Knowledge is Strength: Extraordinary Evidence Requires Extraordinary Funding (EEREF)
Imagine a question that is of great interest to the public and to authorities but scholars argue that it should be banned and ridicule peers who engage with it. Sounds like the Earth-centric theologians who persecuted Galileo Galilei four centuries ago? If so, we might feel relieved and argue that we came a long way since the middle ages through the age of enlightenment to modern science.
Not so. As of March 2023, mainstream scientists react to intriguing evidence about anomalous objects near Earth by banning the possibility that one or more of them might be of extraterrestrial technological origin.
To argue is one thing, but to repeat Sagan’s mantra that “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence” (ECREE) without seeking the evidence, is a circular argument or a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is akin to George Orwell’s Newspeak in his novel 1984, where the Party’s slogan is “Ignorance is strength.” The enlightened approach to intriguing evidence is to seek more evidence. That this requires action, not a flat dismissal, makes it unpopular.
My point is that “Extraordinary Evidence Requires Extraordinary Funding” (EEREF). Supersymmetry was an extraordinary claim for decades, but testing it required the investment of ten billion dollars in the Large Hadron Collider.
The scientific study of objects near Earth as potential extraterrestrial technological signatures receives no federal funding at this time. The committees in charge of allocating federal funds to space research are full of mainstream scientists who argue that they should minimize risks in order to save taxpayers money. But the reality is that taxpayers are fascinated by this question more than any other question funded by these committees.
Moreover, the U.S. Congress established last year the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) directed by Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick, under the Department of Defense and the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). It is the day job of these agencies to monitor the Earth’s atmosphere for suspicious objects and they would be the first to notice anomalies. When I attended a public event at the Washington National Cathedral in November 2021 alongside the DNI Avril Haines - who studied physics as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, Avril said while referring to Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP): “There’s always the question of ‘is there something else that we simply do not understand, that might come extraterrestrially?’”
A new poll this week, conducted by Professor Brian Keating from UCSD, showed that more than half of a thousand respondents believe that the first interstellar object, `Oumuamua, was of extraterrestrial technological origin. Obviously, scientific truth is not ruled by popular opinion and the scientific evidence here is inconclusive, but the fact that three of the known four interstellar objects (ISOs) appear anomalous, namely the meteors IM1 and IM2 in their high material strength and `Oumuamua in its non-gravitational acceleration without a visible cometary tail, is intriguing for those who maintain their childhood curiosity or beginner’s mind (Shoshin) of Zen Buddhism. This evidence is not intriguing for everyone. Some science journalists celebrated a Nature paper last week and chose to ignore a follow-up paper which demonstrated that the Nature paper violated energy conservation, in order “not to confuse their readers.”
Common sense suggests that if the public and the government define the study of UAP and ISOs as important, it is the civil duty of scientists to help them figure out the nature of these anomalous objects. How can academia, including the SETI community, push back against the curiosity-driven exploration of the nature of UAP and ISOs? Such pushback is not a relic of ancient history but the content of tweets by some scientists in recent days. This pushback is particularly puzzling given a recent poll conducted by Professor Elizabeth Stanway from the University of Warwick in the UK, which showed that 93% of UK astronomers (223 of 239 respondents) expressed an interest in science fiction, while 69% (164) stated that it had influenced their life or career choices.
Common sense is not commonplace when a subject touches a sensitive nerve in the human psyche. In this case, it is the arrogant notion that we are the smartest in the cosmos. It would surely be easiest for us to win the cosmic competition if we are alone.
The Galileo Project, funded by private donations, is engaged in the scientific study of UAP and ISOs as potential technological relics. The Galileo research team already assembled a functioning observatory on Harvard University property and is planning a Pacific Ocean expedition to retrieve relics from the first interstellar meteor, IM1. Its first collection of scientific papers — written half a year ago, will be made publicly available next month after being peer reviewed.
Just like the congressman who made anti-gay statements for years and after retirement confessed that he is gay, it is likely that the skeptics of today will turn into believers as soon as the Galileo Project will find indisputable evidence for extraterrestrial technological objects. Until then, the Galileo Project leadership faces the challenge of raising the extraordinary funds that would enable this extraordinary evidence based on the EEREF principle.
As I told students in my class last week: “Knowledge is strength. It allows us to adapt to the reality we all share.” This includes the question of whether there are smarter kids in our cosmic neighborhood.
Following a two-hour fireside chat that I attended last night at Lexington’s Cary Library, a kid from the audience asked me: “Do you think that extraterrestrials are smarter than we are?”, and I replied: “I sure hope so, because it would imply that we can learn from them and aspire to a better future than our past.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Avi Loeb is the head of the Galileo Project, founding director of Harvard University’s — Black Hole Initiative, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University (2011–2020). He chairs the advisory board for the Breakthrough Starshot project, and is a former member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and a former chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. He is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” and a co-author of the textbook “Life in the Cosmos”, both published in 2021. His new book, titled “Interstellar”, is scheduled for publication in August 2023.