Avoiding the Chasm

February 26, 2006

Who Can You Trust?

Filed under: Media — vextasy @ 10:46 pm

The following two snippets of information were taken from Tom Flynn’s Did You Know? column, part of the Point of Enquiry podcast from the Center for Inquiry:

According to a June 2005 Gallup pole: 73% of Americans believe in the paranormal, 41% believe in ESP, 37% believe that houses can be haunted by ghosts, 25% believe in astrology and 42% believe that people can sometimes be possesed by the devil. According to a later Gallup pole: 24% of Americans believe that Alien beings have visited Earth. According to the Roper Center for Public Opinion at the University of Connecticut: 4 million Americans have reported that they have been abducted by aliens.

The second largest belief group in America is the non-religious. The total number of individuals who are not associated with a religious group in America is roughly 48 million, about 16% of the total population. They outnumber every other faith tradition except Christianity. This is more than the number of African Americans or Gays and Lesbians in America. Most of these unaffiliated (roughly 30 million people, which is about 10% of all Americans) are secular, humanist, atheist or agnostic but there is only one openly agnostic, aetheist or secular congressman or senator.

Both contain some interesting facts. But how do we know they are true? Tom names his sources, in this case Gallup and the Roper Center but that’s as far as a listener or a web page reader can really get towards verifying the sources without paying to see the actual surveys.

But this is nothing new. Whenever anyone tells us a fact we must make some judgement about the truthfulness of their statement and that is exactly what we do when reading a website or listening to a podcast. In my experience, the following weighs heavily when making such
judgements:

  1. Who else endorses the podcast or web site?
  2. Over a period of time what proportion of their productions remain within my own determined bounds of credibility?

On the first count, both Richard Dawkins and Martin Gardner have contributed and so have, in some sense, endorsed the organisation. Both men are respected academics in their respective fields of biology and mathematics and that is enough to satisfy me for the moment.

On the second count, only time will tell.

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