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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

2016 UFO And Alien Hunters Guide to the Upcoming Election

An Alien Hunter’s Guide to the 2016 Election

Of all the fringe interest groups orbiting the landscape of American politics, there are perhaps none quite as maligned as those committed to uncovering the truth about extraterrestrial life. In recent elections, these UFO advocates have mostly laid low, ignored—if not openly mocked—by politicians seeking higher office. But as the 2016 race gets officially underway, alien hunters are starting to wonder if this election might be different.

The group got some high-profile encouragement last month from none other than Hillary Clinton. In an interview with a small New Hampshire newspaper, the Democratic presidential candidate promised that, if elected, she would share whatever information exists about the government's contact with extraterrestrials.
"I'm going to get to the bottom of it," Clinton told the Conway Daily Sun. "I think we may have been [visited already]. We don't know for sure."
The comment may have been tongue-in-cheek, but it was enough to excite the diehard skeptics who have been fighting, unsuccessfully for more than half a century, to get the government to disclose what it knows about aliens. For this group, the remark seemed to confirm long-held suspicions that Clinton is sympathetic to its cause—suspicions rooted in her 90s-era ties to UFO activists like Laurence Rockefeller, and in her relationship to campaign chairman John Podesta, a noted skeptic who has called for greater government transparency around the alien question, and whose influence Clinton cited in her interview.
"He has made me personally pledge we are going to get the information out one way or another," Clinton told the newspaper. "Maybe we could have, like, a task force to go to Area 51."
A 1995 photo of then-First Lady Hillary Clinton embracing billionaire philanthropist Laurence Rockefeller, a well-known UFO activist. Photo via the William J. Clinton Presidential Library
Regardless of whether Clinton meant for any of this to be taken seriously, the interview signaled to alien hunters that the 2016 presidential election could be a significant one for their movement—marking the first time since the other Clinton was in office that the topic of extraterrestrial contact might be broached by politicians on the national level.

Beyond the UFO skepticism and government conspiracy theories, the election is also being watched by another group of alien hunters—namely scientists involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, a global research field dedicated to scanning the cosmos for signs of alien life.
Since its inception, the scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence has been plagued by politics. NASA's own SETI program, developed in the mid-1970s, was a frequent target of politicians who saw its mission—"to bag little green fellows," as one senator put it—as a joke and a waste of taxpayer dollars. It was permanently defunded in 1993. While NASA continues to fund research into the search for extraterrestrial life, the money now mainly goes to the field of astrobiology, with research focused on looking for microbes and other unintelligent life forms. Officially at least, the government is no longer interested in the search for thinking beings like us.
"SETI is very political, or has been in the past," said Seth Shostak, senior astronomer and director of the SETI Institutea California-based nonprofit that conducts research on the "origin and nature of life in the universe." "Politics was extremely important when I joined the SETI Institute—it killed the NASA efforts."
In the absence of government funding, SETI research in the US has relied on private donations, which tend to be sporadic. While a $100 million infusion from Russian billionaire Yuri Milner last year has given the field a measure of legitimacy, and assured future research, the lack of federal recognition means that SETI continues to exist outside of mainstream scientific circles.
"When somebody is studying something that doesn't have any obvious practical implications, [Congress] tends to think it is a waste of money," Shostak told me. "That's exactly wrong. Basic research is the kind that pays off in the long term—far more than the applied research."
There is little indication that will change under the next president. Most of the leading 2016 presidential candidates from both parties have voiced general support for NASA, and they have called for directing more federal resources to space exploration (the notable exception is Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who has voted in the past to slash NASA's budget). But Shostak is skeptical that any of this would translate into support for a revamped SETI program at the space agency.
"It isn't a matter of 'let's vote for this person because they're interested in SETI,'" he said. "You're not going to find anybody like that."
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