Cosmology Extraterrestrial life Fine tuning Intelligent Design

Astrophysicist: Alien hunters, please stop using the Drake Equation

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An illustration of a number of the different kinds of planets found by Kepler all lined up in a row.
types of planets Kepler found/NAA

An astrophysicist explains, astronomer Frank Drake developed the equation for estimating the likelihood of intelligent ET civilizations to accommodate the needs of a 1961 conference by reducing the general question to a number of smaller, more specific ones. It’s been a staple of discussion of extraterrestrial civilizations since then. A great conversation piece—but that about sums it up:

While the Drake equation may have spurred the early scientific discussion of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, it doesn’t have much value beyond that. We can’t use to it further our understanding, and we can’t use it to properly guide our thinking. The huge uncertainties in the parameters, the unknown ways those uncertainties mix, and the absolute lack of any guidance in even choosing those parameters robs it of any predictive power. Prediction is at the heart of science. Prediction is what makes an idea useful. And if an idea isn’t useful, why keep it around?Paul Sutter, “Alien Hunters, Stop Using the Drake Equation” at

Ah, a question we can answer!

The intuition that They Are Out There is not based on science; it is based on deductive reasoning.

If They are not out there, the elaborate fine-tuning of Earth implies that we are somehow special. And if there is one thing properly raised modern human being knows today, it’s that we are not special. We are just animals who may or may not be more intelligent than other animals (maybe IQ tests are unfair to apes), we are wrecking the planet, and maybe even salad is murder.

On a brighter note, maybe They Are Out There and are greater and wiser than us. Or maybe not but at least we won’t feel both bad and alone.

Take heart, SETI, they will Always Be Out There for you.

See also: Fixing the unfixable Drake Equation (2018)

ET still hasn’t phoned Frank Drake (2016)


Obituary column: By the time we hear from the space aliens,they will be dead

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3 Replies to “Astrophysicist: Alien hunters, please stop using the Drake Equation

  1. 1
    ET says:

    True, both “Rare Earth” and “The Privileged Planet” offer up better equations for finding ETs.

    Is anyone else familiar with India’s history? What do you have to say about all of their writings documenting ETs?

    How do you think ancient people built Baalbek? 1,650 TON stone slabs…

  2. 2
    vmahuna says:

    The Drake Equation is just fine. Drake used “1/10” or something as a PLACEHOLDER for each of the variables UNTIL WE COULD DETERMINE BETTER VALUES.

    So now we’ve got better values for the variables, and these modern values are not 1/10. They’re more like “a snowball’s chance in Hell”. So the result of a modern Drake calculation is down to “1 over the number of seconds since the Big Bang”.

    But the Drake Equation itself works just fine at identifying Variables to use in an ET calculation.

  3. 3
    ET says:

    No, Drake’s equation is totally the wrong equation to use to find ETs.

    Compare the rake equation to the Rare Earth equation

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