SETI Politics and First Contact with Extraterrestrials

I’ve been researching the whole notion of first contact with extraterrestrials for a book I plan to write on the subject. I came upon a note written by SF writer and scientist David Brin that I found quite upsetting. Apparently a very small group of scientists control SETI; they’ve ignored advice to broaden their group when it comes to developing policies that impact the entire world. Instead, they’ve take the step of actively broadcasting signals into space to attract aliens, rather than listen passively.

Imagine, if you will, you were able to go back in time to the moment when Cortez first appeared. Let’s say you’re one of the Montezuma’s advisers. Montezuma invites a very select group of two advisers into his palace. You and several other advisers beg to be admitted to offer your advice. You think these foreigners might be dangerous –be cautious, you scream. Montezuma listens only to his two most trust advisers and accepts Cortez as a God. The rest, of course, is history as the Spanish men wiped out the Aztecs.

The point that Brin makes in his essay is that it’s better to err on the side of caution. Maybe there’s a reason why the airwaves are so quiet. Even Carl Sagan, one of the biggest believers in Alien altruism, urged caution.

I’ve been part of many large companies where politics played a major role. It sounds like SETI is no different from other organizations. A clique controls things and doesn’t want to broaden itself by letting outsiders into the inner circle. The difference in the case of SETI, though, is that the end result could be far more serious than making a wrong decision that results in lowered profits for the company. We could attract the attention of the wrong type of aliens.

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