Humans have been searching for signs of life on other planets at least since the 1960s, when scientists began scanning the heavens for radio signals that might be evidence of extraterrestrial beings. Scientists even have tried to reach out to aliens by sending out radio messages, beginning with transmissions made in 1974.
But does it make sense for us to try to establish contact with alien life? A new HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that many Americans have their doubts.
It's not that Americans don't think intelligent life exists beyond Earth. Fifty percent think intelligent life is out there somewhere, the poll shows. Nineteen percent think there's no intelligent alien life, and 31 percent say they're not sure.
And 46 percent think it would be possible for humans to contact intelligent aliens. But only 37 percent think it's a good idea to try. Twenty-seven percent said it's a bad idea, while 36 percent aren't sure whether it's a good or bad idea.
Americans who think attempting to contact alien life is a bad idea had differing reasons for saying so. Eight percent of all Americans said it would be a waste of time to try because intelligent life is unlikely to exist. Another 8 percent said they think it might be dangerous, because our efforts might alert unfriendly aliens to our presence.
Five percent said an alien contact program would be a waste of money even if it did work, and 2 percent said it would be too difficult because we lack the necessary technology. Another 2 percent said it would be a bad idea for some other reason.
The poll shows that men are more likely than women to believe intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe (58 percent to 43 percent) and to think that it would be possible to contact extraterrestrial life (53 percent to 40 percent). Forty-one percent of men and 33 percent of women said it's a good idea to try to contact other intelligent life forms, but those who said it was a bad idea gave similar reasons for why.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted July 17-19 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.