Date: Tue Nov 09 1993 16:32:00
From: SHEPPARD GORDON
Subj: Drake book review
AUTHOR DELIVERS INSIGHTS INTO LIFE SPENT IN SEARCH OF EXTRATERRESTRIALS
IS ANYONE OUT THERE? Frank Drake and Dava Sobel (Delacorte Press; $22)
"From a distance of a hundred yards at twilight, you might almost
mistake them for human. They'll have their heads at the tops of
their bodies, I suspect, and their eyes in their heads, not far
from their mouths. I think they'll walk on two legs, too, as we do,
but I suppose (they'll) have four arms instead of two. Two just
aren't enough, as far as I'm concerned. Four makes for a much
The author of those words is neither an unidentified flying
object buff nor a hack writer for supermarket tabloids. He's
astronomer Frank Drake, who invented the Search for Extra
Terrestrial Life -- dubbed with the acronym "SETI" -- when he
directed Project OZMA in 1960. But while Drake fully expects we
will contact intelligent alien life forms before the 21st century
begins, he doesn't expect we'll ever see E.T. strolling through a
"Many individuals, knowing of my dedication to the search for
extraterrestrial life, expect me to be receptive to the UFO idea,"
he writes, but "I do not believe that UFOs are alien spacecraft."
Drake's skepticism not only includes UFOs and those who claim
contact with aliens -- "not once has any reported contact produced
some new, previously unknown fact . . . that we could verify" --
but encompasses science fiction as well. "Captain Kirk and Mr.
Spock lied to us. The energy required to visit another star
prohibits even the most advanced civilizations from making such a
Instead of visiting us, "They are going to talk to us, long
distance, by radio. I think they will agree that it doesn't pay to
transport things through space as long as they can transport
information." Radio waves, says Drake, are "the most economical
way" to send information.
A Cornell graduate and ex-Navy electronics officer, Drake found
himself a radio, rather than optical, astronomer by chance. Only
he, at Harvard's fledgling radio astronomy facility, could "make
the machines work."
Although Project OZMA was unsuccessful -- the one seemingly
intelligent signal received during 200 hours of listening
apparently came not from an alien civilization but from a passing
airplane -- interest in SETI grew steadily. With Dava Sobel's help,
Drake takes readers on a fascinating "tour" of the three decades
Part autobiography and part SETI history, "Is Anyone Out
There?" intertwines Drake's career, the growth of radio astronomy
and the evolution and current state of SETI. It also examines the
problems and hazards of both interplanetary travel and what might
be called "the science of politics."
Thanks to Sobel's writing skills, "Is Anyone Out There?" is no
dry recitative, but a warm, witty and readily understandable look
at a man and a program whose effect upon all our lives in only just
beginning to be understood.