This week the National Geographic Channel released a new poll, entitled "Aliens Among Us," that reported the American public's views on extraterrestrials. The news media, obsessed with the election cycle, eagerly reported the headline that more Americans feel Barack Obama is the better choice to handle an alien invasion as opposed to Mitt Romney. This was not, however, the most interesting finding.
According to the poll, 36% of Americans believe in UFOs (by which is presumably meant extraterrestrial spacecraft), while 77% believe aliens have visited the earth sometime in the past. How do the 41% who believe in alien visitation but not UFOs think they got here? Nibiru?
Additionally, 79% of Americans believe the government is hiding the truth about the UFOs that apparently at least half of those conspiracy theorists don't actually believe in.
The one question respondents answered in a way that would please scientists was about the likelihood of paranormal creatures actually existing. A majority (71%) correctly identified aliens as more plausible than superheroes, zombies, and vampires.
The poll was commissioned to promote NatGeo's new series, Chasing UFOs.
(Full disclosure: I am scheduled to appear in a different NatGeo documentary on the history of UFOs to air this fall.)
Now, these results are a little ambiguous. That 77% who believe in aliens visiting in the past probably includes at least some people who believe that Martian bacteria landed on earth in the early days of the planet, a good chunk who are thinking of UFOs from 1947-present, and the rest ancient astronaut theorists. Since we can't really break it down (I don't know the exact wording of the question), we can't say for certain what percentage answered the question because of what Ancient Aliens told them, but it's frightening to think that so many people are willing to accept beliefs that have no basis in evidence.
I've been asked more than once why I bother debunking Ancient Aliens, the ancient astronaut theory, and alternative archaeology. No one really believes that, many say. This shows just why debunking is needed.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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