me (and others?) and clear this fog by answering in your Comments for Week #115!
    Just tell eric and me that you think abiogenesis is certain, and that there’s no need to find an alternative (even though abiogenesis is not falsifiable and all tests/experiments for it come up dry).]
    …………….
    Me: “I’m thinking that *if* some chemicals or elements *were* detected to have the “vital force” or “life force”, then they’d be living things, and so the question would remain, namely, HOW did they acquire this “vital force” or “life force”?”

    You: “That would be a good follow-on question but it doesn’t change the fact that detecting some non-atomic substance required for life would falsify the concept that for life all you need is the right conformation of atoms. I answered your challenge.”

    Interesting.
    And scientists detecting, testing, and interviewing Jesus Christ (in a second coming of sorts) and getting His response (“I had nothing to do with it. Those chemicals seemed to have a mind, and a life, of their own! And then evolution did the rest. I just wish I could take credit for it, but I can’t. Honesty and humility are virtues, you know.”) could falsify the concept for creation, Genesis 1-2-style.
    I answered your challenge!

  28. #29 eric
    June 23, 2016

    In retrospect, maybe I should have said
    “But Ethan thinks abiogenesis – along with astrobiology and exo-evolution – is CERTAIN.

    No, he didn’t say that either. He didn’t comment at all about his confidence in abiogenesis, he said we have a lot to learn on the subject.

    I answered your challenge!

    Well first, I don’t think I’ve ever said the Genesis creation account is unfalsifiable; maybe someone else did and you’re confusing us? IMO the evidence for deep time, direct observation of descent with modification, direct observation of natural selection, direct observation of speciation, the discovery of a common genetic code that operates according to known laws of physics and chemistry, etc… undermines that account. Of course you’ve said in the past that creationism is not a scientific hypothesis, and I’ve agreed with you on that because no possible observation (not even your Jesus one) is inconsistent with an omnipotent God; he could always simply be providing the appearance of some hypothesis being right. However, if we set aside Omphalos theologies and trickster gods and ask the nonphilosophical, more empirical question of whether the fossil record, geochronology, stratigraphy, genetic and phylogenetic trees, etc. provides increased or decreased evidential support for the hypothesis of separate creation of all species within a span of days several thousand years ago, the answer is, IMO, “decreased.”

  29. #30 Wow
    June 23, 2016

    “Thank you for this Ethan. Since high school in the 80s I’ve been baffled by the general willingness to assign worth to the Drake equation”

    Meh. You’ve removed from your memory what happened in the 70’s and 80’s. Watch Cosmos (Carl Sagan) again. I forget which one had the Drake equation in it, but in it he shows that the “solution” could be that there are few or maybe only one (which would then be us alone) or it could be thousands, all depending on what you thought were “reasonable” values to plug in, and that these were really statements about the position of the one pulling those numbers out of thin air.

  30. #31 Wow
    June 23, 2016

    “The alternative to abiogenesis is no life ever arising”

    Well, we have life, therefore there must have been abiogenisis.

    Any other conclusion would merely beg the question of what theory of “deitygenesis” proves god was created? Which begs the query “Which one of the thousands?” and “how do you know there’s one at all?”

  31. #32 Wow
    June 23, 2016

    “Well first, I don’t think I’ve ever said the Genesis creation account is unfalsifiable; maybe someone else did and you’re confusing us?”

    And if unfalsifiable claims are valid claims of reality, then why the bloody hell is see nowt whining if he believes that abiogenisis is unfalsifiable?

  32. #33 See Noevo
    June 23, 2016

    To eric #29:

    “direct observation of descent with modification”
    I observe that, too!
    The only difference is that, in every observation I’m aware of, the before and the after is the same kind of organism.

    “direct observation of natural selection”
    I observe that, too!
    The only difference, perhaps, is that I call it “Stuff happens”, or “Some survive and some don’t.”

    “direct observation of speciation”
    [See “descent with modification” above.]

    “discovery of a common genetic code that operates according to known laws of physics and chemistry, etc”
    I observe that, too!
    And without qualification!

    We really have so much in common, eric!

    “the evidence for deep time”
    Roger, that!
    And we’d probably even agree that “evidence for” is very different from “proof of”,
    or even “evidence beyond any reasonable doubt”.

    Which, for some reason, makes me think of that simple but profound common query:
    “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

    Which, for some reason, makes me think of a simple but less common question:
    “Why would Genesis depict Adam as, to our eyes, a full-grown man, when he was in reality just seconds old?”
    ………………….
    “fossil record, geochronology, stratigraphy, genetic and phylogenetic trees, etc. provides increased or decreased evidential support for the hypothesis of separate creation of all species within a span of days several thousand years ago, the answer is, IMO, “decreased.””

    As I’ve noted in the past, I was an evolution believer from about my mid-teens till about my mid-forties.
    Then, for some reason, I began reading the scientific literature on evolution. And in doing so, I found contradictions and problems not just in the biology literature, but everywhere I looked – the fossil record, geochronology, stratigraphy, genetic and phylogenetic trees, etc.

    And I was surprised to find that the evidential support for the hypothesis of evolution decreased, while the hypothesis of the separate creation of all species within a span of days several thousand years ago was, IMO, *increased*.

    Long story short, I found that evolution is, to be *very* kind, (and as Ethan would NEVER say) “hardly certain.”

  33. #34 Wow
    June 23, 2016

    “The only difference is that, in every observation I’m aware of, the before and the after is the same kind of organism.”

    Nope. Never. Not once. It’s always been a different organism.

    Please define precisely what “kind” is, and how you find out what it is, and prove that it cannot change. Because all we have is that the babies of one thing are called the same animal as the parent.

    Which means “Bulldog” is a kind. As is “miniature bulldog”.

    And if THAT is the case, then there needed to be enough space on Noah’s Ark for the billions of species and millions of tons of animal (plus their feed, minus all the shitting and pissing which have to be thrown over the side by only seven people, not all of whom will be able to work on this full time).

    And I would like to ask you: where you there when a T-Rex mommy hatched a T-Rex egg?

  34. #35 Wow
    June 23, 2016

    “And in doing so, I found contradictions and problems not just in the biology literature, but everywhere I looked – the fossil record, geochronology, stratigraphy, genetic and phylogenetic trees, etc.”

    And by “Contradictions and problems” you mean “Did not agree with the Holy Bible you happened to read.

  35. #36 Wow
    June 23, 2016

    “Which, for some reason, makes me think of that simple but profound common query:
    “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?””

    Simple.

    The egg.

    Millions of years before chickens.

  36. #37 Wow
    June 23, 2016

    “And we’d probably even agree that “evidence for” is very different from “proof of”, or even “evidence beyond any reasonable doubt”.”

    So what? You don’t WANT proof of god. You don’t CARE about proof. You just want to whinge about it.

  37. #38 Wow
    June 23, 2016

    Have you EVER observed god creating a new species, retard?

    Have you EVER found proof that this has EVER happened, even once?

    Have you found proof that the Bible was true?

  38. #39 dean
    United States
    June 23, 2016

    “So what? You don’t WANT proof of god”

    he has it – he refers to the “well documented and undeniable resurrection” to support his biblical creation argument.

    I’m not sure how he fits a word as large as “resurrection” in his little brain, but that’s a different matter.

  39. #40 Wow
    June 24, 2016

    “he has it – he refers to the “well documented and undeniable resurrection” to support his biblical creation argument.”

    Ah, but not when he’s asked to GIVE that information, then it claims that it has never claimed it has proof and evidence at all ever.

    Note how the moron has decided that this is too hot a topic to respond to and has tripped off to troll another thread with its fantastical mythology.

  40. #41 Ragtag Media
    United States
    June 24, 2016

    “Have you found proof that the Bible was true?”

    yep, on a daily basis..

    oh..by the by Wowzer, congrats on you blokes Brexit. Now that the UK has it’s own “Independence” perhaps you can rid yourselves of some of those “less desirables” and actually make the UK great again.

  41. #42 Dean
    June 24, 2016

    No real evidence wow, sn never provides any for anything. That must be the draw of being a creationist for folks as dim as sn – you never have to worry about finding evidence or supporting what you say.

  42. #43 Elle H.C.
    June 25, 2016

    At a certain point humans become so intelligent and arrogant that they keep on building particle accelerotors with ever increasing luminosity until the point that on itnites a chain-reaction at the sub-atomic level that blows up our entire planet and blasts our whole solar system into a SN, like a baloon that’s being pop’d. It like in a video game where you die at some level and have to redo a couple of times until you find the key solution, only when you blow up yourself there’s no 2nd chance.

  43. #44 Noah
    June 25, 2016

    #30 – Or maybe, not having access to Sagan, I heard the message second hand. And in transmission, all the nuance that you’re describing was lost completely.

    That said, your dismissive reaction is pretty representative of the attitude of those who “get it” Unfortunately that group doesn’t include the general public and our elected representatives, you know, the ones who control the funding.

    Which was my primary point, the Drake equation is constantly misrepresented and misused, and it does real science a disservice when legit scientists play along for funding or media attention.

  44. #45 Louie
    Montreal
    June 28, 2016

    Steven Hawking feels it may be a bad idea to signal our presence… iETs may not be as friendly and benevolent as we love to imagine. Question: If you were an iET, would you risk a visit to Earth? It may be that they steer clear of us like the plague! Not a notion our superior human egos can imagine.

  45. #46 Michael Hutson
    Minneapolis
    June 28, 2016

    We already have three limits on the abundance of advanced civilizations: No unambiguous evidence of Kardashev level-3 galactic civilzations; The Fermi Paradox; and no galactic “internet” of obvious radio signals.

    The next step to narrow the parameters would be being able to image exoplanets well enough to confirm whether any of them have oxygen-rich atmospheres or bio-signatures of life. Even a negative result would mean, by the Mediocrity Principle, that we could say that we’re the only known inhabited planet within X number of light years.

  46. #47 Wow
    June 28, 2016

    ““Have you found proof that the Bible was true?”

    yep, on a daily basis..”

    By which you mean “Every day you bang your head until your brain stops and then get told it’s true”, right?

    ““Independence” perhaps you can rid yourselves of some of those “less desirables” ”

    Ah, you mean like farage, mad monckfish and that clown bojo, right?

  47. #48 Wow
    June 28, 2016

    “At a certain point humans become so intelligent and arrogant that they keep on…”

    Or they don’t.

    WAGging doesn’t do anything other than show your incredulity and lack of thought (and, ironically, your arrogance that you alone “see the truth”).

  48. #49 Wow
    June 28, 2016

    “#30 – Or maybe, not having access to Sagan, I heard the message second hand. And in transmission, all the nuance that you’re describing was lost completely. ”

    Then the problem isn’t with the scientists’ use of Drake, but with whatever blogroll or media pundit site you got it from.

    Place the blame where it belongs, rather than where you think it “ought” to.

  49. #50 Wow
    June 28, 2016

    “If you were an iET, would you risk a visit to Earth?”

    Unless travelling FTL AND also within a few score light years of earth, nope.

    After all, 1500 years time, what will our technology be like? How like today were we even 100 years ago?

    By the time an ET hears our voice today and travels the vast distance here, our transmission will have been no indication of our technology and power by the time they get here.

  50. #51 Noah
    June 28, 2016

    #49 – Except of course, that this discussion was prompted by the claim, as Ethan put it “that intelligent life beyond Earth is pretty much a certainty, as Adam Frank asserted in the New York Times” Really just the latest in a long line of similar episodes involving the media and actual scientists who ought to know better. IMHO, when the public sees science drawing “near certain” conclusions without evidence, the distinction from evidence-free pseudoscience (ID, quantum healing, etc) is blurred.

  51. #52 eric
    June 28, 2016

    @46:

    no galactic “internet” of obvious radio signals.

    This is exactly the sort of failure of imagination that we need to learn from. Our radio footprint is already disappearing. Yet that doesn’t mean our civilization is falling, it means we found more efficient ways to do long term signaling – radio broadcast is horrendously inefficient, you waste 99% of your energy calling out to nothing in every direction just to reach a few listeners.

    This was a perfectly reasonable error for scientists living in the 1950s to make. They couldn’t possibly have anticipated fiber optical cable or cellular networks. But clearly, we should know better now. There is no reason to think that an advanced alien species would use radio broadcasting for thousands of years because that requires them to be stuck at 20th-century technological levels for those thousands of years…and what are the odds of that? It was our error to equate a transition from radio loud to radio silence with civilization death; more likely, it just means advanced signaling technology and infrastructure replaced inefficient broadcasting technology.

  52. #53 See Noevo
    June 28, 2016

    To Noah #51:

    “IMHO, when the public sees science drawing “near certain” conclusions without evidence, the distinction from evidence-free pseudoscience (ID, quantum healing, etc) is blurred.”

    Hope about *fully* certain?

    For example, would you think things are getting “blurred” when a scientist (and his supporters here) says
    “Abiogenesis is 100% a certainty” ?

  53. #54 See Noevo
    June 28, 2016

    Correction: *How* about *fully* certain?

    For example, would you think things are getting “blurred” when a scientist (and his supporters here) says
    “Abiogenesis is 100% a certainty” ?

  54. #55 Noah
    June 30, 2016

    sn – no
    “we are 100% certain that intelligent life arose in this universe at least once” nothing blurry about things that are self-evident.
    assuming that you’re willing to accept a shared and external reality. otherwise what’s to talk about? (and who is there to talk to?)

  55. #56 See Noevo
    June 30, 2016

    To Noah #55:

    Your vision appears to be blurred.
    You appear to be seeing as the same thing
    1) “we are 100% certain that intelligent life arose in this universe at least once”, and
    2) “Abiogenesis is 100% a certainty”

    But they’re not the same thing.
    And it should be damn near self-evident that they’re not.

    LensCrafters may be having a sale this week.
    You should check it out.

  56. #57 dean
    United States
    June 30, 2016

    Noah,
    don’t engage with sn. He is a uniformly consistent denier of all science, more than willing to lie about what is known, attack you for having a pro-science stance, and more than willing to demonize anyone who is not a white male.

  57. #58 Wow
    July 1, 2016

    “#49 – Except of course, that this discussion was prompted by the claim,”

    Which was debunked in #13 by eric.

    if you’re not going to read anything other than the bits you want to keep arguing about in the ATL comments, what the hell is the reason for anyone else to try to help you with BTL comments?

  58. #59 Noah
    July 1, 2016

    wow – who is asking for help with anything? I have an opinion, you and others think it’s unfounded. so what? if I make a comment, you believe I’m somehow beholden to anybody who responds? If I hold a different opinion from yours, it’s only because I didnt read/understand the article/comments? bizarre
    dean – I know. For some stupid reason I thought it might be entertaining or educational. instead it’s just sad and unpleasant. won’t happen again.

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