Is 'Rare Earth' by Ward & Brownlee a Reliable Source on Extraterrestrial Life?

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In summary: The book is well-written and makes a strong case for the rarity of complex life forms, such as humans. The science is sound, but the logic leaves much to be desired.
  • #1
matthyaouw
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http://www.distant-star.com/issue12/may_2000_reviews.htm
http://homepage.mac.com/bbaugh/iblog/C787485710/E90869299/

I'm thinking of seeking out a copy of this book, out of little more than curiosity. I was wondering if anyone could comment on its reliability or realisticness. Is there much factual basis beind it, and is it worth a read if I'm interested in learning about the real possibility of life outside of this planet? When I say life, I mean any variety, not just little green men, UFOs etc.
Are there any other credible books which you could reccomend that I read as well or as an alternative.
 
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  • #2
I haven't read it, but I heard about it.

Here's a post from a previous discussion about it.

It made the bad pseudo science list of the Astronomical Pseudo-Science: A Skeptic's Resource List (Version 3.0; August 2003) of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

Frazier, K. "Was the 'Rare Earth' Hypothesis Influenced by a Creationist?" in Skeptical Inquirer, Nov/Dec. 2001, p. 7. The controversial book that suggests that planets and life like ours may be extremely rare may have been influenced by a young University of Washington astronomer who is secretly a creationist.

The article is here:

http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2843/is_6_25/ai_79794362
 
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  • #3
It is well worth reading (whether you want to buy it, or get a copy from your local library, well, that's up to you I guess).

The writing is good, the science relatively sound (as sound as anything on astrobiology published in peer reviewed journals), and the logic should (IMHO) get a much wider airing. In particular, the immense difficulty of doing any real science with a sample of one (our own Earth) comes through in the book, time and time again ... at each stage where the authors must make a choice re how to proceed (with the rest of their 'story'), they are careful to state why they choose to move forward with their 'rare' idea, and (by implication) leave you with a choice - how reliable a basis is a single example for generalising the way they do?

There's another thread in PF (S&D too!) which discusses this book - here
 
  • #4
Thanks for your replies. I think I'll check if I can find a library copy anywhere. Nereid- You mention a book by Darling. Could you tell me its title please? I may have to read that too.
 
  • #5
Darling, David 2001 (?). "Life Everywhere, the New Science of Astrobiology" Basic Books
 
  • #6
Thank you. I'll have a look for that one too.
 
  • #7
Nereid said:
It is well worth reading (whether you want to buy it, or get a copy from your local library, well, that's up to you I guess).

The writing is good, the science relatively sound (as sound as anything on astrobiology published in peer reviewed journals), and the logic should (IMHO) get a much wider airing. In particular, the immense difficulty of doing any real science with a sample of one (our own Earth) comes through in the book, time and time again ... at each stage where the authors must make a choice re how to proceed (with the rest of their 'story'), they are careful to state why they choose to move forward with their 'rare' idea, and (by implication) leave you with a choice - how reliable a basis is a single example for
If Nereid says it's good, it must be. I'm between believing how the Earth could be unique in the universe due to the odds against a series of the same accidents that brought about life here having happened elsewhere and the fact that the universe is so vast and the ingredients for life being common enough that life must have occurred elsewhere.

matthyaouw, let us know what you think of the book.
 
  • #8
[nitpick]Rare Earth is about complex life and how the authors think is might be rare; they state pretty clearly that the case for simple life (i.e. bacteria and stuff like algae) being very common is strong.[/nitpick]
 
  • #9
Nereid said:
[nitpick]Rare Earth is about complex life and how the authors think is might be rare; they state pretty clearly that the case for simple life (i.e. bacteria and stuff like algae) being very common is strong.[/nitpick]
Nereid, you're convincing me to read the book now.

Yes, the Earth has been teaming with life for a long time, with humans, just a blink of the eye in the timeline.
 

Related to Is 'Rare Earth' by Ward & Brownlee a Reliable Source on Extraterrestrial Life?

1. What is the significance of the book "Rare Earth" by Ward & Brownlee?

"Rare Earth" is a scientific book written by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee that discusses the rarity of complex life in the universe. It argues that the conditions necessary for the evolution of complex life are extremely rare and Earth may be the only planet in the universe with such conditions.

2. What evidence do Ward & Brownlee present to support their theory?

Ward & Brownlee present a variety of evidence, including the characteristics of our solar system and the geological history of Earth. They also analyze the factors necessary for the development of complex life, such as a stable star, a large moon, plate tectonics, and a magnetic field.

3. Does "Rare Earth" suggest that there is no other life in the universe?

No, the book does not suggest that there is no other life in the universe. It only argues that the conditions necessary for complex life are rare and may not exist on other planets. It does not rule out the possibility of simpler forms of life existing elsewhere.

4. How has the scientific community responded to the ideas presented in "Rare Earth"?

The response to "Rare Earth" has been mixed. Some scientists support the ideas presented in the book, while others have criticized it for being too Earth-centric and not considering the potential for life in other environments. Overall, the book has sparked important discussions and debates in the scientific community.

5. What impact has "Rare Earth" had on the search for extraterrestrial life?

"Rare Earth" has influenced the search for extraterrestrial life by highlighting the importance of considering a planet's specific characteristics and conditions when looking for potential habitats for life. It has also prompted scientists to think about alternative environments and forms of life that may exist beyond Earth's conditions.

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