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The Pitfalls of Searching for Alien Life

The threat of being written off as a kook can loom large for researchers, especially young ones. A lot of academics “won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole,” said Don Donderi, a retired associate professor of psychology at McGill University in Montreal who now teaches a non-credit course called “UFOs: History and Reality” in the school’s continuing education department. Avi Loeb says many discoveries have their roots in theories that were initially dismissed. He thinks open-mindedness keeps scientific inquiry moving forward, while shutting down new theories “reduces the efficiency of science.” NASA physicist Silvano Colombano maintains that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence has been limited by long-held assumptions and that the “general avoidance of the subject by the scientific community” means no one questions them. It’s a dilemma: scientists might look like cranks for posing questions about aliens, but we’ll also never know unless someone asks.

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