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Researchers Rubbish Most Popular Images of Aliens

Originally published 20 December 2002

University of Warwick scientists Professor Ian Stewart and Dr Jack Cohen have rubbished many of the popular images Aliens in their new book “Evolving the Alien” which tries to explore the science behind what an alien could really look like.

Professor Ian Stewart is a leading mathematician and populariser of science. Dr Cohen is a biologist who has designed a range of “scientifically” correct aliens for a number of science fiction authors.

In the book they point out for instance that it is unlikely that the Martians from “War of the Worlds” wouldn’t have been killed by the common cold as earth bacteria would have closely evolved to interact with life on earth not elsewhere. They also point out that it is unlikely that we will find a universe such as that portrayed in Star Trek where most of the aliens look exactly like humans – but with slightly different types of bumpy foreheads – aliens are likely to be much more alien. Indeed many popular images of aliens such a the little green or grey men that are meant to abduct people X files style. The authors say:

“People who now “see” aliens in the form of little grey men or big eyed monsters are locating their fear images… in the past they would have dredged up equally supernatural incubi, succubi, witches or ghouls to imagine their experience with. While these new cultural “alien” icons have proved very lucrative for a few people, and very enjoyable for many, it has obscured what real aliens may look like.”

The authors do point to fictional aliens that do seem more plausible such as those in the movie “Independence Day” (being shown in this year’s schedule of Christmas films on the BBC) where it was difficult tell the difference between the aliens and their clothing and tools – just as aliens would find it difficult to tell us apart from our spectacles, sun glasses, hearing aids and MP3 players.

The book contains much else including: speculation as to how alien to us life on Earth may have looked like if the bizarre fossils found in the Burgess shale had survived and prospered, and an exploration of the fact that aliens may be so alien that they may not even need DNA.

The popular science magazine focus says of this new book "this is an imaginative, creative, surprising and thought-provoking classic. You should buy this book, no matter how many tentacles you have, or how you reproduce"

On a sadder note the authors examine why we haven’t had positive confirmed contact from aliens either by personal contact or a communications signal. The authors point to our own decayed space programme where once we regularly sent men to the moon and were reaching out to Mars and beyond which has now been cut back to automated probes, a few space shuttles, and a space station hamstring by cut backs – perhaps all the alien civilisations out there are also slashing their space exploration budgets.

Note for Editors:
The publication details for the book are “Evolving the Alien: The Science of Extraterrestial Life”. ISBN: 0091879272 Cost £17.99 from Ebury Press

Pic of Dr Cohen & alien at: Alien Pic

For further information contact:

Professor Ian Stewart:
tel 024 76 52 3740 office
Home 024 7647 1148

Dr Jack Cohen
01989 720102