Friday, April 30, 2010

Seth responds to Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking and Malevolent Aliens

On a recent TV show, famed physicist Stephen Hawking said that we should go easy in our attempts to interact with aliens, because – after all – any contacts would surely be with more advanced beings than ourselves, and if they came to Earth (or sent their robotic emissaries), the results could be bad news.

Hawking’s statement is certainly congruent with what we know of our own history. When the Spaniards landed in the New World, they decimated the local culture. Even when intentions were thoroughly benign, such as when Captain Cook flitted about the islands of the South Pacific in the late 18th century, the result was a dramatic change in lifestyle for the natives.

Clearly, the historic precedent for a visit by another culture is riddled with disaster.

Still, we needn’t fear that any aliens we hear with our SETI experiments will scramble their spacecraft and head for our planet. And that’s because they won’t know we’ve tuned them in. Putting it bluntly, SETI poses neither danger nor cause for worry.

However, suppose we send messages to the stars, either by answering a detected signal, or simply broadcasting inquiries to space? Is there danger in that? Might the aliens – whose mindset we cannot accurately guess – be likely to wreak havoc and destruction on our planet?

That seems a priori fairly unlikely. After all, the receiving civilization would be far more advanced than ours (at least from a technical standpoint), and random destruction hardly sounds like something they would find useful. But no matter what your opinion of the alien mind-set may be, worrying about broadcasting our presence is silly – after all, we’ve been transmitting signals for more than a half-century. Our TV, our radars … even the light from our cities. The truth is out there.

Such “leakage” signals would be hard to find, of course. But any society that could possibly be a threat – any society that could come here on an alien wilding expedition – would have telescopes and antennas far larger than our own. They could find the signals that we’ve been sending willy-nilly into the cosmos since the Second World War. So it hardly pays to worry about them. That horse has left the barn.

So here’s the bottom line, as I see it. The suggestion that we should keep mum … not just now, but forever … is, to put it mildly, unwarranted.

- Seth Shostak

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sylvia Earle to receive Green Book Award

Sylvia Earle, winner of the 2009 Ted Prize for her plan to create a global network of protected marine areas, will be celebrated again this week for her dedication to saving the world's oceans. On April 28th, the Stevens Center for Science Writings is awarding Earle the 2010 Green Book Award in recognition of her commitment to raising awareness of our imperiled marine environment in such books as "Exploring the Deep Frontier," "Sea Change," and "The Atlas of the Ocean."

You can hear our interview with Sylvia Earle in this week's encore presentation of Seas the Moment.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

First Oxygen-Free Animals Found

A recent BBC story highlights the lengths to which life will go to survive in extreme environments. Three species of Loriciferans were discovered living in the sediment of the L'Atalante basin in the Mediterranean Sea. The basin is over 2 miles deep and almost entirely depleted of oxygen. Professor Danovaro, who heads Italy's Association of Limnology said the discovery represents a "tremendous adaptation for animals which evolved in oxygenated conditions".

Hear more about extreme living environments in this week's show Habitats Not For Humanity.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Seth's Crawl Space

It’s always a surprise to go digging in Seth’s crawl space – who knows what we’ll find! In this cramped never-never land, tucked between piles of spilled cat litter and old clarinet reeds, we stumble upon the language of whales … the future of technology … the secret to plant power … and the answer to whether photographic memory exists. Tune in, find out and, grab a broom, will you?

Listen to individual segments here:
Part 1 - Larry Squire
Part 2 - Oliver Morton
Part 3 - Fred Sharpe
Part 4 - Computer History Museum
Part 5 - Nathan Myhrvold

Seth's Crawl Space - Larry Squire

Part 1 of Seth's Crawl Space, featuring Larry Squire, professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and a scientist at the V.A. Medical Center in San Diego.

Seth's Crawl Space - Oliver Morton

Part 2 of Seth's Crawl Space, featuring Oliver Morton, journalist and author of Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet.

Seth's Crawl Space - Fred Sharpe

Part 3 of Seth's Crawl Space, featuring Fred Sharpe, Executive Director and Principal Investigator at the Alaska Whale Foundation.

Seth's Crawl Space - Computer History Museum

Part 4 of Seth's Crawl Space, featuring a trip to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

Seth's Crawl Space - Nathan Myhrvold

Part 5 of Seth's Crawl Space, featuring Nathan Myhrvold, CEO of Intellectual Ventures.

Monday, April 5, 2010

When Antiscience Kills

In this week's show, Phil Plait discusses the story of the ADE 651, a purported bomb detecting device used by Iraqi security forces and deemed useless by the U.S. military. It is a small hand-held wand with an antenna and is used at hundreds of security checkpoints in Iraq. “I don’t believe there’s a magic wand that can detect explosives,” said Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe Jr., who oversees Iraqi police training for the American military. “If there was, we would all be using it. I have no confidence that these work.” Iraq has purchased more than 1500 of the devices for tens of thousands of dollars each.

Read Phil Plait's article at Bad Astronomy
Read the New York Times article

Skeptic Check: Conspiracy!

The Apollo moon landing is a hoax! 9-11 was an inside job! Our government keeps alien bodies racked and stacked in an underground bunker! And as for the evidence … well … put on your tin hats, folks, we’re going deep, deep, deep into conspiracy with journalist David Aaronovitch.

Also – the truth is out there, but it’s ignored. Jonah Lehrer on why scientists can overlook evidence.

Plus, money for meters and your spooks for free: ghost detectors hit the market.

And Hollywood Reality Check and Phil Plait on bogus bomb detectors.

It’s Skeptic Check… but don’t take our word for it!

Listen to individual segments here:
Part 1 - Brains on Vacation
Part 2 - David Aaronovitch
Part 3 - Ghost Detector
Part 4 - Hollywood Reality Check
Part 5 - Jonah Lehrer

Conspiracy! - Brains on Vacation

Part 1 of Skeptic Check: Conspiracy!, featuring Phil Plait, astronomer, keeper of, and author of Death from the Skies!: These Are the Ways the World Will End....

Conspiracy! - David Aaronovitch

Part 2 of Skeptic Check: Conspiracy!, featuring David Aaronovitch, columnist with the Times newspaper of London and author of Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History.

Conspiracy! - Ghost Meter

Part 3 of Skeptic Check: Conspiracy!, featuring Matt Lowry, high school physics teacher and keeper of the Skeptical Teacher web site, lamenting the sale of "ghost meters" by an otherwise reputable science supply distributor.

Conspiracy! - Hollywood Reality Check

Part 4 of Skeptic Check: Conspiracy!, featuring Jim Underdown, Executive Director, Center for Inquiry, West – Los Angeles. A substantial reward for the demonstration of paranormal abilities attracts a bevy of interesting characters.

Conspiracy! - Jonah Lehrer

Part 5 of Skeptic Check: Conspiracy!, featuring Jonah Lehrer, contributing editor at Wired magazine and author of How We Decide.