Scientists make a lot of noise about how math and science are the true universal languages, and how, if we ever make contact with aliens we'll have to speak to them through that first. But have they thought about what that would mean? For example, will it mean that we will have to demote all Earth scientists to secondary inventors?
Most people raised in the US have what is widely known as a Eurocentric view of world history. At the time of my high school education, teachers were kind enough to inform us of this. They told us that influences outside of one patch of ground did have huge influences on the world we lived in today, but that nothing in the curriculum allowed them to teach those influences. Now let's talk more about Henry VIII. This knowledge of our own bias usually applied to social and political sciences, but every now and then they'd throw in a little science history as well. Generally it was that every scientific invention credited to a nineteenth century European inventor had already been cranked out by the Chinese centuries before. Just don't talk about that on state-wide testing.
Alien contact, unless they ask about their friends at Roswell, can't make us re-write our social history. The Earth developed pretty much all on its own. We might not be sure which people first discovered the American continents but we can be absolutely sure that no alien did. But what about math and science? Unlike Earth social movements, math and science concepts are truly universal. This means they can be discovered here, or in a galaxy far far away - and a long time ago. Right now, we consider Albert Einstein to have discovered the theories of special and general relativity, much the way people sometimes credit Leonardo Da Vinci with coming up with the idea of the helicopter. (He didn't. There were toys ones in China centuries before him.) However, when we make alien contact and Glorbon Grebulous ends up, once we calculate the relative time on planet Glorb, to have discovered it hundreds of years before Einstein, who do we put on posters?
It's a facetious question, of course. No one's original idea, or contribution to the scientific advancement of any civilization, can be entirely dismissed. But we do have to admire the one who did it first. I like the idea that, in scientific history classes someday, kids will have to span two or three different worlds to find the exact sequence at which various universal scientific truths were discovered. If so, they're going to be so sorry we made contact.
Top Image: NASA