Opinion | No, but Really. Should We Contact Aliens?

Produced by ‘The Argument’

With the U.S. government puzzling over U.F.O.s, and potentially habitable exoplanets in our telescopes, earthlings are closer than ever to finding other intelligent life in the universe. So the existential question is: Should we try to communicate with whatever we think might be out there?

That’s the argument this week between Douglas Vakoch and Michio Kaku. Vakoch, the president of the research and educational nonprofit METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) International, has dedicated his life’s work to intentionally broadcasting messages beyond our solar system.

Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York and a co-founder of string field theory, thinks reaching out to unknown aliens is a catastrophically bad idea and “would be the biggest mistake in human history.”

Together, they join Jane Coaston to debate the question of making first contact and our place in the cosmos.

[You can listen to this episode of “The Argument” on Apple, Spotify or Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

Mentioned in this episode:

Adam Mann, The New Yorker: “Intelligent Ways to Search for Extraterrestrials”

Gideon Lewis-Kraus, The New Yorker: “How the Pentagon Started Taking U.F.O.s Seriously”

Arik Kershenbaum, The Wall Street Journal, “Alien Languages May Not Be Entirely Alien to Us”

“Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Season 4, Episode 15: “First Contact” (Netflix)

The Ezra Klein Show: “Obama Explains How America Went From ‘Yes We Can’ to ‘MAGA’”

(A full transcript of the episode will be available midday on the Times website.)

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“The Argument” is produced by Phoebe Lett, Elisa Gutierrez and Vishakha Darbha and edited by Alison Bruzek and Paula Szuchman; fact-checking by Kate Sinclair; music and sound design by Isaac Jones; additional mixing by Carole Sabouraud; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin.

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