Survey: Americans Believe in Aliens
By Donald M. Rothberg
Associated Press Writer
Monday, December 15, 1997; 5:30 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Most Americans think there is intelligent life on other planets -- more intelligent, in fact, than on Earth.
"The public loves this stuff, they always have,'' said Paul Horowitz, a professor of physics at Harvard, when told of the finding made public Monday by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. Horowitz directs a project that operates a 250-million channel receiver listening for signals from space.
"It could be that the American people are taking two and two and coming up with four,'' said Brian Welch, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
What pleased the space community was the response to this question: "Do you think there is intelligent life on other planets?''
Sixty percent of the people said yes and 40 percent said no.
Marist researchers then asked those who said yes if they thought life on other planets is "more, less, or about as intelligent as human life on earth.''
The aliens came out ahead on that question, with 47 percent saying they thought extraterrestrial life was more intelligent, 13 percent said less intelligent and 40 percent said it was about the same.
By a margin of 86 to 14, people said they thought galactic neighbors are friendly rather than hostile.
Despite the positive view of the possibility of life on other planets, the survey found Americans divided on spending for the space program.
Forty-seven percent said the government is spending too much, 43 percent said funding was about right and 10 percent said it was too low. Asked if they thought the space program was a good investment, 45 percent said yes and 55 percent said the money would be better spent on other programs.
The telephone survey was conducted Oct. 5-7. Marist questioned 935 adults by telephone and the results had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
Broken down by age, people from 18 through 60 were strongly supportive of the idea of life on other planets. But people older than 60 rejected the idea by a margin of 67 to 33.
"The subject has moved a lot in just the last couple of years, said Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, whose 100,000 members are strong advocates of continuing research into the possibility of life in outer space.
Horowitz said researchers are "riding along on this wave of technological innovation.'' He said his project listens on 250 million channels simultaneously. The first serious search for signals from space was in 1960 and had just one channel, he said.
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