Are you convinced that shape-shifting reptilian creatures control politics? Is the Paul McCartney we know today the real McCartney from The Beatles, or an impostor: barefoot and out-of-step on the Abbey Road album cover? Do you think the moon landing in 1969 was faked?
These are a few of the somewhat outrageous claims some Americans believe, according to a poll released by Public Policy Polling. The pollster surveyed 1,247 registered voters by phone and found that some popular, and lesser-known conspiracy theories, are alive and well in the minds of some Americans.
“Many of us arrive at weird conclusions which are not based on science, evidence, or validated concepts. I think it's rather easy to buy into a left-field theory, even if a person is smart, because it provides an opportunity to examine atypical ideas — and people are into uniqueness,” said Bryan Farha, author of “Paranormal Claims: A Critical Analysis” and professor and director of applied behavioral studies and Counseling at Oklahoma City University. “But remember, although it's good to think outside the box, it may not be good to think way outside the box.”
Not so far outside the box may be the poll result that 29 percent of people believe in aliens and 21 percent think a UFO crashed in Roswell, N.M., in 1947 and the U.S. government covered it up.
“Believing in aliens means believing there are other planets somewhere that could support life that's intelligent in the same sense that we are. That doesn't mean that they come here and visit earth and crashed in the desert in New Mexico,” said Wayne Wyrick-Harris, director of the planetarium and “Celestial Wizard” at Science Museum Oklahoma.
“I believe that aliens are all over the universe,” he said. “There are an estimated trillion planets in just the Milky Way galaxy alone. And the significant hunk of those, in numbers of hundreds of millions, are probably earthlike in the sense that they could support the same sort of environmental conditions we have on earth.”
Additionally, Wyrick-Harris said, he believes that if the government did have actual aliens on ice in a secret lab somewhere, someone would, by now, have let the cat out of the bag, so to speak. With the anonymity the Internet affords, people are able to leak government secrets more easily than ever.
Does that mean aliens are roaming among Earthlings, hidden by the government or disguised as the rest of us?
“I don't think that they hop in rocket ships and come here and observe us,” Wyrick-Harris said. “If they're here, you're not going to ever see them. They're going to have technology to make them completely invisible to you.”
Farha agrees that belief in aliens likely is based on logical possibilities.
“If scientists find a single microbe on a distant planet from a faraway galaxy, technically, that's an alien,” he said. “So we don't know if those 29 percent believe humanlike alien beings have visited Earth. That's extremely unlikely and a different issue entirely.”
A common question Wyrick-Harris gets at the planetarium is about the moon landing as a hoax. The poll suggests that seven percent of Americans believe the landing never happened.
“To do the things they did on the moon, you just couldn't have faked that,” Wyrick-Harris said. In 1969, there was no Photoshop, computers took up entire rooms to make simple calculations and video animation technology was limited to cartoons, Claymation and wire framed character animation.
“We still have devices on the moon (that were placed there during the expedition to the moon) that will reflect a laser light back, what's called a retroreflector. And we can measure the distance from earth to moon. You can literally, with a telescope, watch the flashes come back from the moon. How is that possible if we didn't go there?”
When it comes to Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, the poll suggests that 14 percent of Americans believe the elusive monster exists. Last May, the TV network Animal Planet shot an episode of “Finding Bigfoot” in Yukon, an area the team said was rife with Bigfoot activity. The Bigfoot Field Research Organization even offers four-day Bigfoot expeditions for enthusiasts.
“It's sort of a conspiracy of scientists that say ‘No that just couldn't happen, so we're not going to bother to investigate it,'” Wyrick-Harris said. “That's a different kind of conspiracy and that's based upon, I think, a sort of arrogance when scientists say ‘We know what really is possible so we're not going to spend time on things that can't be possible.'”
Farha, a skeptic, says being skeptical is about questioning, not blindly disagreeing. And people can use a healthy dose of skepticism about what they read and believe online.
“Some people wrongly choose to believe that if information appears in a book or on the Internet, then it must be true,” Farha said. “After viewing a video on the Sandy Hook shooting, I know of several people who were completely convinced it was a staged hoax.”
Because the Sandy Hook hoax suggestion came from a college professor, Farha said it was more believable to the young and impressionable.
As for shape-shifting reptilian creatures controlling government?
“If you're Democrats, you believe that's Republicans. If you're Republicans, you believe that's Democrats,” Wyrick-Harris joked.
The belief probably originated, he said, in the writings of Charles Fort, an American from the early 20th century who researched and wrote about anomalous phenomena. He wrote fantastical stories of creatures that lived within the earth.
The most widely accepted conspiracy theory listed in the poll? Fifty-one percent of voters said a larger conspiracy was at work in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Just 25 percent think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
And if you believe that the real Paul McCartney actually died in 1966 and was promptly replaced by a look-alike to keep The Beatles phenomenon alive, you could have a chance to see for yourself, soon. McCartney — or, as 5 percent of people believe, the McCartney impostor — will perform in person at the BOK Center in Tulsa May 29 and 30.