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My reaction to ‘UN to appoint Earth contact for aliens’

Posted in Personal by Will on Monday, September 27th, 2010 ~ 12am

My response to this news follows this excerpt. Near as I could tell this article was first published by News.com.au of Australia (from a NewsCore feed), and it was later rewritten by the Telegraph in London. This is from the original article:

UN to appoint Earth contact for aliens
From: NewsCore, Sep 26, 2010 10:19AM

The United Nations was set today to appoint an obscure Malaysian astrophysicist to act as Earth’s first contact for any aliens that may come visiting.

Mazlan Othman, the head of the UN’s little-known Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa), is to describe her potential new role next week at a scientific conference at the Royal Society’s Kavli conference centre in Buckinghamshire.

She is scheduled to tell delegates that the recent discovery of hundreds of planets around other stars has made the detection of extraterrestrial life more likely than ever before – and that means the UN must be ready to coordinate humanity’s response to any “first contact”.

During a talk Othman gave recently to fellow scientists, she said: “The continued search for extraterrestrial communication, by several entities, sustains the hope that some day humankind will receive signals from extraterrestrials.

“When we do, we should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject. The UN is a ready-made mechanism for such coordination.”

Professor Richard Crowther, an expert in space law and governance at the UK Space Agency and who leads British delegations to the UN on such matters, said: “Othman is absolutely the nearest thing we have to a ‘take me to your leader’ person.”

My response:

It’s nice the post is being created (apparently), and better a person in a thinking profession rather than in politics. Yes, the United Nations is political, but it is much more than that — there are many caucasus on various subjects that UN members are able to go to, to expand their awareness. There’s good people there. So I’m fine with the UN trying to have a point-person for this anticipated contact event. (This public contact event I should say, since there’s been 50+ years of advance private contact already; possibly more than we even know.)

That said, ideally someone with philosophical, theological*, and diplomatic education would have the role. Her background doesn’t mention any of these qualifications, but I’ve only seen superficial bios of her thus far.

If she’s worked at this obscure UN post for more than 10 years (“appointed as the director of the Vienna-based United Nations Office for Outerspace Affairs in 1999“), hopefully she’s studied up on subjects beyond her physics degree (“graduated from the University of Otago with a PhD in physics“). I’d hope so. She’ll need much more than our science to speak for humankind. Indeed, a physicist would be more useful as a consultant. It isn’t something that qualifies a person to speak about humanity, or to assist in bridging human/alien relations with as little incident as possible.

Frankly I suspect the aliens, and by the aliens I am referring to the grey beings that have had a particular interest in us, would have their own plans for open contact that would involve many more people than one representative. But, concurrent plans are sensible.

*(Education in the history of theology, not a representative of a theology — there will be plenty of those stepping forward when the time comes)

UPDATE: “It sounds really cool but I have to deny it,” [Othman] said of the story.

UPDATE: The Economist believes she is lying:

The Guardian reports that Dr Othman said, “it sounds really cool but I have to deny it”. Dr Othman is quoted as saying she is attending a conference next week on how the world deals with “near-Earth objects”.

This cannot be correct unless Unoosa considers aliens to be near-earth objects (like comets and asteroids). The Guardian did not contact the author of the original piece. Yet it is a matter of record that Dr Othman is due to attend a meeting at the Royal Society next Monday about how science and society should respond to aliens. If she turns up to talk about near-Earth objects, she’ll be politely shown to the transporter chamber.

Dr Othman is attending a debate about political issues for the UN that arise from alien life. One of her co-panellists, Frans Von der Dunk, will discuss the role of the UN in representing humanity in “any inter-cosmic ‘discourse’”. The current version of the programme does not say exactly what Dr Othman is there to discuss, but it isn’t a bold voyage into the unknown to wonder whether she will be reprising her words to a similar meeting in January on the consequences of detecting aliens.

In a March version of that talk she wrote, when aliens arrive “we should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject. The United Nations are a ready-made mechanism for such coordination.” It is clear that she is proposing her agency, so why deny it? (“The UN’s secretive alien ambassador”, The Economist, 2010-09-28)

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