22 January 2013
Yesterday evening, I noted the public address by geoscientist James Kasting at the current Origin of Life conference at Princeton arguing against the Rare Earth Principle. The “Rare Earth” concept, developed by paleontologist Peter Ward and astronomer Donald Brownlee, is that the evidence for Earth’s unusually favorable position in our solar system discourages the idea that complex life should be common in the galaxy.
Researcher Matthew Cochrane kindly wrote me to point out that Ward and Brownlee are thinking about the option of following up on Rare Earth. Cochrane had written Ward to ask whether any recent findings had changed their views, and received the response,
We are about to write something along the lines of “Even Rarer Earth!”—yes, we still hold our views, only now more strongly based on the exoplanet discoveries.
I have since confirmed with Ward that they are indeed “toying with” the idea, because their idea is even better supported now than it was in 2003.
Ward and Brownlee’s approach isn’t actually all that unusual, just underreported. Others have concluded the same. But you can be sure it is not popular with the “Milky way stuffed with 50 billion alien worlds” crowd, let alone the “Odds of Life on Nearby Planet ’100 Percent,’ Astronomer Says” set. A publisher for an updated realist view is surely overdue.
See also: Princeton Origin of Life conference 2013—no seats are left, but troubling questions certainly are
Are we alone? Even if one in six stars hosts an Earth-sized planet?