First Contact with aliens could be a life-altering event. How should we respond?

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Credit: Teddy Sczudlo/Getty Images

Peter Hatfield and Leah Trueblood from the University of Oxford say that our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic is preparing us, at least in some ways, for First Contact [with extraterrestrial life.]

The researchers point out that the pandemic has many similarities to a First Contact event, particularly with regard to the involvement of scientists, the scrutiny they undergo and their interaction with politicians.

They used a polling agency to ask 2000 people in the UK the following question with 5 choices of answer.

“Imagine a scenario in which scientists receive an unambiguous message from extraterrestrials (alien life forms) on a distant planet. Of the following options, which would be your preference in terms of how humanity’s response to this message should be determined?… The results suggest a preference for a science-led response, at least in the UK.

Related article:  If aliens exist, we could signal them with a massive laser...and why that's a bad idea
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The researchers say that both situations are fundamentally scientific in nature, both have significant social, economic and political impact, both affect every human on Earth and both are “external” threats that put humans on the same side, in contrast to a world war, for example.

Scientists have played a key role in the response to COVID-19 but have generally played second fiddle to politicians. Perhaps a First Contact event would pan out in the same way.

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