“Why can’t we all just get along?” says President Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s ‘Mars Attacks!’
It is surely a perfect metaphor for the often hostile division between those who advocate the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and the UFOlogists who assert that UFO reports are evidence of extraterrestrial visitations.
How can it be that both of these groups misunderstand each other? Or is it wilful? Are their respective world-views simply incompatible?
Having read widely (and critically) in both fields, I would like to suggest some selected reading for both sides, starting with the SETI books UFOlogists should read.
Contact with Alien Civilizations: Our Hopes and Fears about Encountering Extraterrestrials by Michael Michaud
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you were only ever going to read one book about SETI and its implications, it should be this one. There are some fascinating examples of SETI false alarms, and caution urged with regards to unilateral Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI). With Michaud’s background as a diplomat, this makes for sober reading.
SETI’s scientific technicalities can seem bewildering but Beyond Contact is a user-friendly guide for the lay reader. It also clarifies the enormity of the task when attempting to detect potential communications across time and space. For those who wish to criticise SETI, it’s important to have a thorough overview of the enormity and complexity of the task.
Since the demise of Carl Sagan, Shostak has become the popular face of SETI. With wit and charm he describes contemporary SETI at the sharp end; from the tedium of long vigils scanning the scopes, to heart-stopping moments of false alarms. And he delicately attempts to tackle the belief system of UFO proponents. If you want to understand how SETI is done today, this is an engaging read that doesn’t blind you with science.
Why search for ET at all? Astronomer and Historian Dick gives a rich background to the scientific and cultural ideas that have informed the search. He posits a universe destined to be biological, and some of it intelligent. The chapter on UFOs is better than one will find in many dedicated UFO journals. Dick is currently Secretary of METI International.
The late Albert Harrison offers a fascinating psychological and sociological context for SETI, which asks why we’re searching as much as it considers the search itself. The perspective of the so-called ‘soft sciences’ had been missing from the debate until this book was published. Like Michaud (above), Harrison contemplates the ramifications of actual contact between us and Them, with fascinating insights into the conspiracy theories of government ‘cover-ups’.