Guardian Quashes Alien Ambassador Story

What a difference an e-mail makes.

The world got a little overexcited this weekend when it was reported that the U.N. was appointing Malaysian astrophysicist Mazlan Othman to be the world’s official meeter and greeter should any extraterrestrials happen to spin by. This from a report circulated by NewsCorp’s “NewsCore” wire service:

THE United Nations was set today to appoint an obscure Malaysian astrophysicist to act as Earth’s first contact for any aliens that may come visiting.

Mazlan Othman, the head of the UN’s little-known Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa), is to describe her potential new role next week at a scientific conference at the Royal Society’s Kavli conference centre in Buckinghamshire.

She is scheduled to tell delegates that the recent discovery of hundreds of planets around other stars has made the detection of extraterrestrial life more likely than ever before - and that means the UN must be ready to coordinate humanity’s response to any “first contact”.

… Professor Richard Crowther, an expert in space law and governance at the UK Space Agency and who leads British delegations to the UN on such matters, said: “Othman is absolutely the nearest thing we have to a ‘take me to your leader’ person.”

Perhaps fearing a little reporting would get in the way of this Onion-esque story, no one bothered contacting the world’s newly appointed alien ambassador. Until today, that is, when The Guardian’s Matthew Weaver spoiled everyone’s fun:

Finally an email from Othman herself would have prompted our Martian to trudge back to his spaceship. “It sounds really cool but I have to deny it,” she said of the story. She will be attending a conference next week, but she’ll be talking about how the world deals with “near-Earth objects”. Our alien will just have to try someone else, or stop reading the Sunday Times.

Perhaps NewsCorp was just going for its H.G. Welles moment.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.