Predictions of Human Response To Alien Existence

Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov said in an interview last week with Russian state-owned news service Tass that germs fixed to the outside of the International Space Station are not from around here.

Shkaplerov said “Microbes have come from outer space and settled along the external surface. They are being studied so far, and it seems that they pose no danger.” Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, has not stood in on this astonishing claim.

The complications are not on the part of aliens. In case microorganisms are inserted away within the space station hull’s crannies, as Shkaplerov says, they likely hitchhiked the 250 miles from our planet’s surface.

Michael Varnum, a psychologist at Arizona State University and a member of its new Interplanetary Initiative, is demanding to foresee this reaction. “One of the initial questions [of the initiative] that we’re curious about is how might we respond if we discover evidence of extraterrestrial life,” he said.

Varnum associated with planetary scientists and organized three experiments. , Varnum said that the study, published online in November on a preprint server, is still under review. Two psychologists not taken part with this research announced The Washington Post that the study’s methods were vigorous.

People did not estimate the psychological reactions to extraterrestrial microorganisms in a “systematic, careful way,” Varnum said.

The psychologist and his co-authors “make a critical distinction between reactions to the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence and finding evidence for microbial life beyond Earth,” said Douglas Vakoch, president of the nonprofit group Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence, who didn’t involve in the study.

They examined five events: the discovery of pulsars in 1967, which were not straight away identified as natural; Ohio astronomer Jerry Ehman’s observation of the “Wow!” radio signal in 1977 (the signal’s source remains disputed); the 1996 report of preserved microbes in a Martian meteorite; the weird behavior of Tabby’s Star reported in 2015; and 2017’s discoveries of exoplanets that exist within distant habitable zones.

Journalists reported these events using words with “positive affect” importantly more frequently. “The reaction seemed to be much more positive than negative,” Varnum said.

Gordon Pennycook, a Yale University psychologist who studies opinions about religion, health and fake news, said the technique was substantial but proclaimed that the results were not particularly clarifying. “I’m not sure that the language analysis reveals anything special,” Pennycook said, because “there is some evidence people do use more positive than negative words generally.”

The scientists questioned 500 people to tell about their reactions to a hypothetical discovery of alien microorganisms. Respondents also had to expect how humanity at large scale would react.

That may be because “most Americans tend to think, on any desirable trait or ability, that they’re better than the average person,” Varnum said.

Given these results, Pennycook said he would be “pretty confident” that, if NASA announced the discovery of alien microbes tomorrow, Americans would react positively.

“Results of this new study mirror a survey conducted by theologian Ted Peters, who explored the impact of discovering extraterrestrial life on a person’s religious beliefs,” Vakoch said. Almost all people reacted that their own religion could resisted the statement — but other religions would brawl. “It looks like we don’t need to be worried about others not being able to handle an announcement of extraterrestrial life,” he said. “They’ll do just fine.”

Varnum advised that these results do not cast back how the remaining of the world might react. Vakoch repeated that belief. Previous research on extraterrestrial civilizations advised that Americans be prone to outlook aliens in a more black-and-white way than residents of China, for example, he said. “Chinese participants were able to imagine contact would lead to both risks and benefits,” on the other side Americans either believed the discovery would be “all good or all bad, but not both,” he said.

Under what condition, would the scientific community be most rapidly satisfied? “Unless we go to Europa and find a giant skeleton,” Elkins-Tanton said. “Really, it’s not going to happen.”


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