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Unlock your doors, take off the foil hats, and stop worrying about the White House—everything science fiction movies have taught you about alien invasions is wrong. Except, of course, if the only thing you know about aliens is E.T., then everything you know is right: Aliens aren't going to plop down on Earth and blow us into smithereens, sciencee says a Finnish economist swears.  


That's the conclusion of "MAD with Aliens? Interstellar Deterrence and Is Implications," by Janne M. Korhonen, a Ph.D. student at Helsinki's Aalto University School of Economics which is published in the Acta Astronautica journal's May edition. Yes, that's mouthful and yes, Acta Astronautica is a real journal which is published by the same company which publishes the Gray's Anatomy textbook.

But back to the fun part—aliens! The main, overarching conclusion in Korhonen's paper is this: if people are scared of contacting extraterrestrial intelligences (ETIs) because they're scared those aliens would respond by destroying us, then they're absolutely wrong because if this were the case humans would have blown ourselves up a long time ago. Let's break down Korhonen's study(from this abstract):

This paper argues that we can draw some inferences from the history of the Cold War and nuclear deterrence in order to show that at least some attack scenarios are likely to be exaggerated. 

In plain English: During the Cold War, Russians and Americans were very scared of one another (like some people are of intergalactic aliens), both of them warned the other was hostile and both of them had built up weapons and technology to really hurt the other if they really wanted to. But, even though there was all that, no one blew each other up. 

In particular, it would seem to be unlikely that the humanity would be attacked simply because it might, sometime in the future, present a threat to the ETI. Even if communication proves to be difficult, rational decision-makers should avoid unprovoked attacks, because their success would be very difficult to assure.

In plain English: Humans wouldn't be attacked just because there's a possibility of humans attacking in the future. And even though aliens might not understand us and we might not understand them, both of us would probably be too chicken to initiate an unprovoked attack (again, look at the cold war)

[A]ttempting to contact ETIs seems to be a relatively low-risk strategy: paranoid ETIs must also consider the possibility that the messages are a deception designed to lure out hostile civilizations and preemptively destroy them.

In plain English: There's no harm in putting our messages to aliens out there because you have to take into account that aliens are just as scared of us too, and they might not know who may be on the other end of their message. And some of them will be too scared to talk, and will end up answering the call. 

The findings advise caution for proposed interstellar missions, however, as starfaring capability itself might be seen as a threat.

In plain English: Calling to see if someone's home is different than driving up to someone's house, parking in their driveway and jiggling the front door. Don't do the latter. 

Essentially Korhonen is arguing that aliens won't blow us up because they're probably just as scared of us as we are of them, so therefore there's no harm done in trying to get in contact with them. But can we take this Korhonen guy at his word?

Maybe? Sure. He may not have a NASA or NSF background, but his expertise, according to Acta Astronautica is "working on simulation models of, among other things, alliance decisions and the history of technological development." Basically, he's the guy that would help us deal with aliens (should they visit), not find them. He's also the guy you don't let into your nuclear bunker when this whole paper turns out to be wrong. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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