Frank Drake, PhD, founder of SETI, is considered by many to be a pioneer of the scientific search for intelligent extraterrestrial life. In 1961, Drake developed an equation to estimate the number of alien societies that may be detectable, which is now called the Drake Equation ( He was elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974 for his work in detecting off-world intelligence. He’s now in his eighties, but his silver hair hasn’t stopped him; Drake is still working to find extraterrestrials. An approachable and interesting man, Drake isn’t above a joke about his work or the people with whom he interacts. While at SETIcon II in Santa Clara, California, Drake took a few minutes to answer questions about his research, the future of SETI Institute, and aliens.

The SETI Institute is not itself a UFO hunting group, nor is it associated with any. According to Drake, people used to confuse it as one. However, the public perception of SETI has changed over time. When asked how much time he spends debunking UFO myths, he smiled and said, “Zero. It used to be more. Lately, I think we are finally succeeding in discrediting all that. People are very hesitant to discuss abductions and UFOs because I think they’ve sensed that there is a growing body of conclusive conclusions that there is no substance there.”

Drake reflected on the bad old days of SETI research and continued with a light-hearted chuckle, “I used to have to debunk it in every lecture I gave and now it hasn’t happened in 1/10 lectures. But it used to be a regular standard question, ‘What is your status on UFOs?’ or what’s worse—‘Let me tell you my UFO story or let me tell you about the time I was abducted.’”

“One of them saw a UFO man in Central Park. Nobody else noticed.” Drake went on to recount another abductee story he encountered. “I was called about a guy who had a UFO experience right in a suburb of Santa Cruz [California]. He had this big story that he believed in and sounded very credible. I actually went out and investigated it.”