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  • Paul Davies' The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence gets its New York Times review:

    The scientific project known as SETI -- the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence -- began in earnest 50 years ago, when an astronomer named Frank Drake pointed a radio telescope toward a few nearby stars and began to sift through the aural static. A half-century later SETI has matured and remains a bustling enterprise, even though it no longer receives government financing and even though E.T., if he's out there, does not appear to have Earth on his speed dial.

    Paul Davies's new book, The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence, is a birthday card of sorts to SETI, an appraisal and acknowledgment of the interesting (if quixotic) work the project has done thus far. It's also a pointed wake-up call. Mr. Davies believes that SETI has grown conservative in its methods. He thinks we're looking for alien life in all the wrong places, and in all the wrong ways.

    Mr. Davies is a British-born physicist and cosmologist, an astral popularizer in the Carl Sagan mold. He's written more than 20 books, and has made BBC radio documentaries and Australian TV shows with titles like The Big Questions. He is the director of "Beyond, the Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science", at Arizona State University, which according to its Web site (beyond.asu.edu), seeks "to create new and exciting ideas that push the boundaries of research a bit 'beyond'."It looks like the kind of place where you wouldn't be embarrassed to put some Jean Michel Jarre space music on your iPod and get sort of heavy.

    More saliently, for the purposes of this book, Mr. Davies is chairman of the SETI Post-Detection Taskgroup, dedicated to thinking about how Earthlings might react, and how we should react, to a signal from beyond. He's an interesting and sometimes funny thinker on this topic...

    Mr. Davies's arguments in The Eerie Silence are multiple and many-angled, and difficult to summarize here. But among other things, he thinks we need to pay as much attention to Earth as we do to the cosmos. If we can find evidence that life began from scratch more than once on our own planet -- a "second genesis" -- it would vastly increase the odds that the universe is teeming with life. What's more, because it's as likely that alien civilizations visited Earth a million years ago as last month, they might have already been here, and we've missed the signs (more...)

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