Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Attention Paid

CNN has posed a profound series of questions:

Are we citizens of Earth alone in the universe? It's a question that has long fascinated astronomers, sci-fi authors, kids with backyard telescopes and Hollywood executives who churn out spectacles about alien encounters. Polls have found that most Americans believe that some form of life exists beyond our planet.

"It's a fundamental question," said Tarter, the real-life inspiration for Jodie Foster's character in the 1997 movie "Contact." "And it's a question that the person on the street can understand. It's not like a ... super-collider or some search for neutrinos buried in the ice. It's, 'Are we alone? How might we find out? What does that tell us about ourselves and our place in the universe?'
One would naively expect a news organization to present such questions and give them prominence in their science coverage in connection with an exciting new research finding or bold new undertaking. But I didn't label that expectation naive for nothing: there is no new finding, and no new initiative, save for a titillating new five-part series, "In Search of Aliens," airing on -- mark the coincidence! -- CNN.

This kind of petty manipulation of our conscious attention is now so commonplace that we barely even notice it, which of course makes it that much more effective.

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