If ET Calls, Think Twice About Answering

Valencia, Spain, Oct. 6, 2006. After four long days, the 57th International Astronautical Congress draws to a close, and two prominent members of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Permanent Committee decide to resign in protest.

One is Michael Michaud, an author and former U.S. diplomat who helped establish the first SETI protocol—a set of rules, published in 1989, that delineate what to do should we detect an extraterrestrial signal. He sought to create a second protocol on whether SETI should move to a new phase. Instead of just passively listening for signals from other civilizations, should we send out a signal of our own? The question roiled the small, cerebral, and normally collegial community of SETI scientists. “That gradually got testy,” Michaud says. “People got confrontational. The tone of the debate deteriorated, and by the 2000s it was clear that we did

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus5 min readSociety
Why People Feel Misinformed, Confused, and Terrified About the Pandemic
When I worked as a TV reporter covering health and science, I would often be recognized in public places. For the most part, the interactions were brief hellos or compliments. Two periods of time stand out when significant numbers of those who approa
Nautilus6 min readScience
The Hidden Life of Viruses: The COVID-19 crisis has made the dark energy of evolution visible.
If there is one thing that the coronavirus pandemic has exposed, it is that there is much that we still don’t know about the world around us. Forget about the trillions—OK, more than trillions—of galaxies in the universe that we’ll never explore. Jus
Nautilus6 min read
How Science Trumps Denial: Scientists putting their career and health on the line can take heart from Galileo.
There’s an old belief that truth will always overcome error. Alas, history tells us something different. Without someone to fight for it, to put error on the defensive, truth may languish. It may even be lost, at least for some time. No one understoo