Saturday, June 02, 2018

"And You Never Give Me Another Jiggle of That UFO Money-Maker"

Nova Wonders

Are we redundant?

     Ohh, PBS – you are such a slut! Flashing that UFO booty in De Void’s face like Sally Rand’s ostrich feathers on the front end, as if you really liked me. Then you go and make me sit through an entire hour-long performance of what turned out to be an update of the same old G-rated middle-aged where’s-ET? ho-hum I’ve been enduring for 20 years now. And you never give me another jiggle of that UFO money-maker. Ohh, you are so lowdown.
Billy Cox
By Billy Cox
De Void
5-15-18

In case you missed it: “Are We Alone?” – the latest installment of PBS’ new “NOVA Wonders” series – really grabbed De Void by the eyeballs last week when it opened near the top with a clip of the now-famous F-18 “gimbal” video, the one that left experienced Navy fighter pilots so jazzed and openly baffled. Unfortunately, the sequence wasn’t the subject, just a segue. There was a but coming. There is always a but coming. “But,” wonders the narrator, “what’s the reality?”

The reality is a formula, a formula we’ve seen more times than we can count. The “Are We Alone?” playbook goes something like this: Discuss ongoing and future NASA projects for detecting ET life elsewhere — check. A bit about how microscopic extremophiles thriving in acidic heat vents might mimic alien life on planetary moons — check. Celebrate SETI visionaries Jill Tarter and Seth Shostak — check. Blow off the UFO stuff with maybe a line or two — got it.

The most unique thing about “Are We Alone?” was the timing. It aired last Wednesday, just hours after The Atlantic broke a story about a congressional committee attempting (in April) to funnel $10 million in NASA funds into the quote “search for technosignatures, such as radio transmissions.” It’s a big deal only in the sense that Congress hasn’t seen fit to toss SETI any bones in more than 20 years.

$10 million isn’t a lot of money, barely enough to cover three (3) Bradley Fighting Vehicles. But “technosignatures” – that’s a pretty broad category, right? And what have the MSM been covering, albeit erratically, for the past five months or so: Navy pilot testimony, the F-18 footage, and real-time recordings among commercial pilots, air traffic controllers and the FAA concerning UFO incursions into American skyways. Why wouldn’t these qualify as technosignatures?

Well, if you read The Atlantic piece – “Congress Is Quietly Nudging NASA to Look for Aliens” – you’d never know any of that stuff ever happened. The article focused exclusively on the “such as radio transmissions” clause, which set the tone for every last syllable of subsequent media parroting, from Fox News (“Alien Shocker”) to Fleet Street. Between the Atlantic spread and the publicity bounce from its prime-time PBS platform, SETI might’ve gotten more coverage in one news cycle than it has over the last couple of years combined. And that’s a pretty nifty trick, given how ostensibly enamored the media was of last December’s reveal about the Pentagon’s deeply buried UFO research program.

What gave the news about the Defense Department’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program a special zing was its bipartisan initiation by three powerful senior U.S. Senators. Considering how AATIP commanded a $22 million expense account, or more than twice the proposed SETI funding, why wouldn’t a reporter with national resources leverage that precedent by asking House sponsors something like, “Hey, shouldn’t some of the focus be conducted in our own atmosphere, especially since the DoD’s Threat ID Program made it a priority?” Too bad The Atlantic didn’t go there. At least they found time to mention how one SETI enthusiast, GOP Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, is a climate change denier.

Anyhow, for whatever reason, it looks like Capitol Hill may be ready once again to invest in combing deep space for technosignatures. Even though, thanks to a paper published in February by scientists at the Sonneberg Observatory and the University of Hawaii’s physics and astronomy department, there may be a little less incentive to follow through now. They warned that ET radio messages could pose an “existential threat” to Earthlings.

Conceding the odds are minimal, the authors nevertheless argue Earth can’t discount the possibility that ET’s first message to us could involve extortion. Earth mortals: Do XYZ or we’ll ABC. Or maybe the act of downloading ET’s promised recipe for curing cancer will unleash a worldwide computer virus. “Our main argument,” they write, “is that a message from ETI cannot be decontaminated with certainty … The technical risks are impossible to assess beforehand. We may only choose to destroy such a message, or take the risk. The risk for humanity may be small, but not zero.”

“Hey, check this out. It’s been 1.2 million years but it looks like we finally got the callback signal from ET we’ve been waiting for.” “Too bad. Guess we oughtta go ahead and delete …”

The last time astronomers went to Congress hat in hand, back in 2014, Shostak and SETI colleague Dan Werthimer ran into a bunch of committee fishheads who barely knew what SETI was. But the guests were challenged by at least one pol who was all too familiar with the pitch.

“What’s intriguing about this conversation,” Rep. Donna Edwards, (D-MD), former Lockheed-Martin contractor for Goddard Space Flight Center, told them, “is the idea that – and it’s a lot of hubris, right? – somehow we’re waiting to find them as opposed to them finding us.”

Science has never addressed Edwards’ skepticism in a meaningful, systematic way. Too bad she’s not in office anymore. She might ask for hearings.

Meanwhile, thanks to a $100 million gift from Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, the SETI Institute forges ahead in its search for ET intelligence at a safe and manageable distance. With the recent assist from PBS, and the media’s corroding attention span, maybe SETI will find a way to keep searching forever and ever and ever. But. Who knows — maybe they received ET’s message awhile back and destroyed it for our own good.

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