Knock SETI all you want, but how many times in the past, oh, three decades, have UFOs been discussed in a Congressional subcommittee?
Life in the Universe hearing before the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Committee on Science, House of Represenatives, 107th Congress, First Session, 12 July 2001.
Here's the opening statement from Representative Dana Rohrbacher:
"I have always enjoyed Hollywood movies like War of the Worlds, Independence Day, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Unfortunately, the popularity of such movies changed our expectations regarding the search for extraterrestrial life in the universe.
I don't know if little green men exist. I do know that the science community is attempting to determine the existence of basic life on planets neighboring Earth, as well as planets beyond our solar system. With the help of scientific methods, we are just now beginning to answer a question that has existed since the dawn of humankind: are we alone?
Today's hearing will review real efforts concerning the search for life elsewhere in the universe. I want to thank the distinguished member from Texas, Lamar Smith, for suggesting that the Subcommittee review this topic.
Unlike Hollywood movies, Viking and Mars Pathfinder space probes allowed us to actually view the real Martian landscape, consider the possibility of water for supporting basic life forms on Mars, and search for intelligent life across the universe. Indeed, Earth itself has provided us with valuable insight as to the possible nature of extraterrestrial life. Today we look to our panel of experts to explain how science will help us sort fact from fiction."
Now, this might all seem amusing, with the references to movies and little green men, but note that all of this is just a preface - it is clear that the committee is open to the possibility of alien life "out there". Given that, how hard would it really be to get Congress to discuss UFOs if it were people like Dr. Peter Sturrock approaching them, as opposed to "Disclosure Project" true-believers?
How hard? Not very, I think, especially if presented properly, by the right people.
Which is why Dr. Steven Greer et al have been such a disaster, and why the press conference here in Canada on Tuesday is a huge mistake.
Of course, some of the exchanges are unintentionally hilarious. Having cross-examined a few witnesses in my younger days as a budding lawyer, I know how hard it can be to pin someone down. Here is my favourite, with the scientists dodging faster than kids playing four-square on the schoolyard playground. All that poor Representative Gordon wants is a simple answer as to the odds - a personal opinion. The scientists, like eels, keep slipping and sliding.
Finally, Dr. Chyba gives an answer... and you just have to laugh! Good old SETI.
Rep. Bart Gordon, Tennessee
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director, Department of Astrophysics and Hayden Planetarium, American Museum of Natural History, New York City
Jack D. Farmer, Representative, Arizona State University, NASA Astrobiology Institute
Edward J. Weiler, Associate Administrator, Office of Space Science, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Christopher F. Chyba, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, and Associate Professor, Department of Geological and Environmental Science, Stanford University
"Mr. GORDON. All right. Well, why don't we just start with Dr. Tyson. Again, I don't mean to be abrupt. We just have a short period of time here. This is hard, hard, I know, to—you want to put premises. But just give me your own gut feeling as to odds that there is extraterrestrial life and then that there is extraterrestrial intelligent life.
Dr. TYSON. Yeah.
Mr. GORDON. What odds? Just give me some odds.
Dr. TYSON. I would say it is near certainty that there is life elsewhere in the universe of any form.
Mr. GORDON. Okay.
Dr. TYSON. And I am somewhat more skeptical about the likelihood of intelligent life as we have defined it to be technologically capable, just given how rare that has exhibited itself in our own——
Mr. GORDON. Dr. Farmer, do you want to give a—give some odds here?
Dr. FARMER. Well, I would agree. I mean, I think that the kind of technical intelligence that we are talking about is probably rare.
Mr. GORDON. Well, just give me some odds. That is all I am really asking for right now.
Dr. FARMER. Well, I—you know, I think it is very hard to do. But I would—you know, these estimates that people have made are all over the map.
Mr. GORDON. Yeah. But I am just saying, you know, just——
Dr. FARMER. But within our own backyard, I would think that——
Mr. GORDON. I am just—well, you know——
Dr. FARMER. I would think on the order of hundreds of potential civilizations within our galaxy. I would feel comfortable with that.
Mr. GORDON. So do you think there is a 90 percent chance that there is life? At 80 percent? A 12——
Dr. FARMER. In our solar system, I have always said about 50/50 and that is—again, that is just—that is not——
Mr. GORDON. Okay.
Dr. FARMER [continuing]. Science. That is a personal opinion.
Mr. GORDON. Oh. No. No. That is what I am asking for. That is all I am asking for.
Dr. FARMER. And, you know, if you——
Mr. GORDON. And what about intelligent life? What kind of odds?
Dr. FARMER. In—beyond the earth and our own——
Mr. GORDON. Yeah.
Dr. FARMER [continuing]. Solar system, I would put at essentially probably nonexistent because I am——
Mr. GORDON. Okay. Dr. Weiler, how about you?
Dr. WEILER. I have learned never underestimate the ability of humans to make themselves special, number one. I believe the possibility of life, of any kind of life, including a bacterium in the solar system, is maybe 50/50; intelligent life, zero, other than the earth. In the universe, I think the probability of intelligent life is 1.0, 100 percent. To not believe in a universe with 1—to 10 stars that intelligent life only sprung up on our little special place in the universe.
Mr. GORDON. Okay. How about you? Do you want to give some odds?
Dr. CHYBA. I think that it is almost certain that life exists elsewhere, although we don't know. And I think that it is quite possible that intelligent life exists elsewhere, but the only way to find out is to search.
Mr. GORDON. So what odds—how do you define quite—50? 40? 30? 20?
Dr. CHYBA. Mr. Gordon, I wish I knew. I just don't know.
Mr. GORDON. Yeah. But—well, I know you don't know, but what is your—if you—you know, what is your feeling? Nobody knows. Okay.
Dr. CHYBA. I would flip a coin."