The Martian meteorite
But “any finding that comes from one population — like Americans — you have to take with a grain of salt,” Varnum says. He and his colleagues now hope to gather responses from participants of different cultures, to compare how people across the globe would take the news of alien microbes.
Psychologist and SETI researcher Douglas Vakoch, who heads the nonprofit organization Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence in San Francisco, suggests researchers also gauge reactions to different scenarios of alien microbial discovery. The Martian meteorite described in the 1996 article “has been on Earth for a long time and nothing bad has happened,” says Vakoch, who wasn’t involved in the work. “That’s a really safe scenario.” But, he wonders, are people as gung-ho about the prospect of finding live microbes on other planets or aboard meteorites?