I recently receive the following e-mail question:
Got a question for you: do you consider the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence to be science or pseudoscience? I recently got into an online debate and found myself in the minority because I maintained that the central thesis — that if intelligent life exists somewhere out there in the greater universe, we would be able to recognize it based upon patterns in radio waves — is not falsifiable.
It would seem to me that the only way to truly falsify SETI, we’d need to map quite literally every body in the universe and rule them out one by one and say that they don’t have anything there in terms of extraterrestrial intelligence. Unlike other complex hypotheses that are limited by available technologies, I’m not convinced that the task of mapping the universe is even possible, even with a sufficiently advanced technology.
I have received some version of this question many times over the years, always by people who are trying to be skeptical and apply what they have learned about the differences between science and pseudoscience. It therefore seems like an excellent opportunity to explore this important issue.comments (32)