Scientists to Listen Harder for Signs of ET

In the 25 years that scientists have been listening for radio signals from intelligent beings elsewhere in the universe, they have not picked up good evidence that anybody is out there. Skeptics have taken the failure as a strong indication that earthlings are alone.

But, according to Jill Tartar of the University of California at Berkeley, there is still good reason to hope.

Tartar, who works with NASA's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program, told last week's meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) here that searches so far have examined less than one ten-millionth of the radio spectrum and the volume in outer space from which such signals might come.

Accordingly, Tartar said, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is in the middle of a five-year program of research and planning to design the largest and most intensive search for extraterrestrial intelligence ever undertaken. Once started, the search would last decades.

She said searches so far have used existing radio telescopes to scan briefly for signals. The current research program, she said, will design and build equipment intended to pick out steady or regularly pulsing radio signals from the background noise of jumbled radio signals emitted naturally by stars and other objects.

There is not much time left to carry out the search, she said, because earthlings are increasing the amount of radio noise they generate, threatening soon to jam any intelligent signals that may be radiating through the galaxy. Scientific Creationists Retreat

Many of the purported human footprints that religious creationists once claimed could be found alongside preserved dinosaur tracks are quietly being withdrawn from the armamentarium of evidence for a biblical creation.

Many scientific creationists, as the movement's adherents call themselves, had claimed that the existence of such contemporaneous tracks was powerful evidence that human beings and dinosaurs lived at the same time and, therefore, that evolution had not happened.

The withdrawal of the claims, John R. Cole, an archeologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, told the AAAS meeting, has followed new analyses that show the so-called tracks, which have been reported from several localities, to be forgeries, natural erosional effects or even, in one case, the tracks of a previously unrecognized small dinosaur.

Because the new analyses have convinced some creationists, several of the movement's films and books that claimed authenticity for the tracks have been withdrawn. Also the museum of the Institute for Creation Research in California has removed its footprint exhibit.

"None of the four trails at the Taylor site can today be regarded as unquestionably of human origin," creationist John Morris wrote in a recent issue of Impact, a creationist publication.

"While it is commendable," Cole said, "that some scientific creationists will change their minds when evidence or political pressure forces an issue, this skirmish does not end the pressure of antievolutionism on schools."

Ruminants on the Plate

With the help of biotechnology, Americans may be eating more lamb and goat meat in the future, according to a retired U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist.

Clair E. Terrill, who worked at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland, said that using biotechnology to increase meat production from "small ruminants" -- sheep and goats -- offers "the best hope for increasing farm income and reducing the net loss of farmers in the future."

She said that rising feed prices could easily double or triple the price of beef, pork, poultry and farm-raised fish. But raising sheep and goats offers a more efficient option: low costs, low capital investment, low energy requirements and a means of stopping erosion and utilizing abandoned and noncrop land in every rural county in the country.

Genetic engineering could make goat and sheep production even more efficient in terms of reproduction, growth, feed consumption and meat quality and taste, she said. Research at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho, has already proven its effectiveness, Terrill added.

She predicted that while consumption of meat from other sources will decline, production from sheep and goats will increase and become the "only low-cost meat available, as it generally is in developing countries now."