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Re: SETI Politics

Subject: Re: SETI Politics
From: "Jason H."
Date: 10 Sep 2005 22:22:29 -0700
Newsgroups: sci.astro.seti
Alfred A. Aburto Jr. wrote:
> I think the important sentence is that: "it wouldn't stand a chance on
> scientific merits" ... sure the giggle gactor is there, but if there was
> scientific merit you bet scientists would get in there! Remember when
> pulsars were first detected? The scientists thought at first that they
> were ETI signals. However that possibility was dismissed (fell to the
> bottom of the list of possibilities) when they looked at the energy
> required to send those pulses. It must have been another source and they
> figured it out eventually as a natural phenomena associated with fast
> rotating neutron stars. The point is that the scientists were not afraid
> to face the facts and figure out what exactly was happening despite the
> "giggle factor" of "little green men" (LEM).

Please tell me why current SETI approaches have more scientific merit
than searching for interstellar spaceprobes.

Proposals being reviewed on "scientific merit" are subject to the
policies of the grant reviewers.  The reviewers will decide
(subjectively) which research is of the highest scientific merit.  They
perhaps are likely to ask questions like these:

1. "It is novel and/or timely? (I don't think there is a problem here.)

2. "Is it likely to make a significant contribution to science? (If
E.T. were found, I think that would be significant.)

3. "Is it internationally competitive? (Perhaps no, because nobody else
is doing it, perhaps yes, because you would be the world leader in the

4. "Is the proposed research feasible, well planned and cost
effective?" (This depends on what line of research you are following,
the investigative tools you are using, and the timeframe to execute the
research.  Feasibility can differ in the eyes of different beholders.)

5. "Is the science case not compelling, not original, flawed, too
expensive or premature?" (This is where the subjectivity comes in, and
where I suspect the giggle factor could potentially be a negative
factor.  So-called scientific experts, judges or review panels are
often times anything but objective (they are human after all).  I've
seen first-hand some who only focus on what is closest to their
specialty; they don't want to take the time to understand things they
are outside of their normal experiences.  It's the 'Go with what you
know" mindset that causes new things to be rejected, and I can only
imagine the effect of social norm biases on their decisions.)

> I remember when you thought there was a possibiliy of a META project
> signal detection from Saturn. I did not think you were some crazy looney
> person. I thought you made a good point, but there was no followup ...
> no continuing evidence to be suspicious about or backup the observation.
> There just wasn't!

Al, Eric at [email protected] confirmed to me after I contacted Berkeley via
e-mail (at that time) that one of their top candidate WU's was within
0.5 degrees of Saturn.  He also said that they had not looked at their
database for other coincidences with planets and that he was
considering going back to look into the database for other coincidences
(but I never heard from him again and it has been a few years now).  So
there were two strong candidates at Saturn,  from two different SETI
projects, and one of them with a very nice gaussian curve, not just the
one from META.

> I have over 160,000 [email protected] WU results that I have
> archived. I have looked at that data too. There just isn't any obvious
> or firm evidence pointing to an excess of signals from the planets or
> even the sun (which I was convinced would be the case, but it wasn't!).
> Nothing. If there were I would have raised a flag, jumped up and down,
> and caused a ruckess (sp?), but nothing, nada, zilch!

I jumped up and down and sent everybody an e-mail, some scientists
found it interesting, but except for this newsgroup, it was alot like
screaming in outer space, no effect.   (For those unfamiliar with this
SETI Candidates at Saturn business, rather than rehash four year old
threads here, consider doing a google search in newsgroups under
sci.astro.seti for "jason meta" )

> My data samples is
> not that great however even though it spans almost 7 years of time.
> [email protected] has billions of WU files however. Why don't you lobby and ask
> them to see if there are any excess hits coming from the planets? This
> would require funding! I'd do it (the work) myself (for free) but looks
> like I'd have to wait until I to see their seticlassic data made
> available to the public. I don't have enough money myself to try to fund
> such an effort myself now. It would be viewed as "fringe science" anyway
> (like betting on the extreme long shot horse) and extremely difficult to
> get funding from NASA or some other scientific institution as a result.
> "Scientific merit" is the key Jason, not "giggle factor" ...

I definitely highly appreciate P. Backus' and your (A. Aburto) opinions
on this.  However, in my view, aside from education, other factors
affecting someones judgement as to what has 'scientific merit' are
personal experience, subjectivity, social pressure and norms.  There
are many who felt (and still feel) that cold fusion at greater than
breakeven power levels was possible (see  )  It is a
very desireable experimental result (I still root for them), and there
are many researchers who did work AFTER the failure of the first
announcement by Pons and Fleischmann in 1989.  However, to this day,
after some significant investment of time and money, there is still no
higher than breakeven cold fusion.  What has scientific merit is in the
eyes of the beholder (and is subject to their belief system and social
pressures).  Conversely, history is replete with examples of the
greatest-ever discoveries that many thought had no merit.

Jason H.

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