UFOs: Extraordinary evidence requires extraordinary funding
Imagine a question that is of great interest to the public and to authorities, but scholars argue that it should be banned and ridicule peers who engage with it. It sounds like the Earth-centric theologians who persecuted Galileo Galilei four centuries ago, doesn’t it? If so, we might feel relieved and argue that we came a long way since the Middle Ages through the age of enlightenment to modern science.
Not so. As of March 2023, mainstream scientists react to intriguing evidence about anomalous objects near Earth by banning the possibility that one or more of them might be of extraterrestrial technological origin.
To argue is one thing, but to repeat Sagan’s mantra that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” (ECREE) without seeking the evidence, is a circular argument or a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is akin to George Orwell’s Newspeakin his novel 1984 where the party’s slogan is “Ignorance is strength.” The enlightened approach to intriguing evidence is to seek more evidence. That this requires action, not a flat dismissal, makes it unpopular.
My point is that extraordinary evidence requires extraordinary funding (EEREF). The theory of supersymmetry was an extraordinary claim for decades, but testing it required the investment of $10 billion in the Large Hadron Collider.
The scientific study of objects near Earth as potential extraterrestrial technological signatures receives no federal funding, at this time. The committees in charge of allocating federal funds to space research are full of mainstream scientists who argue that they should minimize risks in order to save taxpayers money. But the reality is that taxpayers are fascinated by this question more than many other questions funded by these committees.
Moreover, the U.S. Congress established last year the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) directed by Sean Kirkpatrick, Ph.D., under the Department of Defense and the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). It is the day job of these agencies to monitor the Earth’s atmosphere for suspicious objects and they would be the first to notice anomalies.
When I attended a public event at the Washington National Cathedral in November 2021 alongside the Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, who studied physics as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago. Haines said referring to unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP, also known as UFOs), “There’s always the question of: Is there something else that we simply do not understand, that might come extraterrestrially?”
University of California San Diego Professor Brian Keating recently polled Twitter users on the ‘Oumumua interstellar object and found more than half of the nearly 1,000 respondents believe it was of extraterrestrial technological origin. Obviously, scientific truth is not ruled by popular opinion and the scientific evidence here is inconclusive, but the fact that three of the four known interstellar objects (ISOs) appear anomalous — namely the meteors IM1 and IM2 in their high material strength and `Oumuamua in its non-gravitational acceleration without a visible cometary tail — is intriguing for those who maintain their childhood curiosity or beginner’s mind (Shoshin) of Zen Buddhism.
This evidence is not intriguing for everyone.
Some science journalists celebrated a Nature paper last week and chose to ignore a follow-up paper that demonstrated that the earlier Nature paper violated energy conservation, in order “not to confuse their readers.”
Common sense suggests that if the public and the government define the study of UAP and ISOs as important, it is the civil duty of scientists to help them figure out the nature of these anomalous objects.
How can academia, including the SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) community, push back against the curiosity-driven exploration of the nature of UAP and ISOs? Such pushback is not a relic of ancient history but the content of tweets by some scientists in recent days.
This pushback is particularly puzzling given a recent poll conducted by Professor Elizabeth Stanway from the University of Warwick in the UK, which showed that 93 percent of UK astronomers (223 of 239 respondents) expressed an interest in science fiction, while 69 percent (164) stated that it had influenced their life or career choices.
Common sense is not commonplace when a subject touches a sensitive nerve in human psychology. In this case, it is the arrogant notion that we are the smartest in the cosmos. It would surely be easiest for us to win the cosmic competition if we are alone.
The Galileo Project at Harvard University, which I lead, is funded by private donations and is engaged in the scientific study of UAP and ISOs as potential technological relics. (In fact, the Galileo research team already assembled a functioning observatory and is planning a Pacific Ocean expedition to retrieve relics from the first interstellar meteor, IM1. Its first collection of scientific papers will be made publicly available next month after being peer reviewed).
It is likely that the skeptics of today will turn into believers as soon as researchers find indisputable evidence for extraterrestrial technological objects. Until then, UAP researchers face the challenge of raising the extraordinary funds that would enable this extraordinary evidence.
As I told students in my class last week, “Knowledge is strength. It allows us to adapt to the reality we all share.” This includes the question of whether there are smarter kids in our cosmic neighborhood.
Following a recent fireside chat at Lexington’s Cary Library, an audience member asked me, “Do you think that extraterrestrials are smarter than we are?” I replied, “I sure hope so because it would imply that we can learn from them and aspire to a better future than our past.”
Avi Loeb is the head of Harvard University’s Galileo Project, founding director of Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, as well as the former chair of Harvard’s Department of Astronomy (2011-2020). He chairs the advisory board for the Breakthrough Starshot project, and he is a former member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and a former chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. He is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” and a co-author of the textbook “Life in the Cosmos,” both published in 2021. His new book, titled “Interstellar,” is scheduled for publication in August 2023.
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