The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Listening for Life in the Cosmos. Thomas R. McDonough. John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1986. 244 pp., illus. $19.95.

Is anybody else out there? This profoundly bemusing question is an old one. New to our time is the chance of beginning to ask it meaningfully.

The distance between stars is almost unimaginably vast. Travel between them, while not theoretically impossible, appears to be so stupendously difficult, hazardous, time-consuming and energy-expensive as to suggest that even ultimately advanced civilizations may choose to interact almost entirely through information exchange rather than matter transfer. In any event there is no convincing evidence that "they" are, or have ever been, here. At least for our time, serious search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) can only be done through appropriate looking and listening.

Not surprisingly, there are skeptics who oppose such work. Two principal streams of criticism approach SETI from...

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