If aliens contacted Earth, should we talk back? Let’s put it to a vote… (Getty)

As it turns out, national public referendums can be a bit divisive.

Which is probably why respondents to a study by Oxford University said a public referendum on whether to talk with aliens in the event of first contact was a bad idea.

The researchers asked 2,000 Britons how we should respond to aliens and only 11% said a referendum on it was a good idea. No other option scored lower.

The intriguing results of the survey were announced at the British Science Festival. Hardly surprising was that Brits would rather have scientists (39.4) talk to ET than politicians (14.8%).

If the question of whether to respond to aliens was put to a planet-wide vote, 56.3% of the 2,000 people questioned would choose to initiate contact.

Fourteen per cent would vote to not initiate contact, 9.2% would not vote, and 11% said they did not know what they would do.

There’s currently no law on making interstellar chit-chat with another species (Getty)

They survey also looked at the differences between Brexit voters. Because we can’t talk about referendums or decision-making in general these days and not find some way to tie it back to Brexit. Those who voted to Remain were more likely to vote to initiate contact than those who voted to Leave, at 66% and 54% respectively.

Dr Peter Hatfield, from the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford, said: ‘No-one knows if or when we will receive a message from extraterrestrials, but astronomers are listening – and it could happen any time.

‘If we do receive a message it is encouraging to know that the public seem to have confidence in scientists having a key role in the decision-making process of potentially replying.

‘More generally, these results are interesting for understanding the connection between science and democracy – what role should scientists play in future referendums and decision-making processes?’

Speaking at the festival hosted by the University of Warwick, Dr Hatfield explained scientists based the likelihood of making contact with aliens on the Drake Equation, which is based on an approximation of how many species there could be in our galaxy, the Milky Way.

He said: ‘It is intrinsically very hard to put a number on it, but I would say most professional astrophysicists have in their heads something in the order of a 10% chance (of contact) in the next hundred years.

‘Some people would put it higher, some people would put it lower.’

This would come under the definition of a close encounter (Columbia Pictures)

Dr Leah Trueblood, from the Department of Law at the University of Oxford, said: ‘It’s interesting that so many of our responses were for ‘I don’t know’. I think this is promising. It suggests that the public may be open-minded about what decision-making processes are best fit for humanity’s purposes going forward. In this age of political polarisation, people being open to persuasion is good news.’

Dr Trueblood added: ‘It’s also fascinating that most our responses were in favour of contacting aliens. Those surveyed are clearly much braver than me.’

Speaking at the event being held in Coventry and Warwickshire, she continued: ‘I am much more frightened than Peter. So I wouldn’t have voted to make contact with aliens. So I wondered if scientists were chosen because people are afraid. Because this is a hugely frightening prospect.’

The scientists highlighted a number of pros and cons associated with contacting aliens. One con was revealing earth’s location to hostile species, while a pro was aliens potentially having the ability to share new science with us.

There is currently no international law setting out the protocol for making contact with extraterrestrials.

However, in March 1996 the International Academy of Astronautics published a post-detections protocol. It asserts: ‘No response to a signal or other evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence should be sent until appropriate international consultations have taken place.’


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