UFO True Believer vs SETI Scientist

During the Q&A session after a talk given by Dr. Jill Tarter of SETI in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this week, a member of the audience took the microphone and revealed himself to be a UFO true believer by asking whether SETI could “actually, practically, even if unwittingly, an agent of disinformation” when it comes to the “mountain of factual evidence of contact” with aliens “throughout time, across space.”

The UFO news website Open Minds reports this as a “confrontation” and talks about “accusations” but really, it was a polite (if misguided) question to which Dr. Tarter gave a reasoned and reasonable reply. No confrontation happened, as you can see here:

I’ve spent a lot of time debating with conspiracy theorists over the years, and as the gentleman in the video demonstrates, they really do believe they have all the evidence on their side. It’s not just that they believe they know they are right about UFO sightings, alien contact and abductions, they actually believe that governments and other powerful forces are actively working against them to prevent the truth about UFOs and aliens from becoming public.

I’ve been call dumb, I’ve been called a paid agent for the government, and I’ve been called one the “sheeple” so many times that I’ve come to loathe the word, but as much as I listen to their arguments, I hear nothing new. When the evidence is lacking, it’s the government’s fault for burying it. When the arguments are lacking, it’s the skeptic’s fault for not seeing the obvious. It’s never the true believer’s fault for failing to come up with the extraordinary evidence to support their extraordinary claims.

It’s not Dr. Tarter’s job to persuade the unpersuadable. She has spent almost 40 years of her life in pursuit of scientific evidence for extraterrestrial life. It would be the culmination of her life’s ambition should evidence of alien life be discovered, even if it was in the form of little grey aliens buzzing around our atmosphere in faster-than-light ships, abducting people and mutilating cows. She might be a little irritated by their shenanigans, but she would get over it soon enough once actual contact had been made.

So, to accuse Dr. Tarter of being part of a UFO cover-up, even if unwittingly, is not only silly, it’s insulting, since it calls into question everything she has done in her long career. Clearly, she was too much of a professional to show irritation at such a dumb question, which is why Open Minds had to sex up the exchange for their article, but it must have been galling  to stand there and listen to someone telling her that almost everything she had  worked on in her career was based on a lie.

I doubt I would have been as cool about it in her place.

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