It seems a fair bet that Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster 1982 film ET will be on the television schedules this Christmas, but how many of us actually believe in extra-terrestrials?
Some answers to the question can be found in a newly-released YouGov poll commissioned by the Royal Society as it nears the end of its 350th anniversary celebrations. The survey was conducted online on 1-4 October 2010, among a representative sample of 2,179 UK adults aged 18 and over, to gauge public attitudes to science.
Asked whether they believed extra-terrestrial life exists, 44% replied in the affirmative and 28% in the negative, with 28% uncertain. Believers were more numerous among men (55%) than women (34%). These figures actually constituted the two extremes of belief and disbelief. The next high was 51% for the 35-44s and the next low 39% in Northern Ireland.
Somewhat fewer (36%) considered that scientists should be actively searching for, and attempting to make contact with, extra-terrestrial life. Gender was again the main differentiator, the proportion rising to 46% among men and falling to 27% among women, although the lowest figure (24%) was in Northern Ireland. 46% of the whole sample disagreed with the proposition and 18% did not know.
A rather more nuanced picture of belief can be found in another YouGov study, for The Sun in July 2008. On that occasion, 42% of Britons said that there was definitely or possibly life beyond earth in our solar system, 68% in our galaxy, and 79% in the rest of the universe. Also relevant in this context is our earlier post on aliens at http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=167
The full data tables for the Royal Society poll are available at: