During an hour-long interview on the Joe Rogan Experience on Tuesday, which focused mostly on serious policy issues like climate change, medicare for all, workers’ rights, the opioid overdose crisis, federal cannabis law reform, and gun control, Rogan also asked Sanders whether he would tell the people of the United States what the government knew about extraterrestrial life.
“My wife would demand that I let you know,” he responded with a laugh.
And while it seems clear that Sanders’ comment was given in jest, it got a lot of people talking and blogging about whether the progressive candidate might indeed pull back the curtain on aliens on Earth.
To find out just what Sanders might be able to tell us if he becomes president, Inverse called up Bill Diamond, the president and CEO of the SETI Institute, a scientific research nonprofit dedicated to systematically searching for intelligent extraterrestrial life.
In short, Diamond is optimistic that we are not alone in the universe, but he doesn’t suspect any US president would be able to tell us much more than we already know.
“We think that there isn’t anything that the government could tell the people about any aliens who have visited or spacecraft that have crashed or things like that,” he says.
"We are all hoping that we’re not alone, that’s why we’re looking."
Diamond emphasizes that this does not mean he and the folks at the SETI Institute think there are no lifeforms beyond Earth, just that we haven’t met them yet.
“We are all hoping that we’re not alone, that’s why we’re looking,” he says. “There are aliens out in space that we are, I think, quite confident exist somewhere, and then there’s this idea of aliens visiting Earth, where I think we would say we are highly skeptical,” he adds.
Diamond also emphasizes that SETI, as a scientific institution, is not in the business of investigating claims of UFO sightings or abductions.
“None of these things — while interesting and fascinating — lends itself to scientific investigation or scientific rigor,” he says. “Science looks for things that can be reproduced, that can be studied and evaluated, that can be tested against hypotheses, et cetera.”
Ultimately, Diamond and his colleagues hold out hope that their investigations, which can include such work as scanning the sky for alien signals, will reveal signs of intelligent life beyond our planet. But they’re skeptical of the notion that biological lifeforms could have ever survived a trip from light-years away just to make some crop circles or crash land on Earth.
“If I were the guy who funded such a mission, and my team came back and told me that the best they could do was draw pictures in corn fields and freak out the locals, I’d probably be angry because we spent trillions and gazillions of the local currency to make that mission possible,” he says, before adding a more serious note.
“If that type of technology could be built and hidden, it would be very unlikely to crash on Earth,” says Diamond.
Even our very closest neighbor star, Alpha Centauri, is 4 light-years away, so assuming aliens traveled from there as fast as humans’ fastest spacecraft — the New Horizons probe — could travel, the trip would take 17,000 years.
If we are to encounter alien societies, he says, it will likely be in the form of their technological devices — just as alien societies are most likely to encounter humans in the form of our own space probes like New Horizons or the Voyager spacecraft.
So are there aliens out there? Probably. Can Bernie Sanders or any other US president tell us more than we already know? Unfortunately, no, and Diamond suspects that if the federal government knew something, they’d have told us by now.
In that case, it’s probably best just to vote for president based on Earth-based policies.