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Enter Frank Drake, a Cornell astronomer who set up Project Ozma in 1959. Using radio telescopes, scientists could listen for signals from aliens. A listening post was set up at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia. Drake also cobbled together the Drake Equation, which estimates the probability that, out there somewhere, there exist intelligent beings that can communicate.
You take the number of stars and multiply by the fraction that have planets, times the number of planets per star, times the fraction within a habitable zone, times the likelihood of life evolving, times the probability of it reaching a level where critters can build radio transmitters — and so on. But there is no real data to work with, so enthusiasts can go ahead and plug in their own numbers.
That’s how Sagan came up with one million civilizations. “Physics and chemistry are so constructed as to make the origin of life easy,” he said. He was whistling in the dark. If the origin of life is easy, why can’t we make it happen here, in our laboratories, by deliberate and ceaseless effort?
Then came the sleight of hand that Walter Sullivan called the “step by step dissolution of the difficulties.” Before you knew it, the probability of life evolving was said to be: If the conditions are suitable, evolution will happen, given enough time. Others have put it at close to zero, and that’s more likely. Frank Drake and colleagues have been listening in for almost 50 years now but they haven’t heard anything much beyond background hiss. A recent book, Rare Earth, concludes that conditions here are indeed “extraordinarily rare.”
The search for extraterrestrial intelligence started at about the same time as the search for artificial intelligence (here on Earth, beginning in 1956). So far both varieties of intelligence have proved to be elusive — much harder to locate by radio or re-create in computers than anyone imagined. Maybe it takes a designer? Or should I say Designer? Anyway, you can see why SETI makes us all a little anxious.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online