Remember to take notes, SETI kids

Forgan (2016) can be viewed as a discussion of best practices for the documentation of SETI research.

SETI researchers have some unique concerns when it comes to communicating possible positive results. A true positive SETI results would fundamentally change the way humanity views its place in the universe. The results would vary greatly, from riots in the streets to new religions praising the new alien deities.

In response to the many concerns of SETI researchers, the International Academy of Aeronautics (I swear that’s their website) drafted some post-detection¬†protocols to guide researchers in their interactions after the potential discovery was made. But these guidelines are dated and ignore how to communicate results to the public. Hence, this paper.

In this day and age, the internet dominates the spread of information. While traditional sources of news (regular newscasts, newspapers, press conferences, etc.) exist, information reaches most people through tweet, status updates, and YouTube videos. This paper suggests that in addition to the regular procedures of holding a press conference and submitting a paper for publication, potential SETI discoveries should be actively discussed on public online forums. The data should be made available to the public and be checked over by as many people as possible.

The authors believe it is the responsibility of the discoverers (and to a smaller extent the whole SETI community) to ensure that results are interpreted and communicated properly. They also spend a significant portion of time describing how SETI researchers need to be ready for this media craze when conducting any search and should be publicly documenting their research procedures, what they expect to find, and what would constitute a significant result in their experiment, both for people to see later to understand the experiment, and to show that they didn’t look at the data and then decide that it was significant.