"Watching from afar, extraterrestrial beings might view changes in Earth's atmosphere as symptomatic of a civilisation growing out of control - and take drastic action to keep us from becoming a more serious threat, the researchers explain. This highly speculative scenario is one of several described by scientists at Nasa and Pennsylvania State University that, while considered unlikely, they say could play out were humans and alien life to make contact at some point in the future. Shawn Domagal-Goldman of Nasa's Planetary Science Division and his colleagues compiled a list of plausible outcomes that could unfold in the aftermath of a close encounter, to help humanity "prepare for actual contact".
Would contact with extraterrestrials benefit or harm humanity? A scenario analysis, (full paper) Acta Astronautica, 2011 via arXiv.org (PDF)
Keith's 18 Aug 10 pm EDT note: (Sigh) This article is prominently featured on the Drudge Report with the title of "NASA REPORT: Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civilizations...". This is not a "NASA report". Nor does the Guardian article accurately describe the paper's content and conclusions. Alas, NASA will probably just allow this latest misperception/mischaracterization to linger (along with all the other urban myths, faulty analyses, etc) with no response - at least none until it is too late to really make any difference. Oh yes, Drudge Report got 32,697,733 visits in the past 24 hours.
Shawn Domagal-Goldman note: Some important points of clarification, PaleBlueBlog
"But I do admit to making a horrible mistake. It was an honest one, and anaiveone... but it was a mistake nonetheless. I should not have listed my affiliation as "NASA Headquarters." I did so because that is my current academic affiliation. But when I did so I did not realize the full implications that has. I'm deeply sorry for that, but it was a mistake born our of carelessness and inexperience and nothing more. I will do what I can to rectify this, including distributing this post to the Guardian, Drudge, and NASA Watch. Please help me spread this post to the other places you may see the article inaccurately attributed to NASA."
Keith's 19 Aug 6:50 am EDT update: Personally I think it is an interesting paper and well worth the effort on the part of the authors. My issue is with the way that the agency lets misperceptions made by news aggretators and UK tabloids linger in front of millions of people, the media, decision makers, without making any attempt to set the record straight. NASA has an online line presence of some considerable reach (see "Choir Practice With Bullhorns at NASA") - why not use that to counter these erroneous online claims? Hats off to Shawn Domagal-Goldman for being open and honest and attempting to do so. Gee, maybe PAO could help a little too? If done properly this could also serve as an opportunity for NASA to talk about a topic that a lot of people find interesting - and maybe educate and excite a few people along the way. This is an opportunity to teach and inform, not one to hide and wait for things to blow over. And maybe NASA could have a little fun with it too - if it can stage photo ops with Chris Ferguson and Elmo (a TV show puppet)...
Alas, the inevitable evil ET feeding frenzy via "NASA report" misinformation is now spreading - CNET, International Business Times, the Spokane Examiner, Daily Mail, and even Discovery News simply repeat the very same mistakes that the Guardian made (with the Guardian as their source) in their original article with out doing any fact checking themselves. This is NOT a NASA report, folks. Did anyone actually contact the authors?
Keith's 19 Aug 8:29 am EDT update: The Guardian has quietly (without admitting any error on its part) modified its article to read "warns a report."