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Discovering Alien Life: How Would We Really React?
Kyle Munkittrick   Mar 15, 2011   Science Not Fiction  

There have been three great traumas to the psyche: the Copernican, the Darwinian, and the Freudian. I suspect the remaining trauma is that of the Alien.

A couple days ago, Fox News broke a story with the unbelievable headline, “Exclusive: NASA Scientist Claims Evidence of Alien Life on Meteorite.” The claims are obvious bunk, but if you don’t believe me, here is PZ Myers with an entertaining demolition of the paper and its credibility. Myers’ main argument is that if the paper was real, it would probably have shown up in Nature or Science, been better written and argued, and received more than a blurb on Fox News’ website.

Discover’s own Bad Astronomer Phil Plait has a wonderful summary of other opinions, and gives an excellent conclusion of how a real scientist thinks about an astounding announcement in a field that isn’t his own. Myers’ and Plait’s respective posts are exemplary demonstrations of scientific skepticism.

True to form, Plait ends with this interesting little notation:

As a scientist and a skeptic I have to leave some room, no matter how small, for the idea that this might be correct.

Though the announcement that alien bacteria was found on a meteor is almost certainly false, eventually a scientist may in fact discover real evidence of alien life. I grant Myers’ point about a prestigious journal publishing the direct evidence would probably be the first place we would hear about such a discovery.

But then that evidence would be challenged by every reputable scientist breathing. There is a simple rule in science: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I thank Bill Nye for teaching me that little tidbit when I was a youngster. It has done me well.

But if the evidence is legit, other scientists will analyze, test, and, ultimately, verify the evidence. There would be proof that Earth wasn’t the only place in the universe where life came to be. Which begs the question: How would the evidence of extraterrestrial life be broken to the public? How would the President react? The Pope? How would you react?

How would the real discovery of alien life happen? Let’s do a thought experiment…


Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
Nicole Sallak Anderson is a Computer Science graduate from Purdue University. She developed encryption and network security software, which inspired the eHuman Trilogy—both eHuman Dawn and eHuman Deception are available at Amazon, the third installment is expected in early 2016. She is a member of the advisory board for the Lifeboat Foundation and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.


Quote - ““Based on the evidence discovered by our team over a decade ago, thousands of researchers and scientists from around the world have come to a conclusion. Of the hundreds of hypotheses posited to explain the data, only one is supported: We are not alone. The origins of the bacterium on the meteor are extraterrestrial.”

On that day, and that day alone, will anyone truly believe it.”

Why would it take so long for people to accept this?
And it may just turn out that although the bacterium be extraterrestrial, it may not be so alien after all?

Remind me how life orginated on this planet again?

It depends on such things as whether the aliens have a sense of humor.  What if they left artifacts such as soda bottles and their version of Barbie dolls scattered around the solar system?  How about used condoms?

“obvious bunk” wow really, it seems as though you are less objective then the people whom you are quoting, like Plait. Hoover is no slouch,
he is not a new age ufologist, he is a very competent and experienced scientist. The whole prestigious journal argument is nonsense, it seems more political then anything. I think it was wise of him to submit the paper where he did, I believe it was calculated. It is a struggling publication and out of desperation they published it with the hope of increasing interest with controversy. Hoover knew it was the only way he could get his paper noticed, if he would have sent it to the other journals they would have never published it out of fear of upsetting the apple cart. They profit off of their reputation and that is their one and only concern, not presenting information that could cause a paradigm shift. Many people who have revolutionized fields of science were ridiculed by people like you and your mentor, the science guy. The paper is new and is being initially reviewed by a panel of 100 scientists and subsequently 5000 more, the verdict is far from in right now. So I find your aggressive negativity rather puzzling. It seems as though you are hoping that it is a false claim. I dont know if it is or isnt but its way to early to say. Using the type of language that you do seems to be antagonistic to the peer review process and undermines good science.

“It depends on such things as whether the aliens have a sense of humor. What if they left artifacts such as soda bottles and their version of Barbie dolls scattered around the solar system? How about used condoms?”

ETs might be merely dull televangelists who eat at Dunkin Donuts.

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