Slightly over half of people in the UK believe that if the Earth received communications from an extraterrestrial, then the human species should collectively act like huge dumbasses and respond, according to a University of Oxford poll cited by Sky News on Tuesday.
Perhaps it was not emphasised enough that if the UK received an alien communique and chose to respond, there is a good chance that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would be the one to pick up the space phone, because about 53.6 per cent of respondents voted in favour of doing so, per Sky. Colour us surprised to learn that the poll also showed UK “men were more likely to welcome an extra-terrestrial than women.”
Sky wrote that, at the very least, most respondents would leave the choice on whether to respond to scientists, rather than elected representatives like Boris Johnson or a planet-wide referendum (which is how we got Boris Johnson in the first place):
Just under two-fifths (39.3%) of those surveyed chose a team of scientists to be in charge of the decision-making, roughly three times more than those who would pick elected representatives (14.8%).
Some 11% of people said there should be a planet-wide referendum, 12.3% preferred a citizen’s assembly of randomly selected adults, and the remaining 22.6% did not know which system to select.
If the choice of whether to respond was left up to a referendum, the aforementioned 56.3 per cent would vote in favour, while 20.5 per cent are undecided, 14 per cent would vote no, and 22.6 per cent would abstain, per Sky. Men would be more likely to vote yes than women at 65 per cent to 47 per cent, as well as those who voted to remain in the European Union over those who voted to leave, at 66 per cent to 54 per cent.
“Around 20 Earth-like planets have been discovered and we are trying to detect bio-signatures and messages, including the Voyager probes and radio waves,” Oxford researcher Peter Hatfield told Sky. “Some hostile species could travel, so we have looked at the ethics of who should decide the science we do, whether we communicate with potential aliens for example, and who has the authority to make these decisions.”
Oxford’s Leah Trueblood, who also worked on the survey, told Sky she found it “fascinating” that the majority were in favour of contact, adding “Those surveyed are clearly much braver than me!”
There are numerous other reasons to be wary of responding other than Boris Johnson. As National Geographic noted last year, surveys taken in the U.S. have shown respondents to be generally amenable to the possible discovery of extraterrestrial life – but the Washington Post noted that there is likely significant variation in attitudes across the globe, and any decision made by one nation would affect the entire planet. In addition to the risk of resulting conflict planetside, there’s really no telling what would happen, with possible outcomes ranging from a failure to exchange any meaningful ideas to luring hostile visitation of one kind or another.
Scientists have been generally wary of deliberately attempting to contact possible beings off-planet who may not be aware of Earth’s existence, such as the Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) International project which beamed a message with scientific and mathematical information to nearby GJ 273b in 2017, according to New Scientist. As Wired UK noted last year, there exists little consensus in the scientific community on what to do if a message is received beyond protocol agreed on by the International Academy of Astronautics in 1989, which says that no one should dial back before “appropriate international consultations” are made (in 2010, the protocol was updated to list the United Nations as the appropriate venue).
“Ninety-eight percent of astronomers and SETI researchers, including myself, think that METI is potentially dangerous, and not a good idea,” University of California, Berkeley SETI researcher Dan Werthimer told New Scientist. “It’s like shouting in a forest before you know if there are tigers, lions, and bears or other dangerous animals there.”
According to Wired UK, METI lead and astrobiologist Doug Vakoch disagreed, saying that any civilisation sufficiently advanced to message humans would have already detected the myriad broadcast signals leaving the planet 24/7.
“It’s not a case of making ourselves known to a civilisation for the first time, if they get our signal they have already detected our leakage,” Vakoch told Wired UK.
Featured image: AP