A map of the so-called Martian canals, an optical illusion witnessed by astronomers in the late 19th century. Image courtesy NASA.
Managing Editor Keith A. Spencer writes in Jacobin how scientists and businessmen project our economic system onto the stars:
Have you ever seen an alien? Scientists haven’t, but that hasn’t stopped them from speculating that imperialist extraterrestrials could be on the way.
With the exception of one inconclusive blip in 1977, we haven’t detected signs of alien intelligence. Having scoured our solar system with probes and turned up empty, extraterrestrial (ET) signal searchers now survey the galaxy on the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, where photons can traverse interstellar distances and arrive on Earth unscathed.
The most prominent and well-funded organized effort to search radio bands is led by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, a private nonprofit foundation that borrows time on radio telescopes or scans the skies using their own arrays.
While the SETI Institute has been actively searching for forty years, there have been few attempts to send out focused radio signals of our own towards presumptive inhabited worlds. This poses a conundrum: why should humans expect aliens to send out focused “hello” signals of their own, if we do not do it ourselves? This idea, that we should send out messages in addition to listen for them, is known as “Active SETI.” Continue reading →
In considering the political firestorm in Venezuela, it may be best to start with a quantitative measure of populist will: elections. The government of Hugo Chávez—and the associated Bolivarian Revolution, more movement than literal revolution—came to be in 1999, following the elections of 1998 in which Chávez won a majority, 56%, of the national vote. In second place came the center-right candidate, Salas Römer, with 40% of the vote. Chávez’s margin of victory was particularly impressive given Venezuela’s abundance of political parties.
After less than a year of governance, the Chávez administration called a public referendum to approve the creation of a Constitutional Assembly, which would be charged with the task of drafting a new constitution to replace the outdated and outstanding one written 39 years prior by rural and business elites, and engineered to preserve their interests. The referendum passed with an unprecedented 88% of the vote. Continue reading →