Science & Technology

To Find Out If News About Aliens Is Legit, Use the Rio Scale

The next time a "Wow!" Signal comes from space — and the science community begins chattering about aliens — there's an updated scale available to help you decide whether to listen to them. Called the Rio Scale 2.0, it's a measure of how close a piece of scientific research comes to finding alien life. The higher the mark, the more you should pay attention.

Lies, Darn Lies, and Tweets

The trouble with social media is it can easily blow the smallest news stories way out of proportion. The science community wants to take more responsibility for how they present their findings. Scientists have an obstacle, though. Often, the reporters covering "alien" stories don't understand the science themselves. Or the science is too new to come up with any definite conclusions. But if you start out by reading about an "alien megastructure" in space (a real-life story from last year), then scientists find out that the weird pattern of dimmings and brightenings was actually due to nothing more than dust, it is frustrating.

That's where the Rio Scale comes in. First developed in 2001 and updated for the social media world just recently, the scale will help the public decide whether an "alien" story is actually credible. The scale ranges from "0" for "no evidence," moves into the intermediate range around 5, and then ranks stories with the most extraordinary evidence at 10. Scientists can publish or tweet the Rio Scale along with their findings, and hopefully, responsible journalists would do the same thing.

A Richter Scale for Aliens

It may take some time for the scale to be widely used. The Rio Scale isn't well-known today, even though it's been in use for nearly 20 years. But perhaps some support from one of the most well-known SETI scientists will help to spread the word.

"The whole world knows about the Richter Scale for quantifying the severity of an earthquake; that number is reported immediately following a quake and subsequently refined as more data are consolidated," said Jill Tarter, a co-author of the research and co-founder of the SETI Institute, in a statement.

"The SETI community is attempting to create a scale that can accompany reports of any claims of the detection of extraterrestrial intelligence and be refined over time as more data become available. This scale should convey both the significance and credibility of the claimed detection."

Lead researcher Duncan Forgan, who is with the Centre for Exoplanet Science at the University of St. Andrews, added in the same statement that the general public will better understand science research with the scale. "[It] helps us keep their trust in a world filled with fake news," he said in the same statement.

Do you agree with their conclusions? Check out more details about the updated Rio Scale at the International Journal of Astrobiology, and let us know what you think. You can also use this (older) handy online calculator for Rio, which surely will be updated soon with the newest scale.

Want to know what scientists think about the possibility of life on other planets? Check out "Aliens: The World's Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life," a book of essays edited by Jim Al-Khalili. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

What Is SETI?

Written by Elizabeth Howell August 9, 2018

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