You heard about it here first: Statistically, we just know there is life on other planets

Ian O'Neill tells us, “Milky way stuffed with 50 billion alien worlds” Discover (Feb 19, 2011)

Making estimates may sound trivial, but it does put the search for ET into perspective. There's at least 50 billion worlds, which have fostered the development of basic lifeforms? How many have allowed advanced civilizations to evolve?

If there are any space-faring alien races out there, "the next question is why haven't they visited us?" Borucki asked.

He responded with: "I don't know." I wonder if we'll ever know.

One problem I have with statistics that start with a current sample of one is that it strikes me as difficult to compute the odds that there are two, no matter what the sample size is. If we find a donut-shaped planet, does that mean there must be another one out there?

Possibly, but if very specific and unusual conditions were required to produce it, those conditions may never have been repeated anywhere.

Very specific conditions produced life on Earth. Whether these conditions were unusual cannot be established on the magic of large numbers alone. Still, it’s all good fun and great sound bites.

Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.

3 thoughts on “You heard about it here first: Statistically, we just know there is life on other planets

  1. Ms O’Leary’s post exclaims: “Statistically, we just know there is life on other planets” – but when you look at the articles she links too, they say absolutely no such thing.
    In fact O’Neill states:
    “…no amount of statistical guesswork can arrive at an estimation for the number of alien beings that are out there.
    So why does O’Leary draw the conclusion that statistics is capable of predicting the numbers of exoplanets with life when scientists admit this is likely an impossible task at this time? The estimates that are provided only refer to the number of exoplanets (and are based on reasonable and conservative extrapolations), not on which planets have life.
    I wish Ms O’Leary would take a bit more care in writing her posts and avoid such hyperbole! Since she has become such a prolific presence here, maybe somebody should edit her posts before they are published, since it’s fairly clear she is prone to distorting things?

  2. John, try reading more carefully. I agree with you and provided an analogy to that effect.
    All these space agency press conferences feed a hope that we are not alone, and
    I thought this one a bit more carefully phrased than usual (but feeds same hope).

  3. Denyse, I did read carefully. You need to write more carefully.
    The article is quite explicit that statistically we cannot predict anything about life. The comment about “feeding a hope” is your own inference and is not specifically stated. Sure the article talks about intelligent life, but why not? It’s a question many are interested in. But I do not see it “feeding hope” – quite the opposite.
    The issue is that hyperbolic title is not warranted. As a journalist you should know better; perhaps that’s fitting for the National Inquirer, but one would thing Salvomag deserves something different.

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