Nautilus

If ET Calls, Think Twice About Answering

Valencia, Spain, Oct. 6, 2006. After four long days, the 57th International Astronautical Congress draws to a close, and two prominent members of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Permanent Committee decide to resign in protest.

One is Michael Michaud, an author and former U.S. diplomat who helped establish the first SETI protocol—a set of rules, published in 1989, that delineate what to do should we detect an extraterrestrial signal. He sought to create a second protocol on whether SETI should move to a new phase. Instead of just passively listening for signals from other civilizations, should we send out a signal of our own? The question roiled the small, cerebral, and normally collegial community of SETI scientists. “That gradually got testy,” Michaud says. “People got confrontational. The tone of the debate deteriorated, and by the 2000s it was clear that we did

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