Life on Earth Is a Sketchy Guide to an Alien Civilization

Caleb Scharf: Many scientists are actively looking for ways to incorporate even the tiniest hints or clues that come from new data or insights to see if we can’t come up with statistically meaningful statements about the likelihood of life elsewhere — be it microbes or civilizations. In that sense (and I count myself in this category), we are the kids shaking the nicely wrapped presents to see if we can tell what we’re getting. The problem is that the wrapping may not come off for a long time, and that all of our guesses rest on fundamental assumptions — on prior knowledge or expectations that are themselves possibly highly biased and unusual.

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