Towards a Comprehensive Bibliography for SETI

My project involved the development of a bibliography for SETI (found here) which attempts to be complete in its coverage of works published in and around the field of SETI. This repository was developed using the NASA ADS, and is presented in the format of an ADS library.

One may ask, why is this something that the field needs or could benefit from having? Some of the key factors which motivated this work include:

1) Improving public perception – SETI has a mixed history when it comes to public perception. At the legislative level, the gross misrepresentation of the practices of SETI and what it is about eventually led to the removal of governmental funding for the entire enterprise. This directly shrank the volume of research and projects that could be pursued due to a shortage of funds. A public and nearly complete repository of SETI works would help to formalize the field and potentially improve perception.

2) Cutting away historical confusion – It has been somewhat difficult to follow the progression of ideas in SETI. The most egregious example of this is the uncertainty regarding the proper citation for the Drake equation, which was recently disclosed in private correspondence with Drake himself to be an excerpt from a 1965 textbook published in the Oxford University Press entitled “The Radio Search for Intelligent Extraterrestrial Life”:

In fact, this citation does not even have an ADS entry! Having a comprehensive bibliography which can generate lists ordered by publication dates would help to visualize the progression of ideas and terminology in the field and securely identify their origin.

3) Fostering engagement with the literature – The ADS provides a straightforward and easy way to generate citations for entries in its system. Therefore, this resource eases the process of author engagement with the record of SETI literature and streamlines the citation process.

Okay, this is all well and good, but what is considered a SETI work? Well, although this bibliography aims to be as comprehensive as possible, we understand the limitations set by the resources and tools available. Since it would not be realistic to have a bibliography which transcends all the different  forms of media out there (from papers to popular articles to letters), and which also covers more than academic works, we have to define a criterion for what does and does not constitute a “SETI” work. To help define that criterion, Table 1 shows some of the types of papers that were encountered while building this bibliography:

Based on this delineation, we have decided to limit ourselves to only what could be considered “pure” SETI works, and excludes more general works from its parent discipline Astrobiology, as well as supplemental or background works from the related field of physics. We have also attempted to protect the bibliography against the onslaught of psuedoscience that SETI is particularly attractive of. A calculated decision was also made to not consider works in the social sciences, because of the lack of ability to comprehensively cover them using the ADS system. The list that is accepted however, includes all varieties of works within and about SETI, from its Radio and Artifact subdisciplines, to meta-SETI works. Notably, those works which made it into the course canon (found here) were by defaulted also added based on their pedagogical merit.

From this we can glean that the rough criterion for a work to be considered is one that meets the following conditions: 1) advances knowledge within SETI, 2) deals with topics that are fundamentally related to or about SETI, or 3) is useful for the better understanding of SETI. In addition, only works in more traditional academic formats or media were strongly considered. Perhaps in the future there will be a place for a compilation of popular science articles on SETI, but that is beyond the scope of this project.

Unfortunately, it is not realistic to be completely comprehensive, and we recognize our limited ability to identify every single SETI work that has a presence on the ADS. Therefore, we welcome suggestions.

In the future, we would like to work towards the creation of new ADS entries for those works which we found to not have a presence on the ADS. Also, because of our criterion and this bibliography, we can petition for the creation a SETI tag or keyword, which would help to streamline the process of identifying SETI papers in the future.

We hope that this will be a useful resource to current and future SETI authors. The link to the ADS library can be found here. For suggested additions, please email The formal writeup of this work can be found here.

[Update: Above links are disabled because they are deprecated. The library can currently be accessed via the ADS bibgroup keyword “SETI” like this. You can access the underlying ADS library here. You can find the formal writeup for JBIS here.]