The Gallup Organization released the results of its new poll on paranormal beliefs in June, which indicate increases in the percentage of Americans who believe in communication with the dead, ESP, ghosts, psychic healing and extraterrestrial visitation (see http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases/pr010608.asp).
“This latest Gallup Poll is disturbing”, says Paul Kurtz, chairman of The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), “because it shows an increase in superstition in the US – particularly in regard to communicating with the dead, haunted houses, ghosts, and psychic healing.”
According to the study, the most notable increases between 1990 and 2001 are beliefs in psychic or spiritual healing (up eight per cent to 54 percent); haunted houses (up 13 per cent to 42 per cent); communication with the dead (up 10 per cent to 28 per cent); and witches (up 12 per cent to 26 per cent).
Kurtz blames the media for increased credulity. “These results may be traced directly to the mass media, especially sensationalized TV shows, films, and the tabloid press and publishers. It’s regrettable that Americans show lower scores in scientific literacy among their young people in comparison with other democratic societies. The poll also points to the urgent need, we submit, for teaching critical thinking in schools and colleges. That should have a high national priority.” The National Science Board’s 2000 Science & Engineering Indicators survey found an abysmally low understanding of the scientific method and general science knowledge among Americans (see http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/seind00/frames.htm).
CSICOP Senior Research Fellow Joe Nickell feels that the poll asks the wrong questions. “The poll asks people whether they believe in a phenomenon, which amounts to asking them whether they want to believe. They’re polling the heart, not the head. If respondents had also been asked whether they have experienced these phenomena themselves, or whether they thought there was good scientific evidence supporting these beliefs, I suspect those scores would have been much lower.”
CSICOP Press Release