The United Nations, tackling head-on the problem of what to do if an alien says “take me to your leader”, is poised to designate a specific individual for the task…. An obscure Malaysian astrophysicist who is head of its little-known Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa).
The story, which was widely reported over the weekend, was published on Sunday at 12:50 pm AEST (Saturday, 9:50 pm EDT). It compared Unoosa and Othman to the Men In Black and even quoted experts in space policy:
Professor Richard Crowther, an expert in space law and governance at the UK Space Agency and who leads British delegations to the UN on such matters, said: “Othman is absolutely the nearest thing we have to a ‘take me to your leader’ person.”
The story was then picked up by The Telegraph, which published on Sunday at 11:30 am BST (Sunday, 6am EDT), discussing the details of Othman’s push for her new role:
She will set out the details of her proposed new role at a Royal Society conference in Buckinghamshire next week. The 58-year-old is expected to tell delegates that the proposal has been prompted by the recent discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other starts, which is thought to make the discovery of extraterrestrial life more probable than ever before.
From there the story spread to various other news sites, including CNET, Daily Mail, Wired.co.uk, and Time before anyone thought to actually check the facts of the Australian article. At around 8 am EDT on Monday The Guardian posted a story claiming that that Mazlan Othman has officially denied the statement:
Finally an email from Othman herself would have prompted our Martian to trudge back to his spaceship. “It sounds really cool but I have to deny it,” she said of the story. She will be attending a conference next week, but she’ll be talking about how the world deals with “near-Earth objects”. Our alien will just have to try someone else, or stop reading the Sunday Times.
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