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SETI talk leads to confrontation over nature of extraterrestrial life (Video)

A lecture given by SETI scientist, Dr. Jill Tarter at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia on Monday night October 27th saw some uncomfortable moments when an audience member confronted the celebrated astronomer with notions that the organization was involved in a cover-up of what he thought was the reality of an extraterrestrial presence on planet Earth. SETI is an acronym for a group of radio astronomers meaning: The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence.

The question, which was actually more of a statement offered by an audience member, follows:

Thank you very much Dr. Tarter for your presentation. What do you say about the proposition that, SETI as a large scale and serious scientific enterprise, producing scant and ambiguous evidence of intelligent life… is actually disregarding the mountain of factual evidence of contact that’s staring us in the face at every hand throughout time, across space. That SETI is actually, practically, even if unwittingly, an agent of disinformation.

Dr. Tarter responded:

Well, what I say to that is what I do actively and that is, I am on the board of the Center for Inquiry, and I take a look at data that are provided to me as potential evidence of this sort of contact that you’re talking about… and what I can say to you, is that throughout time, and in my experience, there are no data that stand up to the scrutiny that have the quality that a scientist requires for validation. And it’s the old Carl Sagan saying that ‘extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.’ And there are great stories out there, but what’s been missing today is the evidence. And so if you have some that you can show me, or my colleagues, we’re interested in what the answer to the question is, if that’s the way to find an answer then we’ll accept that, but, so far, that evidence does not justify the claims that you just made.

The question was the first one posed to Dr. Tarter in a Q&A session following her presentation about SETI and the scientific search for life elsewhere in the universe.

Dr. Jill Tarter speaking at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Credit: Shepherd Johnson)
Dr. Jill Tarter speaking at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Credit: Shepherd Johnson)

There have been longstanding disagreements between SETI and the UFO community regarding speculation about extraterrestrial life. Yet despite these disagreements there are some overlaps where the opposing viewpoints meet. The two sides agree that we are not alone in the universe.

This lecture was undoubtedly attended by individuals interested in the UFO question, besides the individual who accused SETI of a cover-up, Richard Lang was also in attendance. Richard Lang is one of the founders of MUFON’s Star Team effort, a rapid response team sent out to investigate alleged UFO sightings. After the presentation Lang stated that he felt in agreement with the individual who made the accusations against SETI.

From time to time, SETI has used the public’s interest in aliens to get its message out. The sponsor for Dr. Tarter’s lecture is the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) whose Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia is the location of SETI’s first efforts to use radio telescopes to try to detect extraterrestrial signals from other civilizations. The NRAO was selling logo items with the classic “gray alien” image in the lobby of the Paramount Theater during Dr. Tarter’s lecture surely in an effort to relate to the public. Another SETI scientist, Dr Seth Shostak, has also appeared on popular television, programs such as ‘UFO Hunters’ and ‘Ancient Aliens,’ which present decidedly nonscientific speculation about earthly contact with extraterrestrials.

National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) alien hoodie on sale at the event. (Credit: Shepherd johnson)
National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) alien hoodie on sale at the event. (Credit: Shepherd johnson)

Regardless of the disputes between SETI and UFO enthusiasts, Dr. Tarter gave an extremely educational, interesting and thought-provoking talk spanning topics from SETI’s foundation to the current scientific advancements in the search for life elsewhere in the universe. Perhaps best known as the inspiration for the lead character portrayed by Jodie Foster in the film adaption of Carl Sagan’s novel ‘Contact’, Dr. Tarter quoted one of the famous lines from the film, “If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” She also discussed historic technological radio astronomy instruments such as the Jansky antenna and various other current efforts by international teams determined to follow SETIs lead and search for extraterrestrial life from locations across the globe.

Dr. Jill Tarter at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Credit: Shepherd Johnson)
Dr. Jill Tarter at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Credit: Shepherd Johnson)

Dr. Tarter explained the unimaginable measure of the effort to find life in the universe and where it stands today, “It’s a very large cosmos out there. There’s a lot of places to look, a lot of different signals to look for, and so far over 50 years, I can make a calculation to astronomical accuracy that says, you know? If the volume that we need to search to find the analog of Earth technology were set equal to the volume of the oceans on Earth then we so far have sampled about one 8 ounce glass. That’s not a lot.”

She continued, “We are daunted by the magnitude of this search, but we are also incredibly inspired, because the tools that we use are getting exponentially better every day.”

Dr. Tarter was presented with an award, the 2014 Jansky Lectureship, at the beginning of her talk, which is titled: Are We Alone? Searching for Intelligent Life Beyond Earth. This is the 49th annual such award and the lecture series continues with talks by Dr. Jill Tarter in Green Bank, West Virginia on October 30, 2014 and in Socorro, New Mexico on November 7, 2014.

Shepherd Johnson

Photographer, researcher, and writer living in central Virginia. Articles and photos have appeared in Open Minds, Fate, Huffington Post, History Channel, and CBS News.

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  1. Looking for radio signals (at least those used for communication) makes about as much sense as looking for evidence of telegraph poles on other planets. Considering many star systems out there may be millions (billions?) of years older than our own planet, certainly any advanced civilization would have long ago moved past using modulated radio frequency as a form of communication.

    So at best SETI seems to be a big distraction, something the establishment can point to as proof that they are taking the issue of intelligent alien life seriously while actually ignoring what is obvious to the majority of people on this planet – we are not alone and perhaps never have been. Another “Blue Book” white wash.

    Is someone afraid of us finding out something?

  2. Steven:
    2 quick ideas…

    1) Long after we have finished with using standard radio for communication, our narrow band transmissions will continue to travel for thousands of years. It would be reasonable to think the same would be true of another culture’s usage of radio and could thus be detected.

    2) Don’t you think that we, knowing that radio is an easily accessible technology and something easy to receive and decipher, would have at least some of our population continuing to broadcast transmissions in radio frequencies to let other sentient beings know of our existence if they haven’t yet reached the same communications protocol tech level? So that we could then communicate with them easily after broadcasting this amazing new communications tech to them?

    I think we would.

  3. JudgeX have you never considered that they may be farther along in evolution or farther behind us? Either way sending out our location is the wrong thing to do, you are just looking for trouble because we haven’t evolved enough where we would be able to handle contact. It a UFO landed on the white house lawn they would be captured and exterminated, that is the current human philosophy. Until that changes, there will be no contact, it’s really that simple and not hard to figure out.

  4. The chances of seeing the signal is almost nill know. 100 to 200 year window so to speak. If you apply what we know about compression / obfuscation. Based on Patent Pending 61/511,546. Simply put ability to catch a transmission of human existence in less than a minute. But hey keep looking, but are you looking in the right direction? -KD

  5. I really liked the tactful manner in which Dr. Tarter handled the accusation!. Goo to read/hear you lectures doc. hope the next one in NewMexico on the 7th of Nov.is more calm.

  6. SETI is a joke. It is a government run operation, a huge waste of money, and a total lie. The people who run it (Shostack, etc…) are 1st class liars, brainwashed, or they are the dumbest, most ignorant folks around. My money’s on the former. We have had contact since the beginning of us. All this will be exposed soon enough, and I’m sure they have their cave reservations when the doodoo hits the fan. Just sayin.

  7. SETI is not Govt funded AT ALL. NOT at ALL. Not even a little bit. They used to be. 20 years ago. But not anymore. Its entirely privately funded. Your entire argument is completely invalid, considering the Ufologists that do most of the covering up actually work for the Government.

  8. The Search Is Over!!!

    I’m reaching out to you with this imformation in hope you take the time to review my evidence…

    New Discovery in Physics finds Intelligent Lifeforms in Light from the Sun…

    My expieriment with light particles has discoverd some overwhelming evidence of andvanced intelligent lifeforms…

    My theory is simple…
    They’re using Quantum Entanglement to not only communicate but travel…
    By bending light with water through a concave lens, projecting the refracted light onto a metal surface and taking a digital image of the reflected light from the Sun I can see and read light particles…
    Only to find  material lifeforms looking back at me…

    This expieriment has been ongoing for over a year and I’m still receiving unexplained images…



    First article relating to this discovery.

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