One of the questions worth thinking about is how would humanity react to the discovery of life on Mars. To examine this question, this article will explore it through the use of personas to try and get an appreciation of the sorts of reactions there may be. The personas are thought about with four main attributes including, education, idealology, social standing and age. Obviously in considering these very broad parameters this a huge risk of generalisation, this is still helpful though, as we get a general feel for what sort of reactions a discovery of life on Mars would create and what kinds of things we would need to think about in managing the articulation of complex information to an interested population with a huge variety of backgrounds, education and views.
First up we’ll look at a well educated, conservative middle aged person who is influential in their local society. Based on their education they should be able to determine fact from fiction and be able to conduct a reasonable level of analysis of what they read and hear from the media. Their conservative views may constrain their ability to adopt new ideas and recognise paradigm shifts. As an influential person in their local community, they are likely to influence how others will react to topical issues and probably quite freely articulate their own views to a wide audience.
This person is likely to react with some skepticism on first hearing that life has been discovered on Mars. They are probably going to wait for more definitive analysis and are unlikely to jump onto to any radical idealogical movements that spark up as a result. They will be weary of supporting any increase in investment to discover more until they can see a direct benefit for humanity. They are likely to warn others to show caution with the news, they will shy away from any suggestion that the discovery is anything more important than other areas they are interested in. Their view could probably be best described as interested but ambivalent.
The next persona to look at is the uneducated, conservative and young (in their 20s) individual. This person is likely to be heavily swayed by social media and have a general distrust of the government and central authority. They will probably gravitate towards sensationalist views and conduct very little analysis on the news they consume. Their views are likely to be anchored in some firm beliefs or idealogical base which will constrain their ability to adopt new ideas and recognise changes in the world around them.
The person described by this persona is probably going to be very skeptical of any announcement of the discovery of life on Mars. They probably will regard the announcement as a ploy by space agencies to seek more money, which in their view, would divert money from what they believe to be more worthy causes that they may follow. They are likely to pick up on the negative aspects of any discovery and proliferate social media articles that either deny the find or diminsh the importance of it. This persona could be best described as obstructive ambivalent.
The next persona to think about is the well educated person who is an early adopter of ideas and is middle aged. They are likely to be very well read and up with the latest developments in multiple areas. They probably are active in a number of areas of their community and have a wide circle of friends who they have an amount of influence over. They generally believe mainstream media and have a great deal of skepticism for sensationalist news articles.
This is the persona that will be quite excited by the discovery of life on Mars. They will see it as one of the most important scientific discoveries ever and they will want to talk about it with their friends and build a community awareness of the find. They are likely to be the sort of person who will link the discovery with other topical issues, such as climate change and resource exploitation, though they’ll be careful not sensationalise the issue to the detriment of either, the discovery or, the topical issue. They are likely to be highly supportive of any funding increase to space actvities or research programmes. This person could be described as the enthusiastic realist.
The final persona to consider is the uneducated older person with fairly liberal ideas. They will be the sort of person who is reasonably active in their local community and will talk freely about their views with a wide range of people. They are quick to form opinions and probably don’t sway easily in the face of facts. They might be influenced by sensationalist media articles and will have a reasonable amount of skepticism of central authority.
This person is initially likely to be very excited by the discovery of life on Mars and will want to hold discussions with their friends and contacts within the local community. They will probably latch on to the intially reported facts, even if they are inacccurate, and base their views on the what if possibilities rather than the actual reality of what’s has been found. They are likely to support increased efforts to understand the find more, and will be generally supportive of increased funding though will want to see wide collaboration across communities, private and public sector and between countries. They are best described as the ill informed enthusiast.
In considering the different personas this exercise identifies a couple of priorities that any discovery would have to deal with. First there would have to be clear and open information about the discovery in a manner that is easily digestable by the majority of the public. It would be along the lines of “imagine you’re explaining it to a 12 year old”. This is to ensure the widest number of people understand the significance of what has been found and don’t infer ridiculous conclusions on their own.
A nemesis of communication is that lay people who don’t know much about a subject tend to relay on information from people who are influential in their community. This is called “second-hand information intake”. You can imagine how much damage someone might be able to do in this case.
Any cases for investment in further space activities and research will have to be clearly articlulated in a way that shows the value for humanity in as pramatic way as possible. Communications to do with the discovery would have to be front footed, any fake news or conspiracy theorists views by clearly articulating the facts and debunking any outlandish scenarios – before they appear. The discovery of life on Mars is probably not going to be an Earth shattering paradigm shifting occurance. It will be significant and it will cause a great many people to stop and think – but it won’t be long before they’re back to their day to day grind of life. Keeping the inspiration alive for the longer will be a challenge.