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The IAA Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) post-detection protocols, initially drafted in 1989 and updated in 2010, were written to guide SETI scientists in the event of detecting evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, but do not give guidance as to how scientists should prepare to navigate this media maelstrom. The protocols assume communications channels between scientists and the public still resemble those of 1989, which were specifically one-way with a narrative controlled by a select few media outlets.
Modern SETI researchers must consider this modern paradigm for consumption of news by the public, using social media and other non-traditional outlets, when planning and executing searches for extraterrestrial intelligence. We propose additions to the post-detection protocols as they pertain to the use of internet and social media, as well as pre-search protocols. It is our belief that such protocols are necessary if there is to be a well-informed, sane global conversation amongst the world's citizens following the discovery of intelligent life beyond the Earth.
Before detection, these researchers should publish detailed descriptions of the experimental setup and progress, as well as criteria for tentative and confirmed detections. All of this would be then be available as background information when a detection occurs. Forgan and Scholz say this should include a detailed description of how the team will communicate with the public in the event of a signal detection.
Next, the pair address the question of what should happen if a tentative signal is discovered. Again, their main focus is on openness. “In the event of a tentative detection, SETI scientists should submit their findings for a peer-reviewed publication, while simultaneously publishing their candidate signal, and all accompanying data in full, using suitably robust Web and cloud-based servers,” they say. Once this happens, there will be huge focus on whether the detection is confirmed. And once again openness is the best policy. “If the detection cannot be confirmed, then the team must publish a statement clearly stating that the signal cannot be confirmed to be of ETI origin,” they recommend.