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The title of this chapter is somewhat ambiguous. One wag of my acquaintance assumed that I would be speculating on ET’s future financial prospects. In fact I intend only to suggest something far more modest: namely, that my day job - SETI - is not wasting its time. I will opine that there is good reason to believe that the implications of Professor DeVore’s views - that we will never hear an alien transmitter because intelligence is rare - are wrong.

I am sanguine about the outlook for cosmic sentience, and I note that the public shares my view. Indeed, the public is more sanguine. Surveys taken since the 1960s have repeatedly demonstrated that a large fraction of the American populace not only believes that the aliens are out there, but that they’re here as well, buzzing the countryside or occasionally abducting unsuspecting folk for salacious experiments. There are many reports that bolster this belief, including fifty years’ of UFO sightings, abductions, implants, and the bizarre phenomenon known as crop circles. The last are particularly intriguing, not only because some people continue to believe in their extraterrestrial nature even after a pair of British gentlemen admitted to having constructed the first circles with boards and ropes, but also in the light of the extraordinary motivation required of aliens to indulge in such agrarian graffiti projects.

But the point is that, if the public is to be believed, I could have settled this debate by bringing a few alien bodies to the conference. The general populace might regard that as both obvious and easy (although it would probably incur the wrath of the feds). But let’s admit that the present debate will not be settled by popular vote. The public may believe that proof of alien intelligence has been freeze-dried and stacked up by nefarious government agents. Few scientists would agree, and in any case, I have no cosmic cadavers at hand.

Contributed by: Dr. Seth Shostak

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A Rare Intelligence?
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Seth Shostak

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