Thorough Scientific Inquiry Into Extraterrestrial Life and Extrasolar Planets Term Paper

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¶ … Scientific Inquiry into Extraterrestrial Life and Extrasolar-Planets

In the early days of Ufology, researchers appeared too eager to verify sightings, which they then interpreted as evidence of 'nuts and bolts' spacecraft piloted by intelligent EBEs. Like numerous deities and other extraterrestrial visitors, EBEs are generally held to be concerned about human conduct. This concern was widely reported in the spate of UFO sightings after the Second World War and the beginnings of the nuclear age. Sensationalist reports merging with Hollywood fantasy led to a distancing of orthodox science from Ufology. Explanations offered by Ufologists frequently ignored Occam's razor, which is a rule against multiplying entities or - in general terms - a rule which says don't involve extraordinary hypotheses until the ordinary ones have been eliminated. The apparent resistance to falsification also contributed to Ufology's lack of credibility. However, modern Ufologists, such as Jenny Randles and Paul Fuller of the British Unidentified Flying Object Research Association (BUFORA), are strict adherents to Popperian-inspired scientific methodology, enthusiastically seeking to falsify EBE explanations and providing explanations which are acceptable to orthodox scientific opinion. In this respect the modern Ufologist is a debunker rather than a myth-spinning believer. Explanations in terms of atmospheric phenomena, hallucinations or hoaxes are generally expected from BUFORA publications. Over the years the BUFORA standpoint has been vindicated. So much 'confirmatory' evidence has been demonstrably unreliable. Photographs, which were once considered as hard evidence, are now held to have zero credibility because of the likelihood of fakes. With the advent of sophisticated image-manipulation computers whose work is undetectable, photographs unsupported by other reliable confirmatory evidence are unacceptable. Eye witness reports are also problematic as they are frequently influenced by psychological and cultural factors.

Background

In several publications Randles and Fuller (2000, 2001) reconstituted observational reports of UFOs as evidential support for the atmospheric vortex theories to account for the crop pattern phenomenon. Drawing on some of the remaining unexplained cases mentioned in the Condon Report and elsewhere, they offer a new meaning to these observations. Among the numerous examples of UFO data that could be reconstituted in support of an atmospheric theory is a BUFORA film, Fire in the Sky, which records a pulsating orange ball of light that drifted across the sky and was observed and filmed by a building surveyor, Peter Day, in Buckinghamshire on 11 January 1973. Other independent witnesses saw the same phenomenon, which has never been satisfactorily explained. Randles and Fuller (2001:96) cite this as evidence in support of Meaden's theory of descending atmospheric vortices, which was originally developed to explain formations and patterns in crop fields (an examination and criticism of various competing explanations of crop patterns is found in Lamb, 1994).

It is well recorded how over 95 per cent of UFOs turn out to be IFOs which eye witnesses at the time had not correctly identified. These are usually airplanes, weather balloons, birds, kites, space debris, hoaxes, vapor trails, stars, planets, satellites and lightning. The post-stealth bomber, Project Aurora, is currently cited as an explanation for many UFO sightings. Many of the unexplained residual 5 per cent are so because they have not been investigated. There might not have been enough information provided, they might have been reported too late, or not investigated because of a shortage of resources or lack of interest. There is also a well-documented phenomenon where eye witnesses color their observational reports with accounts of structured objects. These are often influenced by cultural expectations. Thus many eye witnesses described 'saucer shapes' after the media picked up the expression 'flying saucer' in 1947. But what is consistent in the raw data are reports of bright lights or fire glows, which may then be reported as fiery chariots, spaceships or flying saucers in the context of cultural expectations. This raw data, argue Randles and Fuller, could very well be of atmospheric origin and thus the remaining unexplained 5 per cent of UFO phenomena could be explained. They also attach an atmospheric meaning to the two great 'shining shields' in the sky which Alexander the Great reported when he tried to cross the river Jaxartes in 329 BC.

Despite the efforts of the BUFORA Ufologists there is a general aversion within the scientific community to UFO claims and requests to investigate them. Ufology is not regarded as a genuine branch of scientific inquiry and in general SETI scientists distance themselves from UFO hypotheses. But Ufology's main problem is not its lack of scientific method or alleged resistance to falsification. If that were the case, many other branches of science would be equally shunned. One problem with Ufology is that it has been so contaminated by fraud, misidentifications and sheer lunacy. Few scientists are willing to share platforms with cranks who claim to have had meetings with little green men from Venus, and claim to have travelled at many times the speed of light, or take seriously the evidence from witnesses who have been led by amateur interrogators.

Another obstacle to the recognition of Ufology as a genuine branch of scientific inquiry is the absence of predictability in an area of puzzlement where correct predictions would carry enormous influence. Evidence, by itself, can never carry the argument. What would happen, for example, if evidence of an EBE encounter were obtained, say, a widely acclaimed authentic photograph, video film, piece of wreckage, a few artifacts and scores of witnesses? It would very likely be dismissed and those concerned would spend the rest of their lives fighting off charges of dishonesty. They would not only be rejected by the scientific community but fellow Ufologists, with their own rival theories under threat, would resist their explanations. The only chance for acceptance would be a number of well-managed correct predictions with adequate pre-publicity.

Extra Solar Plants

At present it is difficult to maintain a distinction between planets and brown dwarfs. This is not merely a problem relating to observational techniques; it is bound up with theories concerning the origin and nature of both planets and brown dwarfs. Brown dwarfs are not as bright and as large as stars, and very often cannot be distinguished from gas giants. It is not clear whether they undergo the same formation process as giant planets, and they may arrive at similar ends via different processes. But if many of the alleged planets turn out to be brown dwarfs, then expectations of large numbers of ex-solar planets will have to be reduced. It is also likely that as more planets are detected with counter-claims that they are brown dwarfs, then the pressure to distinguish between them will itself generate both theories and observations which will reveal diversity with regard to their formation. It is safe to predict that several theories regarding the origins of planetary systems will be called into question during the next few years.

Already it is becoming apparent that very few of the observed ex-solar planets exhibit features resembling our solar system. Early in 2000 astronomers at the University of Oxford and the University of Hertfordshire in England discovered thirteen planets with masses less than Jupiter. What was significant about these planets is that they are free floating; they drift through space by themselves and do not orbit any star. Another feature of recently observed planets is that many of the giant planets are much closer to their stars than Mercury is to the Sun. Yet according to the prevailing model of planetary formation, small rocky planets, like Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, should occupy the hot inner regions, while the gas giants in the outer regions are able to grow large by virtue of their longer orbits which enable them to collect more material. The fact that so many of the gas giants recently observed have extremely close orbits around their stars may require further explanation. It appears that the detection of ex-solar planetary systems presents a significant challenge to the standard model of planet formation.

Major Unanswered Questions

One of the early critics of SETI was the evolutionary biologist, George Gaylord Simpson (1964), who appealed to the uniqueness of intelligent human life, maintaining that those attracted to bioastronomy were apparently unaware of the contingency of human life. Despite the millions of diverse forms of life, Homo sapiens only represent a tiny fraction of the possible forms it can take, argues Simpson. A different start and an existing species would be different. 'If the causal chain had been different Homo sapiens would not exist' (Simpson, 1964: 267). Evolution is not repeatable: 'No species or any larger group has ever evolved, or can ever evolve twice' (ibid.). The process of selection 'involves long chains of non-repetitive circumstances' (ibid.).

Gonzalo Munevar (2005) has raised questions concerning the assumption in SETI research that extraterrestrial intelligence must be linked to an advanced technology similar to ours. He argues that, while one cannot reject the possibility that an advanced technology could evolve elsewhere, there is nothing necessary about the assumed connection between intelligence and technology. With a different natural history,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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