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E. Lu (Wesleyan University & Maria Mitchell Observatory), V. Strelnitski (Maria Mitchell Observatory)
History abounds with examples of extreme fluctuations in attitude towards the idea of extraterrestrial life. Presently, the understanding of the public's opinion is more important than ever because the Search is dependent on such support, both morally and financially. It has been recognized that the dynamics of public opinion can be described by stochastic equations. We present the results of a mathematical simulation of the dynamics of public opinion regarding SETI based on the stochastic model of Weidlich and Haag . Critical discussion of the basic parameters of the model will precede the discussion of the results. The crucial role of the ``parameter of adaptation'' ,a, describing the readiness of the average individual to adhere to the current opinion of the majority is pointed out. The danger of high values of this parameter (a ``dogmatic'' society), is demonstrated for both a smooth and a shocked (e.g. by discovery of an ET signal) evolution of reality. In both regimes, the reaction of a high a society is less conformant with reality and less predictable. It is argued that a reasonable policy can decrease the a parameter of society and maintain optimal evolution of public opinion. This project was supported by the NSF/REU grant AST-9820555.