What percent of Americans are rational?

Preface. Why does rationality matter — what’s the harm in believing there’s a fat old “Santa Claus” God in the sky noting down every time you’re naughty or nice on trillions of inhabited planets in the universe every second of the day, and has been for trillions of years? There’s no harm at all, people have always believed odd things.

But that’s not always true. Evangelists are trying to force the rest of us to see the world their way and voting for totally irrational people.  They and others who can’t tell fake from real news and believe in conspiracy theories threaten Democracy and consequences could be as high as launching nuclear weapons.

For example, 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump and they are 26% of voters. No other religious or non-religious group delivered as many votes to Trump: 42 million (mainstream Christians 27.8 million, white Catholics 16.8 million).  And this despite knowing he stiffed thousands of workers, grabbed women’s asses, hung out with gangsters, which should have resulted in losing his casino license, laundered money for the Russian mafia, and much more (Johnson 2016).

Andersen (2017) estimates that only a third of us are more or less solidly reality-based.

The polls below show Andersen may be too kind. One poll concludes that only 27% of us are rational.

It may be even less than that, because there isn’t any survey that covers paranormal, supernatural, and basic knowledge of the world. For example, the National Science Foundation survey of basic knowledge of the world found that 26% of Americans think the sun revolves around the Earth, and only 48% in evolution — that human beings developed from earlier species of animals.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

What percent of Americans are rational?

In a really strict sense none of us are 100% rational due to cognitive biases, framing effects, fallacies and so on (wiki lists over 250 of these). To be human is to be irrational. But we’re all capable of improving our critical thinking skills and our understanding of the world.

So I’ll stick with the paranormal, pseudoscience, scientific knowledge, and conspiracy beliefs.

A Gallup poll in 2005 found that “Three in four Americans believe in Paranormal”, and found that 73% believe in one or more of these: ESP, Haunted Houses, Ghosts, Telepathy, Clairvoyance, Astrology, communication with the dead is possible, Witches, reincarnation, Channeling. Only 27% of Americans thought none of them were true.

And it might have been even lower if irrational beliefs had been expanded to include conspiracy theories, scientific understanding, evolution, climate change, creationism, the Devil, Hell, angels, miracles, and other beliefs.

Paranormal and supernatural beliefs. 

Multiple numbers reflect results from several surveys:

  1. Angels: 77%,  72%, 72%   88% of Christians, 95% of evangelical Christians
  2. Astrology: 25%, 26%, 29%
  3. Channeling: 9%
  4. Civil war wasn’t about slavery but states’ rights: 48%
  5. Climate Change not due to man-made activities: 40%
  6. Clairvoyance: 26%
  7. Communication with the dead is possible: 21%
  8. Creationism: 36%
  9. Devil: 61%, 60%, 58%
  10. ESP: 41%
  11. Ghosts: 34%, 42%, 42%
  12. Haunted Houses: 37%
  13. Heaven: 71%, 75%
  14. Hell: 64%, 61%
  15. Jesus born of a virgin: 73%, 61%, 57%
  16. Jesus is God or son of God: 73%, 68%
  17. Jesus’s resurrection: 70%, 65%
  18. Life after death: 71%, 64%
  19. Miracles: 76%, 72%
  20. Reincarnation: 21%, 20%, 24%
  21. Sun revolves around the Earth: 25%
  22. Telepathy: 31%
  23. UFOs: 34%, 32%, 36%, extraterrestrial beings have visited 24%
  24. Vaccines cause autism: 56%
  25. Witches: 21%, 23%, 26%

Conspiracy theories  (Chapman 2016)

So what is a conspiracy theory? It’s (1) a group (2) acting in secret (3) to alter institutions, usurp power, hide truth, or gain utility (4) at the expense of the common good.

There’s no way to stereotype people who believe conspiracy theories, they exist across gender, age, race, income, political affiliation, educational level and occupational status.

Education makes a difference though. 42% of those without a high school diploma had a high predisposition to conspiracies.  A much lower, but still shockingly high 23% of those with postgraduate degrees also had a high disposition for conspiratorial beliefs (Uscinski 2014).

Only 26% of Americans disagreed with all 9 conspiracy theories below, and 33% even believed in a made-up conspiracy researchers called “The North Dakota Crash”.  The percent who said that the government is concealing what they know about….

  1. The 9/11 attacks 54.3%
  2. The JFK assassination 49.6%
  3. Alien encounters 42.6%
  4. Global warming 42.1%
  5. Plans for a one world government  32.9%
  6. Obama’s birth certificate shows he’s a foreigner 30.2%
  7. The origin of the AIDs virus 20.1%
  8. Death of supreme court justice Scalia 27.8%
  9. The moon landing  24.2%

People who believed in the highest number of conspiracies are also more likely to believe that “The World Will End in My Lifetime” (uh-oh, those evangelists again), as well as more likely to be fearful of government, less trusting of other people, and more likely to take actions such as buying a gun to overcome their fears.

Religious fundamentalists and dogmatic individuals are more likely to believe fake news

New research provides evidence that delusion-prone individuals, dogmatic individuals, and religious fundamentalists are more likely to believe fake news. The study, which appears in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, suggests that the inability to detect false information is related to a failure to be actively open-minded.

“Previous research has shown that individuals who engage in less analytic thinking may be more likely to believe fake news. Our study extends this previous work in two ways. First, it shows that individuals who engage in less actively open-minded thinking may also be more likely to believe fake news,” Bronstein explained.

“Second, it suggests that reduced engagement in actively open-minded and analytic thinking might explain belief in fake news among individuals who endorse delusion-like ideas, dogmatic individuals, and religious fundamentalists. These results suggest that it might be possible to reduce belief in fake news using interventions that may increase analytic or actively open-minded thinking.”

National Science Foundation Questions 2014

The questions below are followed by correct answer and the percent who got it right:

  1. The center of the Earth is very hot. True 84%
  2. The continents have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move. True 83%
  3. Does the Earth go around the sun, or does the sun go around the Earth? Earth around sun 74%
  4. All radioactivity is man-made. True or false? False 72%
  5. Electrons are smaller than atoms. True or false? True 53%
  6. Lasers work by focusing sound waves. True or false? False 47%
  7. The universe began with a huge explosion. True or false? True 39%
  8. It’s the father’s gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or girl. True or false? True 63%
  9. Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria. True or false? False 51%
  10. Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. True or false? True 48%

Not surprisingly, the higher the education level the greater the number of correct answers.

The world

Below is a poll of over 17,000 adults all over the world (Ipsos 2017) asking if they think that Religion does more harm in the world than good.  In my opinion, YES, DOES MORE HARM is a sign of rationality.  If you do too, then the rational nations are: Belgium, Germany, Spain, Australia, India, Sweden, Great Britain, France, Canada, Hungary, Argentina, Poland, Italy, Serbia, Mexico, and Turkey.  All of these 15 nations who scored higher than the U.S. But congratulations to the 44% of Americans who answered correctly.

Related Posts:

Critical Thinking

Posts showing good critical thinking

Surveys, references

Andersen, K. 2017. Fantasyland. How America Went Haywire. A 500-Year History. Random House.

AP / GFK. December 8-12, 2011. Poll in 2011. Associated Press.  1,000 interviews. Error: +/- 4%

Baylor. 2017. American values, mental health, and using technology in the age of trump. Baylor religion survey.

Chapman. October 11, 2016. What aren’t they telling us? Chapman University Survey of American Fears.

Gallup. 2005. Paranormal beliefs come (Super)naturally to some.

Gallup. 2005. Three in Four Americans believe in Paranormal.

Gallup. 2016. Most Americans still believe in God.

Harris Poll. 2009. What People Do and do not believe in.

Harris Poll. 2013. What do Americans Believe?

IPSOS. July 2017. Ipsos global poll: Two in three Australians think religion does more harm than good in the world.

Johnson, D. 2016. The Making of Donald Trump. Penguin.

National Science Foundation. 2015. Belief in the Paranormal or pseudoscience. Science and technology: public attitudes and public understand.

Politico. August 3, 2017. How the CIA Came to Doubt the Official Story of JFK’s Murder Newly released documents from long-secret Kennedy assassination files raise startling questions about what top agency officials knew and when they knew it. Politico.com.

Reardon 2016. Reardon, S. October 18, 2016. The scientists who support Donald Trump. Nature.

Uscinski, J.E., et al. 2014. American Conspiracy Theories. Oxford University Press.

 

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3 Responses to What percent of Americans are rational?

  1. Sheila Chambers says:

    I only had a limited high school education, it was limited because I was born a GIRL!
    Girls didn’t get the same amount of education as boys, girls were put on the “mommy path” whether they liked it or not, education in business, trades & driver training was FORBIDDEN to GIRLS!
    I learned to make pot holders, aprons, measure food, make beds etc but what employer would hire me with those “skills”?
    I was expected to make babies, clean house, cook, clean & service the male of the house, no thanks!

    In spite of this, I continued to learn long after my poor formal education so I still got all of those questions right & I also don’t believe in things proven to be untrue, like that invisible “man” in the sky!
    Geeez!
    I am appalled at HOW IGNORANT & SUPERSTITIOUS ‘mericans are!! It’s PATHETIC the nonsense they actually BELIEVE!
    Even worse, this corrupt government is endlessly shoving their version of Christianity down our unwilling throats.
    This was suppose to be a secular country, government was to stay out of the business of religion but at every turn, there is religion being promoted.
    It’s in the oath, it’s stamped on our coins & printed on our money, it’s inside our schools, inside the courthouses, presidents doubt if you can be an ‘merican if you don’t believe in a god, it’s inside government buildings, in “news” papers, on billboards, on the courthouse lawn, government officials lead meetings with a christian prayer, there is prayer in schools led by teachers, students or coaches, radio & TV endlessly blast religious programming, there is no escaping their christian message, you must BELIEVE or your not an ‘merican!

    Why should anyone be surprised that so many ‘mericans believe in so much NONSENCE?

  2. Ai Carramba says:

    It may be surprising to see that Japan, an ordered and prosperous society, scored lowest in the poll “does religion do more harm than good” until you ask the question, “which religion?”. If the main religions in Japan are variations of Tao or Zen buddhism, which promote environmentalism and harmony with others, then their religion does do more good than harm. It is the Abrahamic religions which are particularly toxic, violent and insane. Christianity is the belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie, who was his own father, was born by parthenogenesis so he could be tortured to death to forgive humanity the sin of the first woman, who was persuaded to eat a magic apple at the behest of a talking snake. Believers of such crap are indeed stupid and irrational.