Welcome, Seth, to the club

By Phil Plait | August 8, 2008 12:58 pm

My friend and fellow astronomer and skeptic Seth Shostak recently appeared on the Larry King program to talk about UFOs. Also there was Bill Nye, as well as several UFO proponents. I didn’t see it (grrrr, didn’t find out until too late) but I have heard from several who did that the UFOers comported themselves rather less than civilly.

I’m not surprised. Check the comments in any of my UFO posts and see what the average level of discourse is from people who disagree with me. Check the antivax posts to see how really awful some people can be.

Seth is obviously unhappy with this, and wrote an article for space.com about it.

What can I say? It can be tough to be civil when attacked viciously and without reason. But you have to deal with it, as galling as it might get. That’s part of being a skeptic in the public eye, at least, it is for me. I might tease, or gently mock, and I might get very stern if the comments get out of control. But I never give back what I get from the worst of them. It doesn’t help my argument, and being polite can accentuate what jerks the others can be.

So welcome to the club, Seth. It’s a select membership, maybe even an elite one. But we have a wonderful advantage: we’re right. And if we’re not, we can do something the worst of those commenters never seem to be able to do: we can change our minds. And we’re even nice about it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Piece of mind, Skepticism

Comments (72)

Links to this Post

  1. News From Around The Blogosphere 8.8.08 « Skepacabra | August 8, 2008
  1. justcorbly

    Does any reason other than tabloid commercialism justify television, et al, from creating phony displays of controversy?

    Why do UFO stories in the first place? Has some new evidence appeared? The people who tell us UFO’s are real spacecraft have essentially no evidence to support their assertions. The people who tell us UFO’s are not real spacecraft have much evidence to support their assertions.

    Putting legitimate and honest scientists on the air as the counterparts to UFO advocates — whether or not those advocates are sincere or are in it for the money — demeans the scientists and inflates the reputations of the UFO folks.

    I know the only thing worse than being there is not being there — “we asked several professional scientists for comment but they refused to speak with us”.

  2. UFO Gal

    You can find the show all over YouTube

  3. IBY

    Evidence is all people ask. They respond with “I have evidence,” but no, they are all grainy photographs and questionable anecdotes. I really wish ETs could contact Earth, but no one has seen them so far.

  4. jeff

    Hmmm, that really hasn’t been my experience so far. UFO’ers can certainly be looney-tunes, and many people are actually on the fence about the issue, but even hard-core UFO’ers are a far cry from creationists and their slimey tactics. Most of them seem harmless. Maybe that’s changing, I don’t know…

  5. Kol

    I had just read Seth’s article and was checking for video of the shenanigans when this post showed up in my feed reader.

    No luck so far but I’ve only just started looking. Feel free to beat me to the punch, as it were.

    On a related note, I think bloggers in general should adopt PZ’s example by reminding people that once an email is sent, it becomes the property of the recipient and is subject to republication.

  6. I read Seth Shostak’s article yesterday, and I did see the interview. He conducted himself with much grace in the face of ignorance.

    My position is this: I want to believe, BUT I have seen nothing to convince me. Show me the evidence, and I will believe. I think most of us would say that.

  7. Eddie Janssen

    If you think of Clark’s Third Law, aliens will make their presence known if they want to (endzone Superbowl or Opening Ceremony Olympic Games) or they will not be seen, heard or radar’d (ha!) if they wished to remain unseen, unheard or un-radar’d..
    Every alien caught in a stupid little flying saucer in our atmosphere (worse still: crashing on the surface!) is an idiot you do not want to be associated with.

  8. Some video is up, but the sound is really dicey
    Video Part 1
    Video Part 2
    Video Part 3
    Video Part 4

  9. Wildride

    As a complete co-incidence, after reading this post I wandered into the living room, turned on the Discovery Channel to a repeat of Bill Shatner’s show about Star Trek influencing the future and it’s right at the point where they are introducing Seth and talking about how seeing Star Trek lead him into the field of astronomy. A funny, but otherwise meaningless, co-incidence.

  10. Sam McDougal

    I skeptical about the claims made about UFOs, but I have to admit that there does appear to be some evidence that is at the very least, interesting. There are many instances where sightings have been corroborated by radar data, from the sightings in Washington in 1952 to the Stephenville sightings this year.

    There are people who passionately want to believe we are being visited, and people who passionately want to believe that it is impossible for distant civilizations to reach us. I don’t understand why any debate on television has to have both polar opposites. I suspect there are many more agnostics out there who like to prepared for any possibility.

  11. I posted links to the video of the show but it’s stuck in moderation. If you click on the link on my name, you’ll go to my blog–I’ve just added a post with the video links.

  12. Meeee

    This line caught my eye:

    “After all, I happen to think that extraterrestrial intelligence is a frequent occurrence in a universe of ten thousand million million million stars.”

    This is something that I’ve been wondering for a while. I have no doubt that life is “out there”, but the idea that there is plenty of “intelligent” life doesn’t quite ring true for me, somehow.

    As I understand it, “intelligence” is basically just another evolved trait, like a hard shell, claws, flight, speed etc… (note that by intelligence, I mean human-like intelligence, i.e. the ability to drastically change the environment to our own ends, not bird-like nest building intelligence). There are, for example, many creatures on Earth alone that do extremely well (in their own way) with little to no intelligence.

    Coming from this angle, intelligence is not the goal/definite outcome of evolution, it’s just a possible outcome. It would theoretically be possible that an entire planet full of alien life could exist, with no species having more intelligence than, say, a lion, right? It just seems to me that while “life” may be statistically probable, “intelligent life” is significantly less so.

    Please keep in mind that these ideas came to me while sitting on the toilet. I have no doubt that it’s been discussed countless times before, but I’ve never really been motivated to read up on it. Just figured I’d throw it out there.

  13. RAF

    Phil Plait says: “It can be tough to be civil when attacked viciously and without reason. But you have to deal with it, as galling as it might get.”

    Of course I commend you for being able to conduct yourself in a civil fashion, but you must also understand that not everyone has such a tight control over their emotions.

    Does it make me any less a skeptic that I just want to reach through the monitor and punch some of these characters in the nose?

    Does it make me any less a skeptic that on occasion I will tell one of these “yahoos” what idiots they are?

    It’s too bad that those of us who attack back are classified as “bad” skeptics.

  14. Viewer 3

    Phil Nye the Science Guy.

    Is that one getting old yet? Actually you already answered that when I wrote it in a live chat a while back. But despite my better judgment, the urge overtook my will.

  15. Viewer 3

    And I agree with RAF. I’m not very restrained when it comes to stupidity. It bothers me when people truly think they have it all figured out, to the point of trying to make others feel like idiots, when they’re the ones who haven’t done their homework and don’t live in the real world. When I encounter that, I fantasize about being able to turn the tables on them and shove logic right back in their face and laugh at them, watching them be unable to even mount a response and just curl up into a ball and break.

    Because some people just deserve it. So I may respect the fact that some people can hold back and be more civil, and it may make me by definition “less civil”, but I’ll be damned if I let certain people get away with certain things if, at the very least, I can hurt them in some small, ultimately insignificant way.

  16. jeff

    “Does it make me any less a skeptic that I just want to reach through the monitor and punch some of these characters in the nose?
    Does it make me any less a skeptic that on occasion I will tell one of these “yahoos” what idiots they are?”

    It doesn’t make you a bad skeptic, it makes you a nasty excuse for a human being. And it won’t help you make any converts, either. Once civil discourse goes out the window, everything does.

  17. Viewer 3

    “It doesn’t make you a bad skeptic, it makes you a nasty excuse for a human being.”

    Right. Good one, Jesus.

  18. The best part about being me is I don’t have to be nice to them. And I’m not.

  19. Davidlpf

    I actually saw it and they made comments like “how are you going prove that with baking soda and vinegar” to Nye.

  20. Here’s my challenge to any alien reading Phil’s blog (I hear Phil’s a hit on Zeta Reticuli), come to my place tonight, at 3 AM, take me to your ship, let me take a picture, or bring something back. That will settle it. Just don’t probe me and you’ll be fine.

  21. Dave W

    From the start they talk about wanting to be taking seriously, and that “crackpots and weirdos” have been detrimental to their cause…acting unprofessionally and rudely isn’t going to help them out either.

    Wanting a scientific, methodical approach to the subject – good.

    Ad hominem attacks on people who use the scientific, methodical approach – not good.

  22. Rob

    Phil, I’m afraid that the situation isn’t going to get better soon. I’ve noticed that any online forum, or comment section has become fair game for trolls, instigators and morons. Another aspect of this is the general anonymity of the email. People can say anything they want pretty much, and not have anyone know who they are. A face to face conversation with one of these morons, I’m sure would have a quite different tone. There is the exception to that rule of course. Hello Bill O’Reilly!

    I don’t know why anyone has a comment section anymore to be honest, though I’m glad you tough through it somehow. Keep up the great work.
    Cheers

  23. tacitus

    You can find the whole show on YouTube. Just search for “UFO Debate Larry King CNN” (four parts).

    Bill Nye bore the brunt of the attacks, probably because he was in the studio and not Seth. The fun begins about halfway through part 2, I wouldn’t bother watching anything before then, it’s just UFO blather.

    I think the reason why they are so hostile is, that unlike Nye and Shostak, these UFO guys depend on people’s credulity to earn a living. To attack their UFO stories is to threaten their next paycheck, so it’s no surprise that they are sensitive to people scoffing about their nonsensical beliefs.

    It was also funny how they accused Nye and Shostak of not doing due diligence in studying their evidence but then went on to make all sorts of outlandish claims themselves about how the US government is afraid there will be a unified Earth government if aliens are revealed to be around or that the aliens want to quarantine us just in case we export our primitive ways to the rest of the galaxy. That’s the problem with UFOlogists. A simple “there are things out there we don’t know about” is never enough for them. They always have to concoct the bizarrest of theories to go along with it, and *still* expect to be taken seriously.

  24. I am amazed at what a good job Bill Nye did of staying calm, allowing the nutters to show their true colors. Now, I’ve never had much respect for Larry King, but my opinion of him went down even more. He seemed to be on the side of the UFO nutters and he allowed them to interrupt Nye like crazy.

  25. RAF

    Jeff says: “It doesn’t make you a bad skeptic, it makes you a nasty excuse for a human being. And it won’t help you make any converts, either. Once civil discourse goes out the window, everything does.”

    So your idea of “civil discurse” is to attempt to insult me?

    What happened…did someone drown your kitten? :)

  26. I remember my one UFO sighting. I was convinced I was seeing a disk, with a band of lights going back and forth around the middle. I was terrified (oh, I was a child at the time).

    The next morning, I realized what I’d seen. A power line (hanging with a slight curve) had been reflecting lights, and as it swayed in the wind it looked like the lights were moving back and forth.

  27. Davidlpf

    @jeff that was low, everybody gets angry it is how we use the angry that is important.

  28. Bobby Thomas

    It’s on Youtube.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4x84QrZxRKE

    I’m on Part 2. So far, Larry King comes off as an idiot. The situation–and the footage–is interesting.

  29. Kol

    You people that are allowing the rest of us to make an informed decision based on evidence have Won The Internet.

    Actually, no. Just my sincere appreciation. And a beverage should we ever meet.

  30. Bobby Thomas

    .. wow. They’re eating Bill Nye up. How awful. -_-

  31. Bobby Thomas

    I submitted a link to a youtube video of the show. However, it’s awaiting moderation because I used a certain word.

    That being the case, here it is again.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4×84QrZxRKE

  32. Daniel

    You know, even with no proof it sets back a “movement” 30 years when you have people acting like this (thanks to Ed Mitchell and “UFO proponents” on Larry King). There is no proof…get over it. even if there was, you will NEVER know!

  33. Bobby Thomas

    Okay–for the third time.

    It’s up on youtube. I can’t link it.

    Search for “bill nye; larry king.”

  34. Davidlpf

    @Bobby Thomas they are eating him uo yuk he is all skin and bones.:-)

  35. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwiOHRRbNl0 That´s part One, the other 3 parts apear on the right of the Youtube Screen.

  36. Davidlpf

    Ok very bad joke.

  37. tacitus: To attack their UFO stories is to threaten their next paycheck, so it’s no surprise that they are sensitive to people scoffing about their nonsensical beliefs.

    Well said.

  38. Kol

    MarkP wins the beverage of his choice (within limits according to financial limitations) for being the first person allowing me to see this stuff first-hand and not having to rely on someone’s interpretation.

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/5wn8p9

    Props all ’round. I was impressed with Bill in such an uneven situation.

    My emotions were sparked, though. At several points, I thought to myself, “there should be an equal number of people on each side with a live feed and access to as much information as they can provide”.

    If my life is any indication, solutions can only be achieved via communication.

    Get together in an environment that doesn’t automatically create a combative starting point and publish your results when all “sides” agree.

    To be honest, many of us sitting out here in the wings are either tired of it or never gave a plop.

    I want to see both parts of this discussion equally represented, streaming via live webcams.

    It really would help. This two-headed dragon is chasing its own tail.

  39. Dave W

    @Tacitus’ paycheck comment:

    Quite true, I think….it could be said that a key reason both Stanton Friedman and James Fox are there is promote their books and films.

  40. John

    @ RAF

    “Does it make me any less a skeptic that on occasion I will tell one of these “yahoos” what idiots they are?”

    No it just makes you rude and ignorant towards some others, especially those who are just being honest and reporting something they saw which they could not and still cannot identify.

    “It’s too bad that those of us who attack back are classified as “bad” skeptics.”

    That makes you a bad person, nothing to do with scepticism.

  41. John

    @ Kevin F.

    “tacitus: To attack their UFO stories is to threaten their next paycheck, so it’s no surprise that they are sensitive to people scoffing about their nonsensical beliefs.

    Well said.”

    Only well said if you refer to the specific person or persons as you are generalising on too many people by saying this. Good honest people report something they sighted which they could not and still cannot identify, and people like you placing those people in the same boat as a believer in alien visitation is not very helpful for anyone at all. Unless of course you are claiming everyone is out to make money out of made up stories, which is of course not true. You are free to attack someone who believes in alien visitation without any actual proof, but to attack all people who just are reporting a ufo as well is just as delusional.

    If you had any common sense you would realise that people admitting they don’t know what they saw is actually an observation, and not a belief.

  42. Andrew

    Is this the Larry King show you mentioned in the post Phil? : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwiOHRRbNl0

  43. fred edison

    This was the July 18, 2008 episode of Larry King Live. I watched the interview. It’s on my TiVo (but YouTube video links are below).

    From my perspective, Seth wasn’t receiving the rude treatment. Seth, as usual, was calm and pleasant. He was a gentleman and making sense in a scientifically civil way. Stanton Fiedman, indirectly more than to their faces, called Seth and Bill debunkers and unqualified to represent and opinion the scientific appraisal on UFOs (which Seth politely brushed aside as poop). And Seth mentioned Friedman has an inner circle mentality (my wording) with the aliens/UFOs, which is one of my own observations about Friedman.

    Bill Nye was getting the hurricane of hot air rudeness from Bob Jacobs. Bob was angry and the only nasty attitude in the bunch. I think Bill was a little taken aback by his reaction to an expected skeptical viewpoint and doubts to Jacob’s story. I don’t know if I would have had Bill’s level of composure in the same situation. Bill Nye – The Composure Guy. ;-)

    Now the whole question of was the film authentic, assuming Jacob’s story is accurate and true, hinges on whether the film had been mucked with before Jacob’s watched it. Was it a ruse/set-up to see who could keep their mouth’s closed will probably never be answered. The UFO believers assume that Jacob’s is telling the truth and they assume the film was not doctored. But how can even Jacob’s know the real answer to the latter?

    If anyone is interested, read ‘UFOs & The National Security State’ by Richard Dolan. There is plenty of documental evidence the government/military was intensely concerned with whatever was flying in the skies. Dolan is probably finishing up Volume 2 to this first book – which picks up from ’74 to recent years – which should be out in a few months or so.

    You have to admit that these restricted area intrusions (military base SAC-TAC), nuclear missile silos, etc.) are peculiar and would have to be investigated. At the very least to prevent further intrusions.

    Larry King Live
    Pt. 1 (of 4 parts)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgGD49hVmfk

    Transcript
    http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0807/18/lkl.01.html

  44. Don Snow

    @ Phil -

    Your response and Seth’s article outweigh the ad hominum attacks, in my book. I know of people like the ones who vouched for UFO’s on King’s show.
    Generally, I either stay away from them, or stay away from their hot topic in conversation, with them. Everybody has buttons . I try not to push those, either.

  45. Dave

    “It’s a select membership, maybe even an elite one. But we have a wonderful advantage: we’re right.”

    Phil, let me respectfully point out this is exactly the kind of statement that antagonizes serious UFO investigators. In all fairness, have you examined the strong UFO case files in depth? (Trace evidence cases, mass sightings, things of that sort.) To be specific, let’s name just one: the Stephenville, TX radar report released by MUFON with strong corroborated evidence. (http://www.mufon.com/symposia.htm) Now perhaps this report isn’t enough for skeptics to conclude we’re being visited by extra-terrestrial life, but as long at there are still cases that have no rational explanation, how can you or Mr. Shostak possibly consider it good science to reach a conclusion when there is still incoming data that is unexplained? From an outside point of view, perhaps both sides of this debate can make an effort to minimize generalizations or proclamations and keep the focus on specifics.

    To that end, would you consider taking the time to read through the Stephenville report and come back to us in a later post with your findings?

  46. Gary Ansorge

    MEEEE says:
    ,while sitting on the toilet,,,”

    Ah, the old, inspiration on the toilet thing,,,
    Personally, I prefer the bathtub,,,

    Intelligence isn’t the POINT of evolution, it’s just one more survival trait. As noted, apex carnivores get along just fine with efficient teeth and claws and the prefrontal lobes to anticipate the responses of their prey.
    I should say, they USED to get along, then we came on the scene.

    Dolphins and whales have much bigger brains than humans, but they’re not oriented to tool use. Tools are required to manipulate the environment.
    ,,,and that makes us the FIRST species with the potential to expand life into a (more or less) unlimited environment(space).
    We still have no idea of the probability of planets which could allow the development of life, let alone all the coincidences that result in tool using intelligence. Without some evidence of such probabilities, we’re whistling in the dark. I expect if other such tool users existed, they would have already found their way here and taken over. It’s just the nature of a successful species to inhabit every available ecological niche. Since we are genetically linked to every other life form on this planet, it’s pretty obvious we’re the first such tool oriented species to evolve in this local galaxy.
    If we succeed in making the transition to a space based economy, we’ll spread to every corner of the Milky Way within the next couple of million years. By then our descendants will look only vaguely
    like us. Then we will have created our own versions of Vulcans and Klingons and from what I’ve seen walking the streets of Los Angeles on an average Saturday night, we’re already well on our way to creating subsidiary(tool using) species.

    Anecdotal evidence is how humans relate to the local environment. See the link,,,

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=how-anecdotal-evidence-can-undermine-scientific-results

    David Brins most excellent book on the Transparent Society postulates that one reason for rudeness on the internet is that respondents are invisible, with no accountability. That makes it possible to be a jerk for there are no consequences. I NEVER respond to someone who identifies themselves as ANONYMOUS. If you want to talk, say it like a man and be prepared to take your lumps.
    WE’re watching,,,

  47. peaches

    I found Seth’s quote from the UFOlogist quite enlightening when taken in conjunction with Phil’s point about how skeptics can at least change our minds about things. The UFOlogist’s threat that ‘one-day-everyone-will-know-you-were-wrong-Seth-and-I-can’t-wait-to-rub-your-face-in-it’ reveals just how terrified said UFOlogist must be at the thought that one day he will be proved wrong. When being wrong in public is one’s biggest fear, one will fight tooth and claw, as uncivilly as necessary, to maintain the illusion of correctness. When they get into an argument with a skeptic they’re not worried about finding truth, they’re worried about validating their current beliefs so as to avoid humiliation in the public sphere. Contrast this with scientists and skeptics who’s main goal is uncovering the truth. To such people being proved wrong publicly isn’t humiliating because it’s a chance to learn something. The great threat that the UFOlogist hit Seth with isn’t actually a threat to Seth (or other skeptics) at all. Steve Novella said it best: “You can really only be embarrassed by being wrong if you stick to your guns despite the evidence.” (SGU ep 115).

  48. Phil, good points, and your craft in revealing that skeptics too can behave badly is even more impressive.

  49. RAF

    John says: “That makes you a bad person…”

    That really hurts…or at least it would if I had any respect for your opinion. :)

  50. John

    @ RAF

    “That really hurts…or at least it would if I had any respect for your opinion.”

    haha, that proves my point about you being a bad person, as you just admitted you have no respect for the opinions of others. You’re so fixated that everyone who’s seen a ufo believes in aliens that you just dismiss the opinions of anyone who has seen anything unexplained to this day. One word describes you, that is “pathetic”.

  51. robin

    It figures I would find you taking the side of Shostak and Nye on this blog. They behaved very unscientifically in taking a position on a topic they’ve never researched, just as you have not, and their becoming celebrities for making fun of serious UFO investigators. They deserved exactly what they got on Larry King. They were smug and condecending to the other guests, and didn’t bother to listen to the information that was presented, before pretending to have knowledge they clearly do not have. Rather like the threads on your other blogs on this topic.

    I think it’s particularly hypocritical of Shostak to take home a paycheck for listening for radio signals (for Godsake) while searchin for extraterrestrial life, and then turn around and claim to know for sure that UFOs can’t possibly be here because he personally has never seen one. Can we then conclude he HAS heard ET’s radio signals? Because other wise, he is a scam artist and a fraud.

    It’s disappointing, to say the least, to find so many smug people on this blog, all congratulating themselves on remaining strong and closed minded in the face of so much evidence. You should rename your blog “The Flat Earth Society.” Those people were sure they knew better, too. Seth should join. He’d fit right in.

  52. Peter B

    G’day Robin

    What evidence?

  53. madge

    @ robin
    As Michael L put it (so well) “I want to believe, BUT I have seen nothing to convince me. Show me the evidence, and I will believe.” That is all any of us are asking for…EVIDENCE! Where is it?

  54. khms

    @Gary Ansorge

    David Brins most excellent book on the Transparent Society postulates that one reason for rudeness on the internet is that respondents are invisible, with no accountability. That makes it possible to be a jerk for there are no consequences. I NEVER respond to someone who identifies themselves as ANONYMOUS. If you want to talk, say it like a man and be prepared to take your lumps.
    WE’re watching,,,

    I’ve seen this argument before. Unfortunately, it directly contradicts my actual experience.

    During the years when we had a BBS scene but pretty much no Internet – at least for the masses – over here in Germany, I often experienced all those kinds of attacks from people who were well known – and who, in face-to-face meetings with the same people they attacked online, showed themselves to be quite civil.

    Similarly, I’ve seen the whole spectrum from very civil to unspeakably rude from anonymous users on Usenet.

    This leads me to conclude that it really isn’t the anonymity, at least usually. It’s the absence of immediate feedback, and the absence of any other signals (like facial expressions) than naked text. In other words, it’s the same circumstance that so often makes irony and sarcasm fail on the Internet.

    With only text, it it very, very easy to misinterpret what the other guy is saying. And once emotions run high, it is very, very easy to make mistakes even just reading what words are actually there. Which then makes emotions run even higher.

    @peaches

    Contrast this with scientists and skeptics who’s main goal is uncovering the truth. To such people being proved wrong publicly isn’t humiliating because it’s a chance to learn something.

    I don’t think that’s quite right. I think being proven wrong is at least embarrassing to everyone, and the more public it is the worse it gets.

    However, I expect it happens more often to scientists than to true believers, therefore scientists have usually learned how to cope with these feelings fairly well. Furthermore, it makes a difference how central the point in question is to your belief system. Having a central point of your world view proven wrong is always pretty traumatic … it’s just that this is rather less likely to happen if you take care to base your belief system on something that has already withstood fairly rigorous testing.

    In other words, with regard to being proven wrong, true believers run a significantly higher risk than scientists, and are less prepared to deal with the fallout.

    Of course, that’s a kind of analysis a scientist might make … and not one a true believer is likely to do …

  55. David

    Belief in UFOs is little different from religious belief : there’s nothing substantive, and so it’s hardly surprising that those with a passion for their beliefs either way will get melodramatic with it.

  56. DenverAstro

    @Gary Ansorge
    “It’s just the nature of a successful species to inhabit every available ecological niche. Since we are genetically linked to every other life form on this planet, it’s pretty obvious we’re the first such tool oriented species to evolve in this local galaxy.”

    Wow, that seems like a huge leap of logic to me. Maybe I am misunderstanding what you mean by ‘this local galaxy’? I mean we don’t even know of any other Earth-like planets around the closest stars. There could be Earth-like planets very close to us with species that have evolved into tool-using beings but are still in something like our neolithic age. The possibilites are endless. Not a big deal but that statement really stood out to me.

    As far as UFO’s are concerned, I would just say this; I think it is just possible that this planets has been visited by other intelligences in the past. Possibly as part of a survey or maybe scientific research. However, as a skeptic, I would have to agree that any assertion beyond that requires physical proof. Fuzzy photos and dubious eye-witness acounts are not proof. Therefore, I have to chuckle over the conspiracy stories these folks come up with. If we have been visited by a species advanced enough to develop interstellar spacecraft, I would be willing to bet they took one look around and realized what a low-rent neighborhood this planet is. I mean really, look at what the species which is at the top of the food chain has done and is doing to it. It’s kinda like a bear crapping in its own den, ya know?

  57. RAF

    John says: “…that proves my point about you being a bad person, as you just admitted you have no respect for the opinions of others.”

    Your reasoning is faulty…read my post again…I said nothing about the opinions of “others”, only that I had no respect for YOUR opinion…which is why I used the word YOUR.

    Sheesh…

  58. Gary Ansorge

    Denver-Astro:

    1) Capture of sequestration of CO2 is a direct function of plate tectonics
    2) Strong plate tectonics seems to require a close, massive satellite to “churn” the planetary interior
    3) Binary planets of similar size appear unusual. Earth/moon system is unique in this solar system.
    4) Formation of such binary systems from a collapsing solar disk appears to result in a large primary with small attendant satellites.
    5) The Earth/moon system was, by all available evidence, a result of a major impact from an incident object of just the right momentum to eject a lunar mass into Earth orbit, w/o losing the mass completely.
    6) Venus, with no large satellite to gravitationally churn its core, has a predominantly CO2 atmosphere and is unlivable.
    7) Mars, too cold and dry for life to flourish.
    8) Thus we have a Red Riding Hood scenario. Three planets in the life zone, one too hot, one too cold one that is just right,,,
    9)Then, of course, we have comet and asteroid impacts which caused large scale extinctions and stimulated evolutionary development, but were insufficient to completely destroy ALL life.
    10),,,and, of course, there’s our strong terrestrial magnetic shield, to protect life from ionizing radiation.

    Without our large satellite, earth might well be just another Venus or MArs.

    So, what are the odds another planet could fulfill our requirements? I expect, w/o such a large attendant satellite, the best we could hope for is a water world, with perhaps large brained water critters but no fire, no worked metal and no space faring technology.

    I wonder why ANY visiting space critters would go to such extreme as to sequester ALL evidence of their visit. Sounds suspiciously like “God put the dinosaur bones in the ground to test our faith,,,”.

    EVERY life form on this planet grows to the limit of the environment to support them. This appears to be an essential aspect of life. I expect it would be the same no matter where life evolves. So, where is the evidence that (other, non-terrestrial) life has tried to colonize THIS environment?

    I’m from Missouri. Show me the evidence.

    Gary 7

  59. Phil Plait the science mate.

  60. peaches

    @khms

    Thanks for the feedback. I shouldn’t have implied that being wrong isn’t embarrassing to scientists/skeptics; it certainly can be. But, as you pointed out, scientists are used to having their hypotheses and findings shredded at every possible opportunity by their colleagues while the believers aren’t.

    However I don’t think a scientist (or skeptic) would consider being proven wrong a refutation of their core beliefs. Using the UFO/ET example, I’m skeptical that ETs have ever visited the earth because of a lack of evidence but I wouldn’t call my non-visitation stance a core belief. If sufficient evidence appeared tomorrow proving that ETs have indeed been visiting the planet for years, my core beliefs won’t have suffered. This is because my core belief is that, to quote Sagan, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If such evidence presents itself I am capable of changing my mind on a subject without having to change my core beliefs. In the end this is why I think it is (or at least should be) easier for a skeptic to change their mind: doing so does not run counter to a “core belief” but is a direct result of basing beliefs on evidence. I hope I didn’t misunderstand your point, if so I apologize. Thanks for getting me thinking. :)

  61. John

    @ RAF

    “Your reasoning is faulty…read my post again…I said nothing about the opinions of “others”, only that I had no respect for YOUR opinion…which is why I used the word YOUR.”

    No it’s not, if you don’t respect the opinions of someone who is being completely rational towards an unexplained personal experience, which is exactly what I have done, then it’s logical to say that you probably don’t respect anyone else’s opinons either who are in the same boat.

  62. Al Viro

    FWIW, the arguments re “every species expands to the limit” have a large hole – they assume that spreading is feasible. What is less than obvious here is that one can terraform a world with biosphere of its own; it’s not just a matter of some local disease jumping species – much likelier is that you’ll find some local common organics interacting badly with your own biochemistry. And good luck dealing with that, especially if it’s e.g. a product of many widespread bacterial species that are perfectly fine without any host species. Even more interesting is how do you deal with the effects of bringing home several such species – even if you manage to protect yourself by whatever technobabble you care to invent, there’s a whole biosphere at home and the impact of invasive species on it is going to be interesting to estimate.

    IOW, if unicellular life is relatively common on planets otherwise worth terraforming, you might very well find yourself without a lot of candidates for expansion. Besides, either you manage to keep your population stable, or you are FUBAR, expansion or not. Exercise: consider the current growth rate of human population, find how many would have to be moved off-planet (to whatever destination) yearly to keep the things stable. Assuming more or less optimistic time to terraform a planet, estimate the number of such projects that would have to go in parallel… Basically, you need a very slow population growth if expansion manages to keep up with it and if you got that close to stable population, you might as well keep it constant in the first place. And with that the incentives for expansion are much weaker – it’s expensive, it doesn’t solve demographic problems, it’s not short-term and it’s going to be a massive resource sink all along.

    ObUFO: the most ridiculous part of that is the “humanity is not ready, so we’ll contact select representatives” variety, seeing how those “representatives” proceed to wank around spreading the word to presumably not ready population… One would assume that after a couple of times they’d figure out that it would be more efficient to get rid of the middlemen…

  63. Don Snow

    Would like to submit my 2cents worth.

    Whether the universe was made for humans or humans made for the universe is not germain to my point. My point is, in light of the above information, isn’t it likely, that when or if we meet another intelligent species in our galaxy, it will be a lot like us, physiologically?

    My opinion about earlier ET visitations to our planet, is, there weren’t any. Because I think that homo sapiens sapiens is quite capable of having thought out and built every edifice on our planet, from earlier ages. And, a lot of those edifices by hand. Just because we have left behind manual labor, doesn’t mean earlier humans could not have manually built thoses great edifices. No anti-gravity nor secret technology required. imho.

    Not wanting to whine in public, I bite my tongue about some of the other posts.

  64. Al Viro

    Well, seeing that there’s a whole lot of species on the Earth that are not like us physiologically and that they definitely share the same universe…

  65. Don Snow

    @ Al Viro -

    Ouch! Ya got me.

    Umm, same goes for intelligent life.

    Umm, let’s try: couldn’t we expect to meet other humanoids?

  66. RAF

    John says: “…if you don’t respect the opinions of someone who is being completely rational towards an unexplained personal experience…”

    Yet you refuse to share just WHAT that experience was…I must now join those who want you to elabrate…just what was that “experience”.

    “…then it’s logical to say that you probably don’t respect anyone else’s opinons either who are in the same boat.”

    I see no one jumping to your defense…to use your analogy, you’re all alone in a leaking boat. :)

  67. A really funny novel about this whole phenomenon is Little Green Men by Christopher Buckley. Yeah, it is a government cover-up, but not like anyone thinks. A hoot!

  68. John

    @ RAF

    “Yet you refuse to share just WHAT that experience was…I must now join those who want you to elabrate…just what was that “experience”.”

    Actually I have done, but just not with muppets like you that feel the necessity to insult others.

    “I see no one jumping to your defense…to use your analogy, you’re all alone in a leaking boat.”

    Why do I need someone to jump to my defense? I’m not claiming anything extraordinary, because in fact so many people have sightings that it’s just something ordinary. So your metaphor is incorrect, and I find it amusing that you think you have won the argument when I doubt you even know what the argument is.

  69. Jon

    You don’t need to watch the clips….allow me to summarize:

    Believer: Aliens have been visiting the earth for 60 years

    Skeptic: What evidence do you have to back that up?

    Believer: You are obviously not a real scientist. I don’t waste my time talking to close-minded people like you.

    Phil, I don’t know how you and your ilk deal with such ridiculous garbage like this without losing your cool. I tip my hat to you!

  70. Irishman

    John said:
    > Only well said if you refer to the specific person or persons as you are generalising on too many people by saying this. Good honest people report something they sighted which they could not and still cannot identify, and people like you placing those people in the same boat as a believer in alien visitation is not very helpful for anyone at all.

    There seems to be some confusion here. “UFO” is frequently not taken in the broad original context of “unidentified” but rather in the narrow common context of “alien spaceship”. This is something that the writer should attempt to be more careful with, but the reader should also watch for.

    In this case, you seem to be jumping on people for equating anyone who claims to not know what they witnessed as someone claiming aliens are invading. Whereas I think the quotes you were linking to were about people professing their unexplained phenomena were evidence for aliens, rather than just leaving them as unexplained.

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