If Alien Civilizations Are Discovered, How Should Scientists Break the News?

June 2, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

UFO above a city skyline
Photo credit: Vladimir Pustovit/flickr (CC BY 2.0)


How do you think you would react if you were told an alien civilization had been discovered? At first, your likely reaction would be that it’s a hoax, but after the news sunk in, would you feel excited? Terrified? Indifferent?

Given the nature of human beings, the outcome of such an announcement would likely result in some chaos and a little rioting. But there may be a way to soften the blow, and it all depends on how the news is broken. Given what the discovery would mean for humanity, new research suggests that specific guidelines need to be developed for the scientists currently involved in the IAA Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

SEE ALSO: Humans Are Probably Not the Universe’s First Advanced Civilization

Since it may be only a matter of time before we come across intelligent life, how should scientists break the news to the world?

Specific protocols were first drafted back in 1989, but in the 27 years since, news outlets have dramatically evolved far beyond print newspapers, radio, and television. Now we have Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, and Twitter. Given this, the protocols were revised in 2010, but there is still a lack guidance for how scientists should communicate with the public using social media outlets.

The report, which is currently available online on arXiv.org, will soon be published in the journal Acta Astronautica, and according to the study, the announcement will require pre-search and post-detection protocols.

What’s meant by pre-search is that scientists will need to set up a blog about their work, including a clear description of what a certain project will do, and what the criteria are for a successful detection, a false positive, and no detection. This would help journalists and the public avoid misinterpreting the results.

If scientists were to spot an alien civilization, there would need to be post-detection steps that followed. The researchers would have to make sure they have nothing to hide because, unfortunately, news leaks are often unavoidable and spread like wildfire. If would be very bad for an “aliens found” story to be distributed that turns out to be untrue. The best way to do this would be to publish data immediately.

Why? To make it very clear that the detection is unconfirmed, and that natural or man-made causes can’t be ruled out. This leaves no room for conspiracy theories, and it also allows other scientists the opportunity to check the results, and either verify or refute the detection.

Finally, scientists must be involved in the conversation. If a published detection turns out to be false, the team should immediately make a public statement making it clear no aliens were discovered. And if the detection turns out to be true, the scientists need to commit to continued involvement in the global conversation.

So, how do you think you would react if an intelligent alien civilization was discovered? Leave your comments below.

You might also like: Scientists Want to Use Lasers to Hide From Alien Civilizations

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