SETI, SETT, SETC, Oh My

In Wright (2018), the issue of SETI’s confusing taxonomy and several terms in SETI having multiple meanings is addressed.

SETI’s place in the scientific landscape is often confused. It is not clear to a majority of people where exactly SETI stands in relation to subjects like astronomy, biology, or their field of intersection, astrobiology. This paper seeks to place SETI (looking for evidence of technology) firmly in astrobiology as a separate, but equally valid approach for finding life (in comparison to looking for regular biosignatures).

Astrobiology taxonomy chart from the paper

In addition to clarifying where SETI lies as a subject, the paper focusses on asserting the importance of having an unambiguous set of definitions for commonly used jargon. As SETI is so interdisciplinary, terms are often hastily borrowed from other subjects and used in whatever sense may be useful to the current study, but this methodology is unnecessarily confusing for those who read multiple studies and are trying to understand the subject as a whole.  Sample definitions for terms like beacon and ETI are defined while some terms are suggested to be avoided like colonization and civilization.

SETI’s highly interdisciplinary nature is emphasized in this paper by bolding every mention of a subject that isn’t SETI. While I think the method is heavy-handed, I don’t think that it is a wasted effort. It is cool to see just how many fields necessarily intertwine with SETI. Although, I would like to shame the editor for not ensuring a consistent usage of said bolding (the last paragraph on the left of page one: “the social sciences” versus the third to last paragraph on the right of page one: “the Earth sciences “). Shame.