Saturday, September 12, 2015

Sexism in Space

Send aliens modern messages of Earth's equality and diversity, say scientists

The UK entrants to a Breakthrough Initiative competition agree on one thing: any missive to extraterrestrials must be an up-to-date portrayal of humankind

"Messages sent into space to tell extraterrestrials about the nature of humankind should be updated to reflect gender equality and the diversity of life on Earth, scientists say.

At a conference in Leeds this week, a group of British astronomers and philosophers who form the UK research network for SETI - the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence - agreed to enter a competition organised by the Breakthrough Initiative to devise a message to send out to space on behalf of the world to whoever might be listening.

However, discussing the likely content of the message at the British Science Festival in Bradford on Thursday, the need to revise our previous portrayals of life on Earth was raised.

Jill Stuart, an expert in space policy at the London School of Economics, pointed to the plaque that was placed on the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, launched in 1972. Intended to convey the origin of the craft and to impart information about the inhabitants of Earth, Stuart observed that to modern eyes the pictorial message presents some issues. .

“The plaque shows a man raising his hand in a very manly fashion while a woman stands behind him, appearing all meek and submissive,” she said. “We really need to rethink that with any messages we are sending out now. Attitudes have changed so much in just 40 years.”

The plaque also clearly portrays the human figures as white, and Stuart added: “I would be uncomfortable with sending out any images or messages that include Western-dominated material.”
The assessment of the 1972 plaque is obtuse, and could only have come from a deeply prejudiced mind. However, it gets sillier:
"The message, which would be beamed out on a powerful but currently unused frequency, could take the form of text, sounds, mathematical formulae or pictures. “But what we don’t know is if any aliens out there have eyes, so pictures might not work,” Sandberg said."
So. Eyes "evolved" several different times here on earth, but cannot be expected in aliens? How about brains?

Well, ignoring that, then, I think the plaque should show an angry but victorious woman standing with one foot on a prone white man and the other foot on a prone white woman. That might help the aliens understand why the earth is no longer populated with any life above the complexity of sponges deep in ocean volcanic vents by the time they get here. Oh yeah: her skin tone should be checkered to indicate diversity, and she should have a visibly fake penis, maybe off to the side with an arrow pointing to show where it attaches.

That brings it all up-to-date, as of last month. Who knows what it should have as images next month.

1 comment:

Steven Satak said...

We've been blasting messages to aliens out there for the past eighty years. I don't think they are under any illusions as to what we are by now.