An effort to keep the press from yelling aliens

In Forgan (2018, submitted), an updated version of the Rio scale is proposed and justified.

The Rio scale is a tool for communicating the significance of a signal to the general public. It works by assigning a score from 0-10 to possible SETI discoveries and attaching qualitative descriptions to each of these scores, ranging from insignificant (R=1) to extraordinary (R=10). The score is based on what the scientific and societal consequences of a signal being true would be and the probability the signal real. The authors feel that this scale could do with a revision to make sure its results are more accurate and transparent, especially to the public.

The new (an old) version is split into terms that are calculated by following a decision tree that is presented in the paper. The first (Q) is concerned with the type, distance, possible contents of a potential signal. This term is directly linked to how societally impactful the signal would be. The second term (δ) is concerned with how investigatable the phenomena is and whether the signal is extraterrestrial in origin. δ is calculated using an intermediate J factor. The context for the Q and J values is presented, similar to the manner of the qualitative descriptions for R. A web-based calculator has been coded up for anyone who wants to toy around with it.

It is suggested that these scores be calculated throughout the process of signal analysis, both by the original group and by other groups so that the public can understand the status of the detection as time goes on.

I don’t know if it is because SETI experiments are inherently harder or if it is just much cheaper to work on these “If I were to work on a SETI experiment, I would do it this way” type papers, but this subfield of astronomy seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on this type of material (see search conduction and post-detection protocol papers by Gertz and Forgan). I understand that if a SETI result is found, it will be incredibly impactful, but it hard for me to see a field with such a dearth of experimentation spend its limited time and resources meticulously documenting the few experiments that are being done. I find it more likely that experimenters would work on producing more analysis results than making sure they have updated Rio scores for each step of their experiment.