[The ignorance theory]
“A 2001 nationwide poll cited in the NSF’s [National Science Foundation] 2002 report asked the question, ‘Some people possess psychic powers or ESP. DO you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree?’ This NSF-sponsored survey found that 60% of adult Americans agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. Earlier Gallup polls taken in 1990, 1996, and 2001 showed that these percentages have been increasing over time. These figures were presented in the context of demonstrating the deplorable state of science education in the United States.
This would indeed be discouraging, except that the report tiptoes around an interesting fact. When survey respondents were separated by education level, 46% with less than a high school education agreed that some people possess ESP, but a whopping 62% with high school or more education agreed. Among the ‘attentive public,’ those defined as ‘very interested’ in a topic, ‘very well informed’ about it, and regularly read a daily newspaper or relevant national magazine, a healthy majority of 59% agreed. Thus, the survey actually revealed that belief in ESP was not explainable as a matter of poor education.
To check the NSF’s findings, I examined data collected by the National Opinions Research Center, which is affiliated with the University of Chicago. This Center, one of the oldest academic survey research groups in the United States, collects in its annual General Social Survey a wide range of questions used to form a snapshot of opinions in the United States. One of the questions asked over the years has been about psi. The specific question I was interested in asks: ‘How often have you felt as though you were in touch with someone when they were far away from you?’ The possible answers ranged from ‘never in my life’ to ‘often.’ I compared those answers to questions on education achievement, which ranged from 0 –20 years of formal education. The ignorance hypothesis predicts a negative relationship – the more education you have, the less you should believe in psi. The actual result, based on 3,880 survey responses, was not negative. In fact, it was significantly positive, with odds against chance of 80 to 1. This is not just the case in the United States. The same trend has been observed in Australia, France, and virtually every other country that has reported these surveys. This finding is even widely acknowledged by skeptics, who gnash their teeth about it.”