Editor's Note: On 16 July 1997, The Wall Street Journal published a letter by Guillermo Gonzales, a research astronomer at the University of Washington, titled "Nobody Here But Us Earthlings." In that article, Gonzales made a case for humankind's uniqueness in the universe. He ended by stating "We should not be asking: 'Are we alone?' We should be asking instead: 'Why are we alone?' " What follows is our response."Nobody Here But Us Earthlings" (WSJ, 16 July 1997) serves as a prime example of how two scientists can look at the same data, upon which they agree, and draw totally disparate conclusions. Dr. Gonzales states "it becomes obvious why we have not found any evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence" (emphasis added). I counter that the data shows only that we have detected no such evidence. As for why, there could be as many reasons for a lack of evidence as there are habitable planets orbiting Sun-like stars.
Any conclusion that we are alone in the Universe (Dr. Gonzales' null hypothesis) is a welcome gauntlet flung at the feet of those of us devoting our careers to SETI. It is axiomatic in science that you can never prove the negative . Rather, it falls to us to investigate the alternative hypothesis, by designing and conducting experiments to seek evidence of other life in the cosmos. That we have yet to succeed should surprise nobody -- it's only an eye-blink ago, by the cosmic clock, that we even learned how to detect radio waves. Not only are our electromagnetic searches for other life yet to scratch the surface, we haven't even felt the itch.
As computer power is continuing to double every year, our search sensitivity can do nothing but improve. A disciplined search will eventually lead us to one of two possible conclusions: that we are not alone in the Universe, or that we most likely are. Either possibility boggles the imagination.
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this page last updated 4 January 2003
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