archive: Article on Jack Welch and his Berkeley SETI Chair

Article on Jack Welch and his Berkeley SETI Chair

Larry Klaes ( lklaes@bbn.com )
Tue, 01 Jun 1999 10:23:38 -0400

>From The SETI Institute:

Jack Welch, long-time SETI researcher and member of the
SETI Institute's Board of Directors, has recently been named
to a chair for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
at the University of California, Berkeley.

Jack has expertise in both electronics and astronomy, and
was Director of the Radio Astronomy Labs at U.C. Berkeley.
Much of Jack's research has been the mapping of galactic star
forming regions using Berkeley's Hat Creek interferometer near
Mt. Lassen in northern California.

Hat Creek is one possible site for the proposed 1hT telescope
that the Institute intends to build so that its SETI programs
can run 24 hours a day.

http://www.seti-inst.edu/welch.html

The Los Angeles Times article:

http://www.latimes.com/CNS_DAYS/990531/t000048915.html

To quote in part:

That's right, he's waiting for ET to get on the phone.

"We get that a lot," said Welch, who teaches astronomy
and electrical engineering. Smiling politely at "X-Files"
jokes, UFO questions and "Star Trek" references is
practically part of the job.

[I am amazed at how unprepared the human race still is
over the concept of extraterrestrial life by the constant
flow of jokes and negativity on the subject. A sure sign
of immaturity, ignorance, and uncomfortableness about it all.
Grow up, humanity - you were never the Center of the Universe.
Just one of many tiny little parts making up the whole of
existence.]

It's also part of his life. His wife, Jill Tartar [sp],
heads Project Phoenix for the Mountain View-based Search
for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (known as SETI) near San
Jose. She was the model for the astronomer played by Jodie
Foster in the 1997 film "Contact," which is based on a
story by Carl Sagan.

[This is only partly true, but it seems easier for the
media to explain things in quick, simple bites, as usual.
At least they didn't refer to Ellie Arroway as an astrologer
or an astronaut, both of which I have seen in the past.]

"We're willing to listen but we don't transmit," Golomb
said. "There might be a billion intelligent civilizations
out there with that same attitude. Advertising 'Here's a
good, hospitable planet' could be inviting pirates."

[I still think this is paranoid reasoning and the real
reason we haven't heard or seen anything yet is because
the Milky Way is so vast and so full of star systems
that it is absurd to think we are some major focus, no
matter how "lush" planet Earth may seem to us. We
certainly would not be attractive to an alien race that
lives in a Jovian type world. Plus, if some hostile
interstellar civilization wanted our planet, they could
easily do so and would have taken over by now, unless
they are still on their way. But what a vast amount of
resources, energy, and time to use for such a mission.]

With his appointment to the university's chair, Welch
can place even greater emphasis on one of his great
passions: Finding evidence that human beings are not alone
in the universe.

"What's important about this position is the recognition
that what we are working with is serious, legitimate
science," he said.

"We know so little about what's out there, not to look
for [intelligent life] is really foolish."

Alien civilizations may remain ignorant of UC Berkeley's
project, but many earthlings are already obsessed. It's
human nature, says

"This appeals to a really deep part of the soul and
imagination, and the university's appointment of a chair
in the field reflects that," Stephen O'Leary, associate
professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication,
said.

"Try to imagine life from another planet and you are at
the boundary of human understanding."