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Should governments provide funds for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence?

Photo of the Lovell Telescope

The Lovell Telescope was used during the SETI Institute’s Project Phoenix.
(Courtesy: Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester)

By James Dacey

Are we alone in the universe? It’s the age-old question that took on a whole new significance once we had built the tools to transmit and receive radio waves across interstellar distances. With the advent of radio telescopes, we had finally acquired the faculties to listen for the signs of an alien race trying to make contact. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence – better known as SETI – took a giant leap forwards in 1984, when the SETI Institute was founded in California. This institute is the nerve centre of SETI activities and it is funded almost entirely from private sources.

But while SETI activities have been strongly associated with the US, the movement has been international since its outset. Here in the UK, perhaps the most significant contribution has probably been the country’s involvement in Project Phoenix, which between 1998 and 2003 used the 76 m Lovell Telescope (pictured above) at Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester.

It seems that the desire among British scientists to search for aliens is still alive and well, as a bunch of academics has recently set up the UK SETI Research Network. The group held its first formal activity last Friday (5 July), during three SETI sessions at this year’s National Astronomy Meeting (NAM2013) at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

“We hope that the existence of the sessions will excite interest in people in the UK astronomical community, who have been thinking about SETI, to contribute their work,” it reads on the group’s webpage. The group also hopes that its activities can bring a greater understanding of SETI that could justify the allocation of a small fraction of the UK astronomy budget.

We want to know what you think about this. Do you think governments should provide funds for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence? Please share your thoughts on the issue by posting a comment below this article.

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  1. Mario Enrique

    Of course we must, mainly because two rationales:

    1.- Every research always come useful byproducts out

    2.- Mankind must be always aware, in advance, what is out there.

    To be an ever lasting naive and silly beings is not a good idea to remain forever.

  2. Mark Bales

    Better to educate all of the people of the country, to raise its ability, nationwide, to elevate civilization.

  3. Arend van Rossum

    I agree with Mario and curiosity must be satisfied.

  4. John Kert

    In view of recently finding planets that could sustain some form of life, and the probable abundance such planets in our galaxy and universe, has to motivate us to look for intelligent life at least in our galaxy.
    Our governments should sustain activities like SETI working together with private support.

    John Kert

  5. Michael Lerman

    Our galaxy is full with wandering planets; the probability of intelligent beings on some of them is quite high. In the very near future we’ll know this. Michael Lerman, Ph.D., M.D.

  6. Dileep V. Sathe

    I think we have to care for welfare of those on our mother planet, Earth, – including money coming from tax-payers. Even if extra terrestrial intelligence is detected in the long run, making fruitful communications with those people and bringing useful, required material from those remote places is going to be very difficult. So, I think, funding SETI should be at the bottom of priority list.

  7. Of course governments should fund research on extra-terrestrial intelligence. This is one of the most fundamental questions in science. A silly question. Not only is the purely scientific interest of the question very great, the practical consequences of a discovery in this field are also very great, possibly even deciding the future of the human species. Not to study this would truly be loony.

  8. NO. SETI is a waste of money. It’s chance of finding life in the next 20 years is very very small. In 20 years we will have the technology to do what they did in a fraction of the time. Why not save a ton of money and do the search when we actually have the tools available for success.

  9. Edward Kyle

    Why should we encourage specific governments to step in and assume some proprietary role over any information we might obtain? Look at the position an otherwise liberal U.S. administration has taken about personal information.

    On the other hand, I could perhaps see some sort of outlay from an international organization like UNESCO.

    It’s certainly _not_ a waste of money. The costs for a concerted global SETI should come in at a tiny fraction of programs at CERN. Waiting for new technologies isn’t an especially persuasive argument. We’ve been promised all kinds of breakthroughs in the past that were not forthcoming for one reason or another.

  10. Stewart Benzie

    I doubt advanced extraterrestrial civilizations exist. They most likely self- destruct, soon after the realization that life is meaningless. Government funds could be better exploited, maybe on our own exit plan.


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