OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY
ETHICAL PRINCIPLES AND GUIDELINES FOR THE RESEARCH OF EXTRATERRESTRIALS
The Special Commission on the Protection of Extraterrestrial Subjects of
Biomedical and Social/Behavioral Research
AGENCY: Department of Health and Human Services
ACTION: Publishing of report for public comment
DATE: November 28th, 2045
On March 10, 2041, Congress signed an update to the National Research Act, creating the Special Commission on the Protection of Extraterrestrial Subjects of Biomedical and Social/Behavioral Research. In reaction to, and in the calm after, catastrophic and unprecedented events involving the race known colloquially as the “Marconis”, Congress charged the Special Commission with the identification of basic ethical principles by which humanity and the United States of America could ethically investigate extraterrestrial subjects in research, and develop guidelines by which such research could be undertaken in line with those ethical principles. The intent of the Special Commission’s charge was to create an addendum, or rethinking, of the 1979 Belmont Report on the protection of human subjects in biomedical and social/behavioral research.
The Belmont Report enshrined in federal law a set of basic ethical principles: respect for persons, that is, respecting human autonomy, beneficence, or doing no harm and maximizing benefits, and justice in determining what is deserved. It applied those concepts to research by developing the concept of informed consent , that is, the voluntary participation by a research subject after information is given and comprehension obtained, the_assessment of risks and benefits_, and the equitable selection of research subjects. The Report acted as the touchstone for human subjects research for decades and still does.
Congress, in signing an update to the National Research Act, stated that “the time has come to reconsidering how humankind can undertake research on extraterrestrial subjects in an ethical manner.”
Keeping in mind the current framework of human research subjects, the Special Commission was directed to consider:
The extent of research possible on extraterrestrials and how those disciplines mapped onto existing human disciplines;
The boundaries of epistemology in the areas listed in (1) when new disciplines are created as a result of encounters with extraterrestrials;
The role of risk assessment in the conduct of research and the protection of the research subject;
Appropriate guidelines for the selection of extraterrestrial subjects in research;
The nature of evaluating the Belmont Report’s guiding principle of informed consent in light of shared consciousness and other as yet unknown extraterrestrial abilities.
The Pendle Hill Report attempts to briefly summarize the consensus made during the deliberations of the Special Commission during its retreat at the Pendle Hill Quaker Retreat in Wallingford, PA, supplemented by monthly meetings of the Commission for several years afterward. It is a statement of basic ethical guidelines that should resolve issues with using extraterrestrial entities in research.
By publishing the Pendle Hill Report in the Federal Register, and providing reprints upon request, the Secretary intends that it may be made readily available to concerned citizens, scientists, members of Institutional Review Boards, and Federal employees. The two-volume Appendix, containing the lengthy reports of experts and specialists who assisted the Commission in fulfilling this part of its charge, is available as DHEW Publication No. (OS) 154-0032 and No. (OS) 154-0033, for sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402.
Unlike most other reports of the Commission, the Pendle Hill Report does not make specific recommendations for administrative action by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Rather, the Commission recommended that the Pendle HIll Report be adopted in its entirety, as a statement of the Department’s policy. The Department requests public comment on this recommendation.
MEMBERS of the Special Commission on the Protection of Extraterrestrial Subjects of Biomedical and Social or Behavioral Research
Colleen Abercrombie, M.D., Chairperson, Chief of Medicine, Pennsylvania University Medicine.
Gordon Fitzgerald, Ph.D., Vice Chair, Professor of Exobiology, Johns Hopkins University.
Frances Black, M.D., President, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Shawn Yukon, President, National Alliance for Extraterrestrial Respect.
Lodi Mayar, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy, Villanova University.
Cornelius Jackson, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, American University.
*** Rex Jablonowski, J.D., Associate Professor of Law, Widener Law School.
Rev. Louis Tripp, Ph.D., Chair of Christian Studies, Duke University.
Adrian Gagne, Ph.D., Professor of Theology, Pennsylvania State University.
***Robin Moffat, Ph.D., Chancellor, Pennsylvania State University, Lock Haven.
Leslie Tiffin, LL.B., Legal Counsel, Attorney, Tiffin & Buchenwald, Philadelphia, PA.
JUNE 15, 2035
VALLEY FORGE, PA (Reuters) – Law enforcement and the Department of Health and Human Services continues to restrict access to the Valley Forge National Historical Park’s Marconi Embassy Project, while also promising that any disruptive electromagnetic emissions would dwindle as soon as the Marconi delegation completed their hymn.
Protesters gathered at the gates of the park desire to have their voices heard, saying that their electronic communication devices are under constant bombardment. Indeed, scientists monitoring the microwave radiation from the extraterrestrial religious service at the Marconi conclave, located where George Washington survived a winter’s standoff with Prussian forces during the Revolutionary War, have said that the hymn has demonstrated a new range in Marconi speech-emissions.
A pile of devices, all rendered inoperable by the Marconi hymn, acted as silent testament to the power of Marconis over the communication abilities of mankind in the 21st century.
Protesters braved the searing June day, holding signs and shouting slogans. One protester, dressed as George Washington and riding two protesters jointly dressed as a horse, lay at the center of attention, using a bullhorn to drown out everyone else.
“Just as our First President, George Washington, attacked the drunken Prussians at Christmas, so too should we interrupt this Marconi religious service for our own rights and liberties. Yes, you heard me. I say humans have a right to the radio spectrum! Just like the air we breathe!”
The George Washington impersonator drew many cheers as he repeated versions of this statement.
National Parks Service officer George Johansson watched the protests. When asked for comment, he replied that historical reenactments required permits and that the protestors hadn’t applied for one.
TRANSCRIPT FROM JULY 7, 2042 MEETING OF SPECIAL COMMISSION AT PENDLE HILL RESORT
Colleen Abercrombie, Chair: I hope everyone had a pleasant lunch.
Adrian Gagne, Member: The pasta is putting me to sleep. Carb crash.
Abercrombie: I had a chance to check in at work, it’s now been a month since I’ve set foot in a hospital.
Lodi Mayar, Member: Are you enjoying some time off?
Abercrombie: More than I care to admit.
Mayar: I’m just glad that I don’t have to teach another summer course. My chair had hounded me every year because of enrollment.
Abercrombie: It’s best if we get started, since we have a long afternoon ahead of us. On the table was the matter of informed consent. Someone was keeping track of this morning’s conversation-
Cornelius Jackson, Member: That was me. Worked on it over lunch. Very appetizing.
Abercrombie: Wonderful. Thank you. Would you mind giving us that now?
Jackson: Not at all. The session this morning started with a discussion of the problems of informed consent among humanity and an attempt to narrow down why we expect documentation of informed consent when researchers do research on human beings. The Belmont Report was retrieved and read. Emphasis was put on the fact that humans have autonomy and freedom of choice. The idea of privation was brought up, the idea of a “right to be left alone”, by Dr. Mayar. A choice to not be involved in a particular research experiment is a choice to be left to one’s own devices, unbothered.
Marconis, it was pointed out, do not have the same conception of privacy, and thus informed consent does not have the same emphasis on the privacy of the individual. That created a problem for us that we have to better understand.
While the Marconis are foremost on the mind of the Commission, as Chairwoman Abercrombie pointed out, the express charge of the committee was a statement of ethical conduct of research with regard to any possible extraterrestrial that should cross paths with humanity. We broke for lunch when we got into the weeds of that argument.
Shawn Yukon, Member: I don’t think we should so breezily put aside the Marconis.
Jackson: That wasn’t my intention at all in making this summary, in fact-
Yukon: Because to date, this committee hasn’t seemed comfortable with the fact that we have an ongoing crisis on this planet with regard to the Marconis and that any discussion we have should, if it is useful whatsoever, deal with the mistakes we’ve made as a species towards these extraterrestrials.
Rex Jablonowski, Member: This shit again.
Yukon: Excuse me?
Members talking over one another
Abercrombie: Everyone, please speak one at a time. Dr. Yukon, I appreciate your opinion, but we do have a charge from Congress. It’s clear in scope.
Yukon: Just because it’s clear in scope doesn’t make it right.
Abercrombie: We’re not here to debate our scope.
Yukon: It’s worth bringing up. You have the typist there taking these words down, right? I want it to be on the record that this Commission puts aside the Marconis on the regular.
Abercrombie: And as this point, you have said your peace, right?
Mayar: I think we should keep all these things in mind as we proceed. Whatever product this group produces is going to be influenced by the Marconis, no matter what, Shawn, so we’re going to do our best to work together.
Gagne: Thank you, Lodi.
Abercrombie: As Dr. Jackson said, we need to develop a new paradigm for dealing with extraterrestrial creatures in research.
Rev. Louis Tripp, Member: You’ve all heard of the Prime Directive?
Several members saying ‘No’
Tripp: It’s from an old TV show. It was a constraint on behavior by humanity when encountering new species, that you would not influence the growth of their civilization.
Abercrombie: You’re saying we need to apply this standard.
Tripp: I’m saying it’s a starting point.
Abercrombie: In the case of the Marconis – as Dr. Yukon will well know – they contacted us first.
Mayar: They not only contacted us first but violated that ethical guidance themselves, if you want to look at it from the purity perspective.
Tripp: That’s true. I’m just saying we could keep it in mind. Purity perspective is a little bit of an extreme description for what I’m talking about, but-
Mayar: Sure, sure.
Tripp: -but it is probably the right one.
Jablonowski: We also have to consider that there is great benefit not only to us, but to the extraterrestrial species, if research is undertaken.
Yukon: Did the Marconis derive some benefit from contact with us?
Jablonowski: I don’t know, did they?
Mayar: They do love french fried potatoes.
Yukon: They’ve gotten nothing but trouble from us.
Abercrombie: That’s not totally fair, Shawn. They seem to love reading our ancients. And their embassy was here and it remained undisturbed, even with all the problems it caused.
Yukon: Problems it caused? What about problems we caused?
Abercrombie: We all know why we’re here, Shawn.
Yukon: Any problems caused by the embassy had to do with their physiology and language. Our mistakes were our choice alone.
Gagne: Look, who contacts who first isn’t the point of this committee, pace to Reverend Tripp.
Tripp: Thank you.
Gagne: I think our document needs to start from the assumption that first contact was made and that we’re in a position to do research.
Yukon: I think-
Gagne: Because, Shawn, by the time the academics get in there, the military, the government types, and whatever NGO’s interact in that space at the time are already going to be there mucking things up. We’re doing research, not diplomacy. I understand your position as the representative for Marconis here on planet Earth, trust me, I’m sympathetic to it. But we’re scientists, not statesmen.
Abercrombie: Well said.
January 4, 2039
NEW YORK, NY (Associated Press) – The Marconi ambassadorial collective to the United Nations met with humanity’s most senior delegation today in New York City, marking the first step in rebuilding trust between the two species.
“The mistakes of the past/make short work of the present,” the Marconi collective said in a statement spoken in front of the UN delegation, but picked up by amateur radio operators sitting in boats on the half-frozen Hudson River. “But one cannot/step in the same river twice.”
The use of a fragment from Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher, shows the depths that the Marconi race has delved into human thought since the catastrophe. The principal officer of the UN delegation, Lars Volck, speaking to reporters about the use of the quotation, said, “We think it shows that the Marconis see present negotiations as being productive. We have our best scholars working on making sure all the past crimes are forgiven by crafting statements in a careful and deliberate matter.” When asked whether historians would be consulted about the Marconi use of Zeno in talking about the path forward, he responded that they were doing their best.
The uncertainty by the delegation again reminds observers and critics of the universal difficulty of communication with the Marconi race. Notoriously abstract in their speech patterns, fans of esoteric philosophy, the Marconi speech method of electromagnetic radio communication compounds the difficulties of interact with their radically open society.
Ever since the electrical engineer and linguist, Dr. Marshall Twins of Temple University, made the breakthrough in UHF and VHF radio communications that solved the communication barrier, diplomats have sought out people with both skillsets. The Twins model has since been carried forward to facilitate communication between the mysterious alien race and humanity.
“We are using the Twins model but it’s clear we need more diplomatic tools to work with our Marconi friends,” said Lars Volck. “And we don’t have those yet. This disaster showed that we don’t yet understand their race enough to start making assumptions about language and understanding. It’s a work in progress.”
“I’m so fucking sick of that twat Shawn Yukon,” she said.
Cornelius Jackson’s surprised laughter almost shot coffee through his nose. He choked and sputtered on his drink. Cornelius blew his nose into a napkin through a smile.
They sat on an arbor-drenched veranda with their coffee. The forty five minute break in the Commission’s session allowed them to recaffeinate and regroup. Cornelius tried not to hit the danishes too hard, even though they looked damn good. The Quakers running Pendle Hill could cook up a storm, even if the facility had grown a bit shabby in its old age. Typical place for a government-funded conference.
Dr. Lodi Mayar looked amused at his reaction. “Aren’t you?”
“Of course. I was just trying to give a summary, for Christ’s sake, and he about knocked my head off.”
Lodi looked glad for confirmation. With her hair tied back in a tight bun, she looked more mature today than she had yesterday with her case of bed head. Cornelius had guessed that she was about thirty two or thirty three, but often came across as girlish and spirited. Lodi Mayar had a fire in her belly and never backed down in the proceedings of the Special Committee.
He liked her the first day he met her. It didn’t hurt that Lodi was just his type: short, curvy, with dark, curly hair that fell onto the shoulders of her colorful dresses. They were both attached to other people: he, married with children just entering middle school, she in some kind of long term relationship with a pharmaceutical official who traveled a lot. Cornelius kept it Platonic. But that didn’t mean he didn’t enjoy conversations with her during the long stays at the Pendle Hill conference center. It seemed like she was the only sane one on the Special Commission.
“All of us know what happened to the Marconis when they showed up. He doesn’t have to lecture us like we’re schoolkids,” Lodi said.
“I hear you. But he has to be on the committee.”
“Oh yeah?” she said, raising a dark eyebrow. “Why is that?”
“Politics. Congress will want to know that a Marconi advocate sat on there. We have to put advocates on all research ethics boards for people who can’t represent themselves,” Cornelius said.
“Marconis can’t represent themselves?”
Cornelius said, “They can, but have you talked with one? It’s like talking to an oracle. It’s not easy.”
Lodi conceded his argument with a roll of the eyes.
When the Marconis had found out about the experiments done in a Faraday cage by some Northwestern University shitheads, the aliens had flipped their shit. Telecommunications all but halted across the world. The screams of anger from the Marconis – Cornelius always thought of them as sounding like high-pitched frogs yammering through every speaker in his house – echoed through cyberspace. The internet went down in minutes, plunging economies into chaos. Power grids went dark. The signals sent from GPS satellites disappeared in a cloud of noise. Jets flew into mountains. People couldn’t use their credit cards. Clocks ran down.
The Marconis revealed how overwhelmingly humanity relied on its electromagnetic manipulations.
Hundreds of thousands died over the next week, many of them in the most advanced and technologically-reliant economies. Northern cities froze, the heat no longer functioning. Responders couldn’t coordinate by radio. Grocery stores turned into battlegrounds as self-driving cars pulled over on highways and jammed traffic into gridlock across the globe.
The United States government responded as well as any government could. Its embattled president deployed the National Guard in all fifty states using shielded radio transmitters tuned to a frequency spared the Marconi wailing. They helped where they could. But the damage had been done. It took two years to track down the perpetrators from Northwestern and academia had reeled from a wave of populist disgust and outrage. Northwestern no longer existed as an institution.
Cornelius continued. “Besides, he has a point. We’re going through this really abstract exercise of what to do if we ever encounter any alien race. It’s hard to get that abstract when we all know the reason we’re here.”
Lodi looked pensive. “What do you think we’re going to end up with, then, if we’re having these arguments three days into the conference? Think this will work?”
Cornelius sighed. He went to drink coffee, using it as a pause to think of an answer. But the drink was too hot so he put it down again. “I sure as shit hope so. We’ve all sacrificed a lot to this, career-wise.”
“But the section on risks was pretty straightforward. It’s this informed consent stuff that’s killing us.”
Lodi chuckled. “The risks are pretty evident, aren’t they?”
“Apocalypse tends to make things awfully clear,” Cornelius said. He still remembered huddling under every blanket in the house with his family, as the most frigid day of the year sent fingers of cold through their makeshift shelter and their teeth chattered.
“The Commission seemed to like the Right To Be Left Alone,” Lodi said. “Seemed to resonate with everyone, even if we just bickered for two hours just now.”
“That’s a pretty neat concept,” Cornelius said.
“It’s not mine. Louis Brandeis. Later became a justice on the Supreme Court. He said that technology would get to the point where we’d have problems with confidentiality. He wasn’t wrong, but it’s interesting how good we have it even with all the spying and data breaches and shit.”
“You mean compared to the Marconis.”
“Hell yes. They’re amazing creatures. Thoughtful. Respectful, maybe to a fault. But the idea that all their verbalizations are public is just crazy. Imagine what it does to the psyche to have everything you say broadcast to everyone on your planet. It takes away your personhood.”
“They seem to have gotten used to it.”
“You think so? Those were exiles on board that ship,” Lodi said.
“It was exiles that founded the United States, too,” Cornelius said.
She looked wistful for a moment. “Remember the sails?”
“Oh yeah. Nobody believed them when they said how they got here.” Damn near as big as the moon, they sails were golden wings, like a great lunar moth. The devices, gossamer thin and half as big as the moon, apparently could “catch” cosmic expansion, propelling the Marconi ships at speeds faster than light. Physicists banged their heads against the wall, but the Marconis didn’t give up the goods and humans had so far failed to replicate the technology.
Lodi said, “What a ship. And on board, a bunch of Marconi losers who we couldn’t become friends with even if we tried. They’re too different.”
Cornelius said, “I remember someone at NAER – not Yukon, someone else – said that every word the Marconis utter is ‘as from a stage.’”
“Hmmm, I like that description,” Lodi said.
“Though, humans do enjoy acting, we do it for fun.”
“We don’t stand on a stage with every word we say. Everyone has confidence in someone. Everyone has downtime from public speaking.”
“Marconis do get some downtime, through,” Cornelius said. He finally got the coffee to his lips. “They use audible communication with their brood before their antennae develop. Sometimes in mating.”
“Grunts and whistles when you’re fucking aren’t downtime,” Lodi said.
He laughed. “You know what I mean. They have private activities, they just aren’t as robust as humanity’s. And we have to try and understand them and anyone else who comes our way, before we fuck up again.”
“I know,” Lodi said. “That’s why we’re doing this work.”
DRAFT SECTION, INFORMED CONSENT, PENDLE HILL REPORT
Respect for extraterrestrial beings, a foundational principle of this report, requires first that humanity understands, or at least starts from, its own prejudices regarding its social, economic, and political hierarchies and statuses. Extraterrestrial research subjects, to the degree that they are able, may or may not have a choice over what happens to them. This choice is known as informed consent among human beings.
Humanity values the concept of informed consent. The right to understanding an experiment before participating only captures part of the importance of informed consent as laid out in the ethical predecessor document to this report, Belmont Report. The Right to be Left Alone, that is, for a potential participant to reject wholly the research, its aims, goals, benefits, and risks, is just as important.
Failure to understand the nature of personhood selfhood among the extraterrestrial research subject can result in coercion. Before debates about the nature of proper informed consent can be made, it must be understood whether the extraterrestrial conscious creature exists in a society that allows it that privilege right.
CONTINUED TRANSCRIPT FROM JULY 7th MEETING OF SPECIAL COMMISSION, SECOND HALF OF AFTERNOON SESSION
Gagne: This section is really starting to sound clunky.
Gagne: We’re introducing too many concepts at once. Look right here, we have respect for extraterrestrials, one, informed consent, two, right to be left alone, three, plus all this stuff about personhood. Lodi, I get that you want the right to be left alone in there, but it doesn’t fit at all.
Jackson: We can’t put it further down in this section?
Abercrombie: I agree with Dr. Gagne, this probably isn’t the place for it.
Gagne: Under Respect for Extraterrestrials.
Mayar: But we haven’t even written that section yet!
Jackson: Maybe we have to now.
Mayar: Really, Cornelius? We’re going to write that now, in the middle of another section?
Jackson: Do you have a better idea?
Mayar: Fine, how are we going to do it?
Abercrombie: I think we should sit down and just write the damn thing.
DRAFT SECTION, RESPECT FOR EXTRATERRESTRIAL INDIVIDUALS AND SOCIETIES CIVILIZATIONS, PENDLE HILL REPORT
Respect for extraterrestrial civilizations requires an understanding of approaching another society before the individual extraterrestrial is approached for the purposes of research. Contact between two species happens first at a societal level, even if the contact happens between two individuals. Human interaction with an extraterrestrial society will almost certainly happen in such a way that no recognition exists beyond the mere physical laws of the universe and what humanity has come to know about eusocial organisms: gathering together is preferable than going it alone. Those interactions are certain to be fraught with many unknowns. Respect for the Right to Be Left Alone shall be considered…
Respect for humans fell under two convictions: that humans are autonomous, and that autonomy should be acknowledged, particularly when an individual has diminished autonomy. It is irresponsible for research on extraterrestrial beings to make the same assumptions. Assumptions about extraterrestrial societies using humanity as a starting point will necessarily fail.
CONTINUED TRANSCRIPT FROM JULY 7th MEETING OF SPECIAL COMMISSION, SECOND HALF OF AFTERNOON SESSION
Mayar: And here we are, back where we fucking started.
Abercrombie: Language, please. This is being recorded.
Jackson: What do you mean, Lodi?
Tripp: She means that we keep returning to the same concept over and over again.
Jackson: That being?
Tripp: You know what they say. “Don’t make an ass out of you and me.”
Yukon: The good Reverend is right. I’ve already voiced my opinions-
Moffat: Yes you have.
Yukon: Let me talk. I think that we should think about assumptions.
Yukon: Now we’re writing a manual on how not to – as you so eloquently said – assume you understand an alien race when you start doing research on them.
Mayar: Why, Shawn, that’s the most constructive thing you’ve said yet.
DRAFT SECTION, “CAUTION AND RECOGNITION”, PENDLE HILL REPORT
Human assumptions, and behavior following from those assumptions, about the social dynamics of other eusocial species has brought great ruin. Itinerant passenger pigeons, whose flocking behavior did not map well onto humanity’s private property arrangements in the 19th century, resulted in the eradication of the species. Discoveries of fungal ecosystem arrangements from the 21st century showed a depth of plant communication and networked cognition that opened a new moral universe in how humans interacted with flora. Other examples abound (WHICH EXAMPLES? NEED ONE MORE TO HAVE TRIFECTA).
Recognition of the human tendency to project its attitudes onto other species within our civilization’s sphere of influence lies at the center of any interaction with an extraterrestrial society, particularly one of equal or greater complexity than humanity’s.
AUGUST 18, 2042
“THROUGH THE SPACES BETWEEN WORLDS”: Dr. Marshall Twins and his Marvelous Electromagnetic Translations
PHILADELPHIA, PA (Reuters): The dusty amateur radio set looks antiquated. When I tell Marshall Twins this, he says, “And it is. With cell phones and the beginning of thought-projection starting online, simplex radio communication seems quaint. But, by God, it still works.”
By simplex, he means the simplest procedure for communicating by radio from one place to another: generating a signal at Point A and sending it to Point B.
He continues, “But our Marconi friends have taken simplex to another level.”
If anyone could lay claim to making friends with the Marconis, it is Marshall Twins. It was this unassuming man – white-haired, with round features and dark brown eyes – that first cracked their language. As he lounges on a beaten-up leather couch in his lab with a can of beer, he laughs at the notion of his groundbreaking thoughts on Marconi language and society.
“If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else.”
“Like who?” I ask.
“Someone who was trained how I was trained.”
“As a linguist and as an engineer.”
There aren’t many people of that dual breed of education, I tell him.
“Apparently there were just enough!” he exclaims.
Twins tells a story as unlikely and as fantastical as any science fiction space opera. He sat in his radio shack as the Marconis arrived in orbit aboard their generation ship. Fussing with his frequency dial, he listened to the global reactions – fear, wonder, apprehension, even relief at no longer being the only ones in the universe – and then heard them fade. As the sun went down and the atmosphere’s ionic layers shed their interfering power, a Marconi transmission filtered down to the Earth and through his headphones.
“It sounded like a choir,” he says sublimely. “They were speaking all at once. Later I found out they were speaking on a thousand frequencies.”
Many others listened in as humanity discovered the vast communicative ability of the aliens floating above them. But few worked the signal the way Twins worked it. He says that he had a gift for RF communication since he was a boy and went to a local fair. At the fair, a ham radio operator demonstrated how a person with a rudimentary setup could cast a signal across the planet and talk to a stranger on the other side of the world. He tinkered as a teenager and later made hobby into career.
That, paired with his gift for foreign languages – Twins is a polygot, speaking several Romance languages as well as Mandarin Chinese and both formal and ‘street’ Arabic – made him the perfect fit for a race of aliens that use a complex biological antenna to broadcast messages to their friends.
One of the crowning achievements of Twins’s career, then, was when he met the Marconi delegation at the United Nations building in New York City. “They insisted on meeting me, since I was the first to break through. I think it gave them a kind of security, meeting the one who first made contact. It’s the only pure communication that they encountered. Everything after that was measured by government, by private citizens, whatever. Mine was the first outreach.”
“What did you say?”
“At the United Nations?”
“No, when you first called them up.”
“‘Can you hear me?’”
“What did they say?”
“‘Yes, your signal is very clear.’”
“I said that I was glad to finally meet them.”
“They said that they didn’t understand.” Twins gets a distant look in his eye now. “The Marconis have trouble with the idea that we have privation of speech. Every one of their words is broadcast to anyone within listening distance. To them, I didn’t meet them, everyone met them simultaneously and I was making the introduction for the whole race.
“It’s an accident of their evolution, that they have no privacy and broadcast everything they say. Their society is what it is as a result.”
When I ask him what his first impression of the Marconis was, he grins. “Dry. Really dry. I guess I didn’t understand what the astronauts meant until I was in their presence. Hard to believe they can even exist here in hot and humid Pennsylvania, though I guess they have the means to deal with it.”
And their antennas?
“Gah lee, the strangest, most puzzling biological device I think anyone has ever seen,” Twins says without hesitation. “The way it can arrange itself into whatever shape it needs for propagation. The way it senses changes in magnetic fields. It’s really beautiful when they really get going, especially when more than one person is talking at once. The Marconi UN delegation included their best communicators and it was shocking what they could do. The arrangements take your breath away, like words, even novels made into flesh.”
“Did they ever say when they started talking that way?” I ask. “Like whether they’ve always been able to do it?”
“Their stories they tell themselves about how they evolved it are more fables than anything else. We might never know how it happened.”
He fires up the ham radio set and tunes into one of the Marconi broadcasts coming from their vessel, still in orbit, even after Northwestern faculty trying to study Marconi communication almost started a conflict. Twins listens and picks up speech: they’re taking turns talking about the protesters at Valley Forge down on earth, where the embassy battle still rages.
“What do you think of what happened at Northwestern?”
Twins stops what he’s doing. “It was a crime against Marconis. And it was a crime against humanity. I’m glad that the men were prosecuted but it doesn’t take away the fact that they destroyed a delicate relationship we were working hard to build.”
“Do the Marconis talk with you about it?”
“When I last sent an apology into their queue – you probably already know that they insist on people taking turns to talk on the restricted frequencies and hate that we talk over one another – they never really responded to it. I don’t know what to think about that.”
Lodi picked at her eggs. She’d had way too much coffee, Cornelius could tell, because she now moved her hands with erratic and spastic energy as she talked. They day already promised to be sweltering, the sun hammering on his shoulders and making the small of his back break out in sweat.
“This complexity question really shows how much of a jackoff Shawn Yukon is.”
“Why is that?” Cornelius said. He’d already eaten his eggs and was hoping that Lodi would offer him hers. He did love a Western-style omelet. The Pendle Hill staff had given them plenty of salsa and one of the new GMO avocados on the side.
“Because he suggested using passenger pigeons, a dumber species than us, as the first example in the list of species we’ve fucked over.”
Cornelius nodded. “We can move it down.”
“It’s not a bad example, it’s just that putting that bit about complexity in there mucks it all up.”
“The fungi example was good, though.”
“Yeah, I agree. Isn’t it funny how this always spills back over into talking about animals?” She paused. “We still need a third example.”
“Maybe Western encounters with Native Americans,” Cornelius said.
“Or, given your area of expertise, Belgian conquest of Central Africa.”
“True.” He wrote it down for later, then laughed. “We need more than good examples, though. We haven’t written a single complete section of this damn report yet.”
“The problem,” Lodi said, leaning forward and giving Cornelius a serious look. She brought her voice low, like she was saying something forbidden. “Is that we’re starting with the Belmont Report and working backwards.”
She sighed and sat back, a satisfied sound. “Thank God, you’re here. You see what I mean,” she said. “I don’t know if the others do. Maybe Shawn Fucking Yukon, of all people.”
Cornelius nodded. He understood why she was afraid to voice the opinion. The Belmont Report was directly mentioned in their charge from Congress. Abandoning the format could mean disaster in front of lawmakers. “I get you. The whole Belmont Report is about humanity and our values systems. But they put together those scientists in the 1970’s precisely because those people knew best how humans interacted with one another. This is about humans interacting with aliens. About contact between species. It’s not about us, it’s about them.”
“It’s not you, it’s me,” Lodi said, giggling.
“So maybe we’re on to something by starting with this Don’t Assume section, the one we called Caution or whatever,” Lodi said. She began eating her eggs again. Cornelius considered ordering more but decided he was just going to make himself ill if he did. “The Belmont Report had the big three: respect for persons, do no harm, err, beneficence, and justice. Maybe we start with another three.”
Cornelius liked this. “Okay, I like where we’re going.” He pulled his napkin over again and began to sketch on it. “Number one, Don’t Assume.”
“What’s number two?” Lodi said.
“Do you mind if we sit here?”
They both snapped around. Cornelius and Lodi weren’t accustomed to anyone asking to sit with them. Now Colleen Abercrombie and Shawn Yukon stood at a polite distance, their cafeteria trays filled. The Chair of the Commission, Abercrombie, had a no-nonsense look about her. Tall, with a long nose and a stooped look, she had the likeness of an old crane. Abercrombie managed to keep the meetings sane, to her credit, but Cornelius didn’t really enjoy being around the old clinician.
Shawn Yukon was her opposite, short, with a large graying beard, more of a groundhog. He had a quiet and intense look, as if evaluating the situation.
“Sure,” Lodi said.
Cornelius was surprised and caught her eye as the other two settled down. He’d expected her to protest, given that they were about to solve all the Commission’s problems on a napkin. She gave a slight shrug, as if to say, It’s the chair of the Commission, what else are we gonna do?
“You two looked pretty deep in conversation,” Abercrombie said.
Shawn Yukon began shoveling food in his mouth and said through his bagel, “Hell, you had the napkins out, it must have been good.”
They all laughed and the tension dissolved.
“Well,” Cornelius said. He looked to Lodi again for her permission. She nodded. “We were thinking that the Belmont Report doesn’t really work here. It’s too focused on humanity’s history. We need new ethical principles.”
“Like?” Abercrombie said.
“Number one was the Do Not Assume rule,” Cornelius said. “Number two could be-”
“The Right to be Left Alone,” Yukon said.
“Hell yeah,” Lodi said.
Cornelius wrote it down in a second slot. They all sat for a moment in thought, he and Lodi sipping their coffees, the latecomers eating.
“We were talking about complexity, earlier, Shawn,” Lodi said. “And how it seems to be one of the drivers of the conflict, here.”
“By complexity, you mean-” Shawn started.
“The difference between humans and pigeons,” Lodi said.
“An assumption of complexity, but okay. Then what? Say you identify something that isn’t complex, are you more likely to cut it into pieces for research? Is that really ethical?” Shawn said.
“That’s the contention of plants rights activists,” Abercrombie said.
“You’re not one of those loonies, are you?” Lodi said.
“A few of them are friends,” Shawn replied.
“Of course you’re friends with those people,” Lodi said.
“I think it’s just reasonable to say that we’re more likely to work on a non-complex organism than a complex one with a society. More likely to work on a bacteria-analogue than a race of beings that have religion and death rites,” Cornelius said.
“Absolutely,” Abercrombie agreed.
Cornelius continued, “Seems to me that Don’t Assume is number one and number two, Right to be Left Alone, is constrained by complexity. The more something can think, the more likely it will balk at being the subject of research.”
DRAFT SECTION, “THE RIGHT TO BE LEFT ALONE”, PENDLE HILL REPORT
The major limiting factor of the Right to be Left Alone deals with human respect for the complexity of other organisms. Humans throughout history have created hierarchies of being based on the perceived complexity of the organisms with which they have dealt. Megafauna throughout history have elicited more respect and more understanding than other organisms.
Rather than resist the human tendency to recognize organisms of more complexity, the Right to be Left alone should be recognized for its clear linkage to the human prejudice instinct to deal with similar others the same way they’d be dealt with. Humans expect little sympathy out of single-celled organisms but still identify with the great mammals of the world (THIS SOUNDS LIKE A TREE HUGGER-LM.
The Right to be Left Alone rises in proportional importance to the complexity of the society with which humanity, a complex society by its own measurement, interacts.
October 21, 2042
ARTS AND CULTURE WEEKLY EXCERPT: “MARCONI MUSIC BECOMES HOT COMMODITY”
Dee Jay Gray is bringing salacious beats to people hungry for something fresh and flashy. “I’m not just remixing what they’re slinging. I’m sending it back to them for comment.”
The Marconis, when presented with Dee Jay Gray’s work, expressed sheer delight. Their embassy in Valley Forge now retransmits his work around the clock.
“I’m damn flattered, Marconis got best taste,” Dee Jay Gray says.
Cornelius thought it was interesting that the Commission had actually been whittled down to just four people. Actually in the sense that the Commission still ran, but no longer seemed to have decision-making power as a body. He’d always thought committees of more than five or so people unwieldy. Being an academic involved a ton of committee work, with every step of every goddamn process governed by a group of people. It was tedious.
But now that he’d been involved with forming a cabal, working independently of the Commission and then shaping its activity during full sessions, he felt guilty.
On the other hand, the four of them had an efficiency that anyone involved needed to recognize. The Commission had its share of loafers, people MIA, and general disinterest. Rex Jablonowski was in the hospital again, probably for the rest of the conference. Gagne slept off site and rarely showed for the whole day. Reverend Tripp had a way with words and was a wonderful human being, but did not ever seem interested in doing the work of writing drafts. Messages sent to him went into the black hole of his inbox and never emerged. Others had faded into the background.
Whereas each of those in their cabal had their own strengths.
Lodi Mayar’s strong personality and verve. Abercrombie’s executive function. Yukon with his clarity of purpose. Cornelius felt like he was the slacker of the group, though everyone seemed to think he was contributing. He made up for his short fallings by acting as stenographer and keeping close track of the discussions.
Cornelius was just happy to be along for the ride.
They talked now in one of the lounges in a remote part of the Pendle Hill Complex. The cozy room was adorned with three dimensional art. Cornelius hadn’t ever seen anything like it. The artist, Abner Zook, depicted pastoral scenes in three dimensional paintings of plaster and oil that literally leapt off the wall. The one closest to Cornelius, which he started at when he was thinking, showed a group of Pennsylvania Dutch waving to a departing wagon.
“So the Right to be Left Alone must rise in importance relative to the complexity of the civilization,” Yukon said.
“Explain that more so I can write it down,” Abercrombie said, lifting her stylus away from her pad. She was old school and still used a pen and paper.
“A society that has reached a certain level of complexity, like the Marconis, are going to be more resistant to the influence of another civilization. Seems to me that this is a law of human interaction with nature.”
“Squirrels don’t like it when we don’t ask for permission, though,” Lodi said.
“Squirrels have a form of society. But look at something like a slime mold. It’s far more benign. Smart, for its kingdom, but not interacting with slime molds on the other side of the forest, you know?”
“Shawn, you’re starting to sound downright bloodthirsty,” Lodi said, giving her roguish grin.
“A few days ago you wouldn’t have talked about this at all,” Abercrombie said.
Yukon barely cracked a smile. The man didn’t have much of a sense of humor. “I’ve come around to the idea that there’s complexity in the world and that we need to deal with it.”
“So let’s take that relationship in stride, then, and keep it in the draft as is,” Cornelius said. “I want to throw a spanner into the works.”
The rest of them groaned. “What are you thinking?” Lodi said.
“The Belmont Report introduced the idea of benefits to the research. How does the Right to be Left Alone interact with the possibility of benefits of research? Wouldn’t a complex society learn as much as we’d learn from them?”
They all thought about his tough question. Lodi, as she was wont to do, got up and started looking at another Abner Zook piece, one where some Native Americans wielding muskets watched a settler’s house burn, the occupants fleeing toward the waiting Natives. The grisly picture was marked with the words “HOCHSTETLER MASSACRE, Berks County.”
Wonder if she’s thinking of the clash of cultures, Cornelius thought to himself. He admired her thoughtful look for a moment and turned back to the others, who also looked at odds with themselves, thinkers all.
The reaction satisfied him. Cornelius got the little spark of happiness he obtained from asking penetrating questions. It was what got him into academia in the first place: the questions, the endless interrogation of answers.
And, often, the complete lack of a real solution to a human dilemma.
DRAFT SECTION, “MUTUAL AID”, PENDLE HILL REPORT
First contact between two alien civilizations is an unpredictable enterprise, full of power imbalances and surprise. Later, the relationship will evolve. Human history is replete with disastrous meetings and encounters that went in a negative direction (NEGATIVE DIRECTION? WORD CHOICE? BETTER WAY TO PUT THAT–LM).
However it can only be expected that one party will begin to study the other. The concept of mutual aid can help with these interactions. Humans, in researching extraterrestrials, should conceive of society-wide benefits to both humanity and the extraterrestrial species in question. Any research must serve the interests of both societies, not just one. Conceiving of this on the societal level benefits an iron law of species preservation that seems to come with evolution (NEEDS WORK).
In conjunction with the other ethical ideas presented in this document, and the idea of Beneficence in the Belmont Report, the idea of mutual aid is intended to preserve delicate balances of power between species that might be opposed to one another and ensure the safety of all participants in research and the ethical sanctity of the research process. The best practice of mutual aid will have a positive influence on research interactions between two species.
MARCH 28, 2045
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
SELECT COMMITTEE ON EXTRATERRESTRIAL AFFAIRS
EXCERPT OF CLOSED HEARING
SUBJECT: Review of report by the Special Commission on the Protection of Extraterrestrial Subjects of Biomedical and Social or Behavioral Research, also known as the “Pendle Hill Report”
Colleen Abercrombie, Chairperson of Select Commission: I’m just trying to understand what you’re asking—
Representative (WA) Ali Foreman, Ranking Member: My question is pretty clear, I think, Dr. Abercrombie. How are we supposed to protect national security with this kind of mutual aid restriction? How can we do research that will protect us from the Marconi – a race that is undoubtedly a danger to humanity – with this kind of hamstringing? You’ve put us in a position of only undertaking academic research when it benefits both the Marconi and ourselves. What about humanity? What about our security?
Abercrombie: My group wasn’t considering national security.
Foreman: That much is clear. I yield the floor to my colleagues so they can continue to impress upon you how badly you handled this report.
Representative (MA) Kathleen Colby, Member: Dr. Abercrombie, hopefully you can understand our position here. We’re responsible for security of humanity with regard to a race of extraterrestrials that have done an enormous amount of damage because of academics like yourself. My constituents want to understand how research on these extraterrestrials can ensure the safety of themselves and their families. They want to know how we can take up research on Marconis again in a way that’s both pragmatic and ethical. You’ve clearly done the latter, but nothing in your document strikes me as remotely pragmatic.
Abercrombie: One or more of my colleagues on the Special Commission might disagree that we’re being ethical with what we’re saying here, but anyway, we didn’t write this report about the Marconis. Our charge was to write a report on the ethical implications of doing research on extraterrestrials in general. Not specific to Marconis, you understand. That was our charge. We discussed that at length in these meetings.
Colby: And you don’t think that you’ve produced a document that just muddies the waters?
Abercrombie: Forgive me, but I don’t think of research ethics as a crystal clear puddle that I skip stones across.
Colby: You can be flippant about this, but I guarantee that the American people feel differently.
Abercrombie: I’m an American, Representative Colby, and I think our Commission has represented the interests of the American people.
Abercrombie: And it is crucial that our elected representatives make sure that encounters between humans and alien civilizations never take the turn they did with the Marconis.
Colby: Do you intend to talk over me throughout this entire hearing?
Abercrombie: Only if I don’t like what you’re saying about the hard work of this Commission.
Representative (IL) Drayton Dewine, Member: Dr. Abercrombie, this report doesn’t help us at all with the present situation. Here we are, facing an unprecedented threat to humanity, and your Commission takes years to release a report that does nothing to help. We signed the National Research Act update into law in 2041 and you took until 2044 to finalize the report. Now, in 2045, you want to come in here and show us that what you’ve produced is a useless document. I am disappointed, as are my constituents.
Abercrombie: I’m sorry to hear you feel that way.
Dewine: Furthermore, your unapologetic attitude toward the American taxpayer for wasting their money on an academic exercise in what would happen if we met a species yet unknown is going to be the end of your career, if I do say so myself.
Abercrombie: Why would you give ownership of a report on research ethics to a group of academics if you didn’t want an academic work as a result?
Dewine: You know what I mean.
Abercrombie: I’m afraid that I don’t, Representative. You and the other Representatives seem to be under the impression that a group of academics can produce a military strategy document, when what we were tasked with doing was following the Belmont Report with an adequate working document on research on extraterrestrials, one that encounters the extraterrestrial on its own terms. Just like the Belmont Report, which was written to guide us after Nazi atrocities. This document will save us a lot of work next time we encounter an alien species.
Dewine: If there is a next time.
Abercrombie: Since we didn’t see this time coming, I imagine a next time might be more likely than we think.
While he rarely dusted off his old suit, Cornelius wore one to Capitol Hill. It felt a little tight in the shoulders. Then again he’d been sloppy about eating, stressed about the publicization of the report. And he had to face it: he was getting old.
As usual, Lodi dressed well for the occasion. She’d aged too, but still had a youthful way of holding herself. She’d worn a modest maroon dress that brought out the auburn streaks in her hair, the streaks that weren’t gray, anyway. Her lipstick matched the dress. Lodi never changed.
“I know they’re just grilling the shit out of her,” Lodi muttered, looking at the wide oak doors with their brass handles, shutting them out of the meeting chamber. “I bet it’s a bloodbath.”
Lodi turned around with a critical eye. “Don’t you want to bust in there?”
“I want to be arrested less than I want to go in there. Plus, we stopped getting paid for this work a long time ago.”
Lodi gave a grin. “What, those Marconi consulting gigs aren’t working out for you?”
They had. Cornelius said, “I wanted to get home tonight, I don’t want to spend time cooling my heels in jail.”
Lodi sighed. “Still, if it was me, those politicians would get a what for and a kick in the ass.”
“That’s exactly why you’re not in there and she is,” Cornelius said.
Lodi rolled her eyes.
Neither of them were invited into the hearing. Colleen Abercrombie had to take on a bunch of ornery representatives by her lonesome.
Several emotions warred in Cornelius’s mind: pride that they’d made it so far and finished the report, four years later; fear at having a tarnished reputation; anger that the reaction to the report had been so twisted, falling into the latest twist in the anti-Marconi zeitgeist.
“Heard anything from Shawn? I’m sure he’s glued to the screen waiting for the results of these hearings,” Cornelius said.
Lodi shrugged. Her and Shawn had kept up an acquaintance after he’d been prosecuted for laundering money through the NAER, a claim he denied as a hoax to prevent him from representing Marconi interests on Earth. “He says that his screen rights are pretty curtailed. He gets plenty of loose leaf paper, though, says he’s writing a book.”
“I’ll buy two copies of that. One for me, one to leave on the subway,” Cornelius said.
Lodi smiled. “I offered to do the legwork to get it published if he sends me the manuscript.”
Cornelius said, “Remember when we were all clueless at Pendle Hill? Those were the days.”
“I had fun. Even if we’re here now.”
The doors flew open. A gaggle of reporters bum-rushed the doors, their accompanying camera drones whirring along above them, all aiming recording devices at someone who tried to press forward into their number.
Capitol police shouted, “That’s enough, let her through!”
The press didn’t listen, so the Capitol police had to do a bit of strong-arming to allow Colleen to emerge from the press. She looked drained, her face pale, her eyes just on the edge of bloodshot. Her impassive gaze searched the room and found Cornelius’s eyes. She made a beeline to him. Lodi gave her a hug and Cornelius blocked the press’s hungry following, swatting vaguely at the aggressive little drones.
“Can we get lunch?” Colleen shouted. “I’m famished.”
It took until Union Station until they could adequately quit the reporters. Even then, a few drones made half-hearted attempts at listening to their conversation through the open door of the Italian deli. Lodi set her device up to emit white noise and they watched the drones leave when their onboard mics stopped working.
They sat in silence for a awhile anyway, picking at their sandwiches.
Lodi finally broke the silence. “Did you hear that someone made a breakthrough on the cosmic expansion sails?”
“Really? They think they can recreate them?” Cornelius asked.
“Maybe,” Lodi said. “They thought so before, too. Makes you wonder, though.”
“Whether we’ll still need the report after all,” Colleen said.
by Will Caverly