Where are they?
That question, asked by Enrico Fermi while at lunch with his friends Emil Konopinski, Edward Teller and Herbert York at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the early 1950s, has never been adequately answered since. In spite of how we wish to believe, we've yet to discover any concrete evidence either in the universe or closer to home on any of the planets and moons we've explored.
A number of theories have been advanced as to why we haven't found them yet (conspiracy theorists not withstanding). One of those theories is the it's dangerous to contact us. After reading today's news, and after watching the government shutdown and the idiots who have participated in it, I can see why any space-faring civilization would give us a very wide berth. Consider these two stories that underscore just how sorry a species we really are.
- The shutdown, while it may have been a "two week vacation" according to Senator McConnell, was devastating to American science across the board. From suspended clinical trials to space exploration (the James Webb Space Telescope) to research in the Antarctic that was allowed to essentially wind up being buried in the ice and snow, one major scientific project after another was damaged in ways that will be very difficult, if impossible to recover (the Antarctic studies are an example of this). The shutdown even put public health at risk when a salmonella outbreak occurred during the shutdown and was allowed to go essentially unchallenged during the shutdown.
- While not a part of the shutdown, poachers in Africa have been slaughtering elephants by the hundreds. The latest story is from Zimbabwe via the Telegraph. There, poachers mixed cyanide in the local waterholes during the dry season, so that the elephants would drink from them and die and then have their tusks removed by the poachers. Not only were adults killed, but so where the young. In addition to killing elephants, when the scavengers came to feed off the dead elephants, they too died, and included hyenas and lions. They've started to round up and prosecute the suspects, but that won't bring back the elephants. And it appears that the slaughter may be even higher than the initial 300.
The Government Shutdown Was Temporary, Its Damage to Science Permanent - http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=government-shutdown-was-temporary-the-damage-to-science-permanent
Are Republicans anti-science? In this case, yes - http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/18/republicans-antiscience-shutdown-cost
Uncle Sam and Safety – The Unseen and Long-Lasting Effects of the Government Shutdown - http://charlottesville.legalexaminer.com/uncategorized/uncle-sam-and-safety-the-unseen-and-long-lasting-effects-of-the-government-shutdown/
Cameroon increases elephant protection after mass slaughter (August 2012) - http://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?205913
Poachers kill 300 Zimbabwe elephants with cyanide (October 2013) - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/zimbabwe/10390634/Poachers-kill-300-Zimbabwe-elephants-with-cyanide.html