Are there specific procedures set up in case a discovery is made proving beyond doubt the existence of an advanced alien civilization? The question is one of the most intriguing and exciting in the whole of science, but according to a recent survey conducted by the global market research firm YouGov, out of the more than 50% of respondents across the US, UK and Germany who believe that extraterrestrial intelligent life exists, 17% believe that their country’s government would do its utmost to ensure any such revelation remained a secret.
One person who is more than qualified to make an assessment on the topic is Dr. Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in California, with the noted expert on the search for extraterrestrial civilizations stating his belief that the chances of any such cover-up succeeding would be near to zero. Elaborating further, Shostak said:
“There’s no policy of secrecy, and verifying the signal would involve teams of scientists around the world. But leaving that aside, the fact that so many folks believe it’s in the works attests to a discouraging lack of trust in both science and the public’s ability to handle the news.”
In fact, the protocols laid out by the International Academy of Astronautics SETI Permanent Committee points to a very open procedure for dealing with the detection of extraterrestrial life, namely verification; followed by the discovery being made available to the public, scientific community, and Secretary General of the United Nations; and finally, in the case of a signal detection, no response being made without first receiving guidance and consent from the United Nations, or another such representative international body.
In practice, however, these protocols are rarely followed and the typical pattern of events usually involves the story being picked up by the media long before actual verification is made, leading to the circulation of sensational stories based upon garbled facts, before a less otherworldly conclusion is eventually found that doesn’t involve the existence of aliens.
Speculating further, though, if contact is one day made with an extraterrestrial intelligent civilization, scientists looking for historical analogies often conclude that major upheavals would inevitably follow back on Earth, affecting everything from culture, religion, and politics, to science and technology. That said, Dr. Seth Shostak believes that all the scenarios may not involve dire consequences for humankind, and apart from learning something very important, there is no useful or accurate way of assessing the legacy such a discovery would leave several centuries beyond its point of discovery.
Similarly, there exists the possibility that someday we will discover a less advanced alien civilization than our own, and if our technology was sufficiently advanced to allow faster-than-light technology (FLT), we should also exercise extreme caution before interfering with their civilization. As another interesting article written by Corey S. Powell, News Editor at Discover magazine, explains:
“Right now, NASA has a detailed set of planetary-protection rules to make sure that humans do not contaminate Mars or other possibly habitable worlds. That is part of the reason the Cassini probe is being crashed into Saturn: to make sure it doesn’t contaminate the moons Enceladus or Titan. I like to think that by the time we are smart enough to find life in other planetary systems and advanced enough to travel there, we will have advanced versions of those planetary protection rules to make sure we don’t contaminate other civilizations, either.”