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Refining our Focus
by Dr. H. Paul Shuch, Executive Director

When The SETI League was born, now nearly eight years ago, founder Richard Factor envisioned it as a ham radio club for advanced microwave experimenters, and I prepared its Vision and Mission Statements accordingly. Project Argus, our first scientific effort, contemplated thousands of amateur radio telescopes, built and operated by dedicated ham radio operators, coordinated in a global search for radio emissions from distant civilizations. We've achieved modest success in inching toward that lofty goal, and in fact a microwave search for ETI still seems like a pretty good idea. But, as the sailor says, time and technology wait for no man.

That the focus of SETI is shifting is demonstrated by the diversity of papers to be found in the Proceedings of our first two SETI League Technical Symposia. The expected papers on microwave receivers, amplifiers, and antennas are there, to be sure. But they have been joined by excellent treatises on Optical SETI, Gamma ray bursters, interstellar probes, Lunar radio astronomy, space archaeology, panspermia, and a host of related and not-so-related topics. SETI is no longer solely the domain of ham microwave geeks; today we embrace new approaches, fresh challenges, and unprecedented opportunity.

The SETI League's Strategic Planning Committee, composed of seven members (including three volunteer Regional Coordinators, our President, Secretary, Executive Director, and a member of our Advisory Board), is tasked with keeping us on course through social, political, and technological change. In recent months they took a look at our published goals, and decided it was time to tweak them into alignment with our current reality. On that Committee's recommendation our Trustees approved, at the 2002 Board meeting, the first ever revision to our stated Vision and Mission.

The changes just approved are subtle, and symbolic. They do not change our prime focus (pun very much intended). Rather, they broaden it, in recognition of recent developments. Gone from our Vision Statement is its original, restrictive wording about microwave experimenters. Now, it merely states:

Recognizing that confirmed evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence will change forever our view of humanity's place in the cosmos, The SETI League, Inc. envisions a worldwide network of amateur and professional scientists working together to hasten our entry into the galactic community.

Similarly, a few points in our Mission Statement have been made somewhat less restrictive. For example, where previously Point 5 called for providing a medium of communication "through journals, meetings, conferences, and electronic means," now it has us "providing a variety of forums and media for wide-ranging communication among SETI experimenters, enthusiasts, and organizations." Exactly what those forums and media might turn out to be in the future, we cannot (and ought not) specify today. Similarly, to Point 8, which previously called for "raising public consciousness as to the importance and significance of a broad-based Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence," we've now added "that encompasses a variety of strategies."

You can read the entire Vision and Mission statements, as amended, on our website at <>. The original version will still be kicking around for a while, on the thousands of membership brochures that were printed before the changes were made. The differences are not worth wasting trees over, but they may become important in the months and years ahead. For what is SETI but a glimpse into humanity's future?

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in editorials are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of The SETI League, Inc., its Trustees, officers, Advisory Board, members, donors, or commercial sponsors.

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