When it comes to speaking to aliens, men are more enthusiastic than women.


Almost two thirds (65 per cent) of men want to reach out to extraterrestrials, compared to 47 per cent of women.

Research from the University of Oxford, announced at the British Science Festival, also revealed that if alien beings contacted earth, Britons would pick scientists (39.4 per cent) over politicians (14.8 per cent) to decide what to do.

Eleven per cent of those polled by Survation said they would like a global referendum on the matter, and 22.6 per cent said they did not know.

Read more about making first contact:

If it was left to a planet-wide vote, 56.3 per cent of the 2,000 people questioned would choose to initiate contact.

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

They survey also looked at the differences between Brexit voters.

Those who voted to Remain were more likely to vote to initiate contact than those who voted to Leave, at 66 per cent and 54 per cent 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.

The thought experiment: What would happen if aliens contacted us? © Acute Graphics
How would you respond to this alien message? © Acute Graphics

“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 per cent chance (of contact) in the next hundred years.

“Some people would put it higher, some people would put it lower.”

Listen to an episode of the Science Focus Podcast, where we speak to Director of Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics and SETI specialist Mike Garrett about the search for extraterrestrial life

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.”

Dr Trueblood hypothesised that people may just want someone who understands the subject to be the ones making the decision.”

Read more about extraterrestrial life:

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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Alexander McNamaraOnline Editor, BBC Science Focus

Alexander is the former Online Editor at BBC Science Focus.