When Reporting News About Aliens, Caution Is Advised

Posted by K R on

Speculation about extraterrestrials seems to be everywhere these days. Last week it was “Tabby’s Star” (more officially known as KIC 8462852), whose mysterious dimming and brightening, according to the latest analysis, is likely due to dust blocking different wavelengths of light rather than “alien megastructures.” Before that came reports of an interstellar asteroid—not a spacecraft—entering our solar system and a UFO monitoring program conducted by the Department of Defense. The attention given to such stories has some scientists worried, especially as social media amplifies claims of alien contact over other, more prosaic explanations. “Currently, most SETI-related news seems to be interfering with conventional scientific discoveries, stealing the limelight—without following basic rules of science,” wrote Dutch exoplanet researcher Ignas Snellen of Leiden Observatory, on a Facebook exoplanets discussion group for professional astronomers. Although he has “great respect for SETI scientists,” Leiden wrote, “there is no place for alien civilizations in a scientific discussion on new astrophysical phenomena, in the same way as there is no place for divine intervention as a possible solution. One may view it as harmless fun, but I see parallels in athletes taking banned substances. It may lead to short-term fame and medals, but in the long run it harms the sport. Same for astronomy: we should be very careful not to be ridiculed. I really hope we can stop mentioning SETI for every unexplained phenomenon.”

Read More: Air & Space Magazine


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