The hammer of Hawking: The impact of celebrity scientists, the intent of extraterrestrials and the public perception of astrobiology

Rich Gazan


This paper assesses the impact of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking’s warning about the possibly malicious intent of extraterrestrial visitors on the public opinion of the search for life in the universe, which is the domain of the interdisciplinary science of astrobiology. Using Web content analysis and sentiment analysis methods, 13 distinct categories of opinion are proposed, suggesting the role of Web comments as both public forums and naturalistic data sources. The results suggest that a significant percentage of those studied agreed with Hawking purely on the merits of his reputation, but those who disagreed tended to claim that Hawking’s argument failed logically or scientifically. Cross-domain authority and the influence of celebrity scientists on the public perception of astrobiology are discussed.


public understanding of science; space aliens

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