[extropy-chat] Aliens Cause Global Warming

Terry W. Colvin fortean1 at mindspring.com
Fri Feb 20 16:27:53 UTC 2004

< http://www.crichton-official.com/speeches/speeches_quote04.html >

Aliens Cause Global Warming

A lecture by Michael Crichton
Caltech Michelin Lecture
January 17, 2003

      My topic today sounds humorous but unfortunately I am serious. I am
going to argue that extraterrestrials lie behind global warming. Or to speak
more precisely, I will argue that a belief in extraterrestrials has paved
the way, in a progression of steps, to a belief in global warming. Charting
this progression of belief will be my task today.

      Let me say at once that I have no desire to discourage anyone from
believing in either extraterrestrials or global warming. That would be quite
impossible to do. Rather, I want to discuss the history of several
widely-publicized beliefs and to point to what I consider an emerging crisis
in the whole enterprise of science-namely the increasingly uneasy
relationship between hard science and public policy.

      I have a special interest in this because of my own upbringing. I was
born in the midst of World War II, and passed my formative years at the
height of the Cold War. In school drills, I dutifully crawled under my desk
in preparation for a nuclear attack.

      It was a time of widespread fear and uncertainty, but even as a child
I believed that science represented the best and greatest hope for mankind.
Even to a child, the contrast was clear between the world of politics-a
world of hate and danger, of irrational beliefs and fears, of mass
manipulation and disgraceful blots on human history. In contrast, science
held different values-international in scope, forging friendships and
working relationships across national boundaries and political systems,
encouraging a dispassionate habit of thought, and ultimately leading to
fresh knowledge and technology that would benefit all mankind. The world
might not be avery good place, but science would make it better. And it did.
In my lifetime, science has largely fulfilled its promise. Science has been
the great intellectual adventure of our age, and a great hope for our
troubled and restless world.

      But I did not expect science merely to extend lifespan, feed the
hungry, cure disease, and shrink the world with jets and cell phones. I also
expected science to banish the evils of human thought---prejudice and
superstition, irrational beliefs and false fears. I expected science to be,
in Carl Sagan's memorable phrase, "a candle in a demon haunted world." And
here, I am not so pleased with the impact of science. Rather than serving as
a cleansing force, science has in some instances been seduced by the more
ancient lures of politics and publicity. Some of the demons that haunt our
world in recent years are invented by scientists. The world has not
benefited from permitting these demons to escape free.

      But let's look at how it came to pass.

      Cast your minds back to 1960. John F. Kennedy is president, commercial
jet airplanes are just appearing, the biggest university mainframes have 12K
of memory. And in Green Bank, West Virginia at the new National Radio
Astronomy Observatory, a young astrophysicist named Frank Drake runs a two
week project called Ozma, to search for extraterrestrial signals. A signal
is received, to great excitement. It turns out to be false, but the
excitement remains. In 1960, Drake organizes the first SETI conference, and
came up with the now-famous Drake equation:

      N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL

      Where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the
fraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of
supporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fi is the
fraction where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fraction that
communicates; and fL is the fraction of the planet's life during which the
communicating civilizations live.

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"Only a zit on the wart on the heinie of progress." Copyright 1992, Frank Rice

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA) < fortean1 at mindspring.com >
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