Guest Editorial, May 2005



The Drake Equation: Adding a METI Factor

By Dr.
Alexander Zaitsev, IRE, Russia


METI (Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) is an activity, which I believe to be an inherent attribute of advanced civilizations. In order to account for the true prevalence of communicative civilizations (that is, those that engage in METI), I suggest we introduce a METI factor fm into the classical Drake Equation. In this case, the modified Drake Equation takes on the following form:


N = R* × fp × ne × fl × fi × fc × fm × L


  •  N = The number of potentially detectable civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy

  • R* = The rate of formation of stars in the Galaxy

  •  fp = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems

  • ne = The number of planets per solar system that are suitable for life

  • fl = The fraction of those planets where life actually appears

  • fi = The fraction of life sites where intelligence develops

  • fc = The fraction of communicative planets (those on which electromagnetic communications technology develops)

  • fm = The fraction of communicative civilizations with clear and non-paranoid planetary consciousness (that is, those which actually engage in deliberate interstellar transmission)

  • L = The “lifetime” over which such civilizations transmit detectable signals into space.


Let us try to estimate fm. Since we do not adhere to the anthropocentric position, we should proceed from the assumption that Earth’s consciousness is not essentially different from that of others. Then the METI factor fm should be quite small, about 0.01. This figure derives from the fact that our civilization has engaged in about 100 past and current SETI programs (see, for example, Jill Tarter’s "Archive of SETI", SETI 2020 Roadmap, pp. 381-425), and only one METI Program (at the Evpatoria Radar Telescope). Moreover, if we assume that an isolationist tendency prevails around the Universe, akin to that stated in Michael Michaud’s recent editorial "Active SETI Is Not Scientific Research", and if we agree with his reasons, than we could say the METI factor fm would be much smaller than 0.01, perhaps close to zero. But in that case, N is close to zero too, and SETI does not make any sense!


From this follows the next SETI Paradox: "Both We and They must either engage in both SETI and METI, or do nothing."


It is important to emphasize that the SETI pioneers sensed this dichotomy, and have paid attention to both SETI and METI. Philip Morrison recalls in "My Forty Years of SETI" that Giuseppe Cocconi came to him in 1958 with a question: "We already make gamma-ray beams. Why not send them out across space to see if anyone out there can detect them?" Frank Drake and Carl Sagan developed and actualized the Pioneer Plaque, Arecibo Message, and Voyager Record. Nobel Laureate Andrey Sakharov wrote in “Questionnaire CETI" in 1971: "I would like to notice the importance of designing and, especially, accomplishing practical projects directed to sending signals. This is the only way to understand subtle problems of contacts. Here, as it always happens, egoists end up with failure." At JPL, Steven Ostro wrote in "Project Moonbeam: An Omnidirectional Radio Beacon for the Lunar Farside" in 1989: "We might conclude that it is better to give than to receive, and that the war on silence must begin at home."


In this way, the classical Participatory Anthropic Principle: "Observers are necessary to bring the Universe into being", which was first put forth by John Wheeler in 1983, gains additional strength: "Senders are necessary to bring consciousness into the Universe." In other words, – intelligent low-entropic METI signals represent a conscious participation in the observable structure of the Universe.


"Only we who help in overcoming the Great Silence deserve to hear the voice of the Cosmos…"