The Little man Who Wasn’t There

As I was going up the stair

I met a man who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today.

I wish to God he’d go away.

Credit and compliments to Hughes Mearns (1875 – 1965), who wrote those lines for an amateur play in Philadelphia in 1910. They were set to music in 1939 as ‘The Little Man Who Wasn’t There.’ I don’t know anything about the play, but I know that the lines could well have been written today about our extraterrestrial visitors to Earth.  

Yes, we are finding more and more exoplanets, and the excitement can hardly be contained. We are looking for life somewhere, anywhere, any kind. Even squiggly little primitive things. And if one day we find those squiggly little things, that will be front page news, the talk of every town, the most important event of the decade, or of the century perhaps. Imagine all the deep insightful, and pious things we will hear, all centered around the fact that we are not alone in the universe.

Flying saucers? Extraterrestrials? Here? Don’t be absurd. Why would any intelligent creatures want to come here? This is just a little, back water place, a minor planet in an ordinary solar system in an out-of-the-way part of the galaxy. What interest could they possibly have in us? 

Furthermore, if extraterrestrials really are here, why wouldn’t they show themselves openly? Why don’t they land on the Whitehouse lawn?

Do these ufologists know how far even the nearest star is? Don’t they know there is an upper speed limit? Haven’t they read their Einstein? Do they know how long it would take to get here? So, people, quit wasting your time. There’s no proof of any UFOs. There’s been no peer review of any of it. How can you believe anything that has not been peer reviewed? Listen to the scientists.

Yes, let’s do. Surely they will answer all of our misconceptions, and set us straight, once and for all. If we listen, maybe we will learn the flaws in our thinking. 

Take Debra Fischer. She is a professor of astronomy and physics, and very much interested in life on other planets. She was one of four scientists participating in a panel discussion in Caltech Auditorium, reported in the Discover Magazine issue of May 2009. She was asked by an audience member if she thought there could be life on other planets. 

“To me it’s hard to imagine that there isn’t life somewhere else,” was her reply…  “I’ll bet you a hundred dollars there’s life-though I don’t know if it’s the kind of life that’s scum in a pond, or if it’s the kind of life that walks up to a microphone and asks questions!” 

Or whether it was the kind of life that has discovered how to nullify gravity and travel to other planets, she didn’t mention. I did her a disservice in my book “Our interplanetary Future,” by stating that she was co-discoverer of “one of the exoplanets.” She is, in fact in the forefront of the search for exoplanets and is credited with contributing to the discovery of about 160 of them. All the greater credit to her, and all the greater the mystery in her failure to tell us why we’re so wrong in putting any faith in alien life already here. Maybe it’s because the panel was moderated by Phil Plait, a professional debunker and ‘Bad Astronomy blogger,’ for Discovery magazine. So perhaps she would not have mentioned the subject even if she otherwise felt inclined to do so, though the thought probably never crossed her mind. 

So let’s look at something not involving Phil Plait, or any other of the well known debunkers. Surely such a prestigious magazine as ‘National Geographic’ would not have an article about extraterrestrial life without telling us why UFOs do not  rate any serious consideration. Would they?

The cover of the magazine’s issue for December 2009 is emblazoned with the sphere of some unknown planet against a background of stars. It touts the article appearing within “Are We Alone?” written by Timothy Ferris, an astronomer and author. The enticing lead-in tells us that what with all the improved technology and knowledge of the universe, we may discover other Earthlike planets – “some, perhaps, with all the makings for life.” Ferris warns that scientists searching for extraterrestrial life should keep in mind, “that it may be very different from life here.” Even on a planet of the age of Earth and identical to it, life on it would “almost certainly be very different from terrestrial life.” Perhaps he means that the folks that live there would not be so oblivious to important facts that are all around them.

He ends his tale with the words “The curtain is going up on countless new worlds with stories to tell.” But it appears he might already have missed he first act. 

Well, what about the Editor in Chief of Science News magazine, Tom Siegfried ? Something more informative from him perhaps? He acknowledges in the April 24th 2010 issue that our galaxy, being “several billion years older than the Earth,” planets around other stars have had plenty of time to develop technology “millions of years beyond current human capability.” So maybe he will explain why UFOs. sightings by intelligent people, the radar trackings, the evidence of the foreign crafts’ electromagnetism, the post holes and broken shrubbery and tree limbs do not fill the bill? No such luck. But he does enlighten us with a quote from Enrich Fermi from 1950, just three years after the flight of Kenneth Arnold and public awareness. Said Fermi, concerning the then current lack of proof of extraterrestrial intelligence: “Where is everybody?”

I am sure that Siegfried is a well qualified scientist, but when the topic is UFOs, you see, he is also a superb stand-up comic. He’s much funnier  than a more recent skeptic, Seth Shostak, who even in 2001, in said “Our galaxy should be teeming with civilizations. But where are they?”

Siegfried ends his piece with this gem: “Imagine a ship only the mass of a space shuttle-at a mere 20% of the speed of light, its kinetic energy would exceed that of 15,000 hydrogen bombs. You wouldn’t want to invite such a visitor to aim such a ship in your direction.”

Good point. Because our deaf, dumb and blind Earthlings have learned nothing in 60 years, it certainly follows logically that other civilizations have learned nothing in a few hundred million. 

There are others, many others. Newspapers, magazines, books – all talking about the search for life ‘out there.’ Multiply the attention they pay to UFOs by ten, a hundred, or a thousand times the attention of the above articles to the subject. You still get zero. The August 2010 issue of Scientific American , for instance, devotes much ink to the search for ‘super earths,.’ The authors claim they were motivated by the dream of finding planets that could harbor life. Nary a mention of UFOs which are right under their noses.

 ‘Discover’ celebrated the 50th anniversary of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), presently headed, appropriately by Seth Shostak. The article is, also appropriately, named ‘Call Waiting.’ What they are waiting for are radio signals from another planet. The article outlines all the false alarms that sparked some excitement over the years, and paid due respect to the determination of its members to keep going. But as yet, no nibbles.

After 50 years you might think they would consider fishing in other waters, like occupants of strange craft spotted here on Earth, and are said by some to speak earthly languages. SETI may think it unscientific, but what could be less likely of success than what SETI is up to. But they plow ahead. Says Shostak, “We shouldn’t even think about getting discouraged at this point.” Says another of the group: “Imagine how foolish you would feel if you didn’t try only because someone said you’re a lunatic.” Right. Try anything. Except trying to contact UFOs.

Astronomy magazine has a feature in which they ask their readership for questions which their staff answers. If you’re thinking of asking Astronomy about UFOs, forget it. They state very plainly that they want no profanity, plagiarism etc. and no questions about paranormal or “UFOs.”

It makes you wonder. Does ET really exist? Of course he does. He’s the man in the poem, the little man who wasn’t there. 

The author’s book is “Our Interplanetary Future: A UFO Primer For Skeptics”

His website is “

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