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Skeptic Research Center

Paranormal & Conspiratorial Ideation Study (PCIS)

In this study, we took a snapshot of Americans’ paranormal and conspiratorial beliefs. We surveyed people about all sorts of topics (e.g., QAnon, election conspiracies, the Loch Ness monster, astrology). As usual, we also have a host of variables that might be related in interesting ways to such beliefs, things like trust in media, emotional stress, and social belonging. Across a dozen research reports, we will delve into our most surprising results about who believes what and (perhaps) why.

The more than 3,000 people that took our 15-minute survey were reflective of the U.S. adult population in terms of educational attainment, gender, and age when data were collected in July and August 2021. The principal investigators of this study were Dr. Kevin McCaffree and Dr. Anondah Saide. They designed the study, oversaw data collection, and will be analyzing it.

For additional information (e.g., measures used, codebook, participant details) on this study, please feel free to contact the Skeptic Research Center by email: [email protected].

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REPORT (PCIS-006)

Conspiracy Theory Endorsement by Media Viewership

Sixth report in the Paranormal & Conspiratorial Ideation Study (PCIS)

Cable news media in the United States has been playing to partisan audiences since at least the 1990s (Hollander, 2008). If conspiratorial thinking is sometimes partisan — as it seems to be given our prior reports on this topic — it is worth investigating whether cable news media viewership is itself associated with conspiracy belief. To do so, we divided our sample into those who reported watching CNN only (a politically left-skewed cable news channel) and those who reported watching Fox News only (a politically right-skewed cable news channel) and then asked the question: “Does cable news viewership impact conspiracy belief?”
Download Report (PCIS-006)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. (2022). Conspiracy Theory Endorsement by Media Viewership. Skeptic Research Center, PCIS-006.

Technical and statistical information on this data and analysis is available in the Supplemental Materials for Report PCIS-006.

REPORT (PCIS-005)

Conspiracy Theory Endorsement by Generation

Fifth report in the Paranormal & Conspiratorial Ideation Study (PCIS)

Across the last four reports, we’ve tried to uncover which demographic groups in the United States most believe in a variety of conspiracies. In this report, we investigated how belief in conspiracy theories differs across generations. This is important because peoples’ tendency to endorse conspiracy theories might ebb and flow across time as public trust in institutions rises or falls. Consider the “Birds Aren’t Real” satire conspiracy, promulgated by those born in the mid-late 1990s and early 2000s (“Gen Z”) which insists that birds are not what we see flying above our heads, but rather, government drones designed to fool us (Byrne, 2021). The ridiculousness of this conspiracy is exactly the point — conspiratorialism, itself, is being critiqued. So, here, we ask: is there any indication that younger generations are becoming more conspiratorial?
Download Report (PCIS-005)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. (2022). Conspiracy Theory Endorsement by Generation. Skeptic Research Center, PCIS-005.

Technical and statistical information on this data and analysis is available in the Supplemental Materials for Report PCIS-005.

REPORT (PCIS-004)

Who Endorses Conspiracy Theories about Government Elites?

Fourth report in the Paranormal & Conspiratorial Ideation Study (PCIS)

In this report we delve into a new group of conspiracy theories, this time regarding the alleged nefarious influence of government elites. We focus here on QAnon, Deep State, and Jeffrey Epstein. QAnon has been branded a “viral, pro-Trump conspiracy theory” (Roose, 2021) that came to light after Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta, had his emails hacked. Proponents of the conspiracy theory insisted that hidden messages in the emails revealed an extensive network of Satan-worshipping pedophiles amongst the Democrat political elite. Deep State conspiracy theories are typically more general. Here, the contention is that elections only swap out public-facing political representatives, while the real political decision-making process takes place amongst an unelected secret group. Finally, we turn to a very specific conspiracy theory regarding the apparent suicide of convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Was Epstein murdered by his elite clientele to silence him? As with our other reports in this series, we ask: who in the United States most endorses these conspiracy theories?
Download Report (PCIS-004)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. (2022). Who Endorses Conspiracy Theories about Government Elites? Skeptic Research Center, PCIS-004.

Technical and statistical information on this data and analysis is available in the Supplemental Materials for Report PCIS-004.

REPORT (PCIS-003)

Who Endorses Election Conspiracies?

Third report in the Paranormal & Conspiratorial Ideation Study (PCIS)

In this report, we consider a new set of conspiracies related to the last two presidential elections. When Donald Trump was elected to the presidency in 2016, a chorus of Democrat journalists, academics and politicians insisted the election was fraudulent due to Russian interference (Adams, 2019). Then, when Joe Biden was elected to the presidency in 2020, a chorus of Republican journalists, academics and politicians insisted the election was fraudulent due to the interference of activist progressives (Yang, 2022). It would appear, then, that election conspiracies exist on both sides of the political aisle. Given this, a reasonable question to ask is: who in the US most doubts the legitimacy of elections?
Download Report (PCIS-003)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. (2022). Who Endorses Election Conspiracies? Skeptic Research Center, PCIS-003.

Technical and statistical information on this data and analysis is available in the Supplemental Materials for Report PCIS-003.

REPORT (PCIS-002)

Who Endorses Race and Gender Conspiracies?

Second report in the Paranormal & Conspiratorial Ideation Study (PCIS)

In our last report, we examined rates of belief in various conspiracies related to COVID-19. In this report, we consider a new set of conspiracies related to particular demographic groups. We focus here on white people, men, and Jews — white people and men because both have recently been portrayed as coercive, powerful, and Machiavellian in popular mainstream journalism and academic scholarship (e.g., DiAngelo, 2018; Higgins, 2018; Kendi, 2016; Morris, 2022; and see Goldberg, 2020). We asked about Jews because of a rise in recent concerns about anti-Semitism (e.g., Rosenblatt, 2020). To explore how Americans are thinking about these issues, we report peoples’ level of agreement with the notion that white, male, or Jewish dominance exists in contemporary society.
Download Report (PCIS-002)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. (2022). Who Endorses Race and Gender Conspiracies? Skeptic Research Center, PCIS-002.

Technical and statistical information on this data and analysis is available in the Supplemental Materials for Report PCIS-002.

REPORT (PCIS-001)

Who Endorses COVID-19 Conspiracies?

First report in the Paranormal & Conspiratorial Ideation Study (PCIS)

Institutional responses to COVID-19 have been global in scope and have impacted nearly every aspect of peoples’ lives, from travel to schooling to business. Before too long, a cacophony of opinions — informed, semi-informed and uninformed — soon took off and spread throughout our information ecosystem. In this report, we look at the prevalence of differing conspiracy beliefs about COVID-19, from the unconfirmed but possible to the highly unlikely. Based on the summary report of the US National Intelligence Council (2021), we here assume the “lab leak” and coverup conspiracy to be relatively possible and juxtapose this with two fringe conspiracies: (1) that the COVID vaccines contain computer chips that aid government surveillance and (2) that officials are hiding that the vaccine causes magnetic reactions.
Download Report (PCIS-001)

Suggested Citation: Saide, A., & McCaffree, K. (2022). Who Endorses COVID-19 Conspiracies? Skeptic Research Center, PCIS-001.

Technical and statistical information on this data and analysis is available in the Supplemental Materials for Report PCIS-001.

22 responses to “Paranormal & Conspiratorial Ideation Study (PCIS)”

  1. Martin says:

    Belief in astrology is, for me, the most ludicrous and obnoxious of all the aforementioned cults. I know and have known people who live by it, guide and plan their lives by it. It is an exercise in futility trying to pry them away from this utter nonsense. But Beliefs do serve a purpose. Beliefs comfort people. Beliefs offer explanations that are simple and understandable when a complex reality throws barriers in our way that require deeper thought, discipline, and patience.

    It has been pointed out that the word Believe contains the word “lie” right smack in the middle. By definition, a belief is something taken on faith because the (scientific) evidence for it is either entirely absent or sorely lacking.
    Religion takes the cake and it is where beliefs in supernatural entities and events enthrall and imprison the minds of literally billions of otherwise reasonable people. It may be part of our DNA, or not. It may be an evolutionary necessity, or not. I’m not afraid to say I Don’t Know. That’s something you’ll never get True Believers to say. But maybe my being a Gemini is the reason for my skepticism. I’ve actually been told this. See how it works? It’s a system that Can’t Be Wrong. Little Miss Cantbewrong told me so!

    • M Koster says:

      I’m not so hard as you on the nonsense of astrology. What makes me angry is the generational infection of children into religion, mainstream or otherwise- not so sure about ‘ludicrous’ but it’s certainly obnoxious!

  2. Rand Lane says:

    Self-righteousness is addictive. Those who subscribe to farfetched conspiracies are feeding personal egotism, believing they have esoteric information unavailable to those they rationalize as being uninformed or misinformed masses. They won’t readily abandon their delusions and in fact become even more susceptible to other farfetched conspiracies … as with QAnon.
    How dangerous is self-righeous egotism in a nation armed to the hilt? Time will tell that tale.

  3. Beef says:

    For those who think that career bureaucrats, or as some call them, the “Deep State”, do not abuse their powers, check this out:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Choke_Point

    At the behest of the Obama administration, the FDIC, which was intended to protect your bank deposits, hacked their power to take out, among other things, porn. Open government would have debates and pass laws on these issues, but instead faceless bureaucrats act on their own because for them the ends always justifies the means. Call them the “Deep State” or whatever you want, this is unacceptable in a free society.

    A conspiracy theory is not a theory when it is actually happening,

  4. Patrick Bowman says:

    Most conspiracy theories are cults: zones where belief overrides evidence. And there is any easy way to determine if you’re in a cult. Ask yourself what evidence it would take to change your mind. If you literally can’t think of any, or if the only evidence that would change your mind is of the supernatural type (“I’d change my mind if aliens showed up and told me”) … congratulations! You’re in a cult. Here’s your Kool-Aid.

  5. SRC Team says:

    In response to some of the comments below:

    The goal of our reports and the SRC more generally, is not to debate (or weigh in on) the truth value of conspiratorial statements. The goal of our research and the accompanying reports is simply to share information with the public, for free, on who endorses conspiracies.

    Conceptually speaking, a “conspiracy” can be true or not true. By using the word “conspiracy,” we simply refer to a belief in some group of people doing something secretive and damaging. It appears that some readers are using the word “conspiracy” as synonymous with “false” or “absurd.” We do not intend to use “conspiracy” in that way. Conspiracies can vary in the degree to which they have evidence and in the degree to which they are logically possible.

    Thank you for reading and thinking about our work.

    – The SRC Team

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      I understand your position and it is completely reasonable. I suppose the problem is that the label ‘conspiracy theory’ in the context of America in 2022 carries a lot of baggage. It may be wise to use a neutral term for these debatable positions – one which indicates you are making no value judgement.
      I also, note that some of the descriptions are quite vague and subject to much interpretation so I might agree with it on one day but disagree on another: depending on how I read the statement.

    • BK_Davis says:

      Thank you for the clarification. I agree with the sentiments of Bad Boy Scientist below. The term “conspiracy” itself is problematic currently and connotes something quite different from it’s denotation.

  6. Jeff says:

    The problem with this study is that it lumps implausible conspiracy theories lacking evidence together with plausible conspiracy theories abounding with evidence; the point being that there are actual conspiracies.

    The 2020 election was indeed a conspiracy as reported and admitted in TIME magazine! It is likewise evidenced by countless statistical anomalies based on publicly available and indisputable data. Two particular facts come to mind: Biden lost 18 of 19 bellwether counties that have reliably predicted elections since 1980 (some since the 1950s-60s, and a few since the 1800s). Likewise, Biden won a great many populous counties in which Republican party registrations far outpaced Democratic party registrations, and in which the winning down ballot candidates were overwhelmingly Republican.

    All three of these items—the TIME article, the bellwethers, and the deviations from registration data—are all verifiable facts, alluding to a very real and successful conspiracy.

    • corey says:

      I have just read what i believe to be a well-done refute of your belief that the TIME article you mention gives credence to the ‘We was scammed’ position.
      Please read the article ‘TIMES election conspiracy article…’ written by Claire Goforth. It’s a quick look-up, doing a decent job of explaining how so many right-wing outlets twisted one sentence in the TIMES article to mean the magazine concurred that 2020 was a sham election.

  7. zeb says:

    Hello, I do not think the three conspiracy covered are particularly relevant.

    What is important is to “Follow the Money”. Who benefits financially from the way the Federal government’s attempts to handle the issues.

    I submit we cannot find the truth. We will never find out the truth about China, and we do not know what their agenda would be if they purposely set out to do this. OK, we can read conspiracy theories which abound. Those theories are not the truth; nor is Biden’s and Fauci’s rhetoric the truth.

    What really makes a difference to how we should govern in the future is truly taking Fauci apart. What did he gain by his “scientific” approach? We need an in-depth investigation of his role worldwide. What did he know about the labs in China? What does he own of Big Pharma and patents that would be a conflict of interest?

    Changing focus temporarily.

    Obviously, the USA has discovered it has a supply chain issue. We should have known this long ago without a pandemic. The whole Federal Government needs to step back and attempt to understand what would happen if China and Russia go to war with Nato and the rest of Europe?

    Possibly, the supply chain issues might be the largest negative consequence of the Pandemic. Global warming and all of that are important, but in the end, the food supply (which means OIL folks for fertilizer and diesel/gas/oil for machinery) is very important. Shelter (including Oil as the major component of heat generation) is important. Supplies for shelter maintenance and building new shelter is important.

    Sadly, I am not a political activist. I am very saddened by the political divide that seems overwhelming between the 2 major parties.

    The moral of the story is, We, the People, are losing (or have lost) confidence in this form of government.

  8. Ken Ellingson says:

    A pity ‘alternative treatments’ weren’t included. I suspect politics has far more to do with the beliefs about them than anything asked about here.

  9. Jeffrey Thompson says:

    I get crap like this…citizenfreepress.com/breaking/108-professional-soccer-players-dead-from-heart-failure everyday. My friends actually believe that not just a few but hundreds of soccer players/athletes are dying from their blood thickening or/and heart attacks due to Covid shots. I cannot refute it fast enough. They think I am crazy.

  10. BillG says:

    Trumpism and wokeism have turned into cults – where delusions and conspiracies thrive. SOS!

  11. Sean says:

    Sorry, candidate Biden had it right–nothing substantive will go forward until the pandemic is controlled and then eliminated. Even if few die, an incredible number get sick enough to stop functioning normally, and many of them clog up emergency rooms and intensive care units that were never meant to handle so many patients at a time. In my opinion, most nations didn’t do enough to stop the spread, including those that went into “complete lockdown.” It wasn’t a “plandemic,” it was a “lack of planning -demic.”

    • Amy Neagoe says:

      1 more thing, please: i remind you all meetings (encounters) i have ever had with your not truly (very) smart ‘young vampire male’, have occurred IN THE DAYLIGHT, only.
      ..And me, i have had plenty of coffees(my top favourite drink), payed on from my money only, while he was looking at me… As i have consciously prepared myself to be a Master official diplomat, i haven’t truly seen the advantages i have ever had in my several meetings with him, in the past. Which is why, I’ve commanded my immediate memory to forget about him…just like i have unstoppably done to anyone and each particular event or other thing stored on in my brain…until the moment that has occurred(or not) again, in my daily life. But you do know about the science of the normal brain , and how it is scientifically proved on to work out, don’t you??
      I am truly anxious to flip through all books by mrs.Michelle Belanger, and through so many other i save the titles of, in my portable stick.
      I truly believe your U.S.A. is a fascinating nation; and more over that, i know it has been born only from the mating between Europeans(people from the current E.U. and also U.K.), and native Americans(your former Indians like those described by Karl May i believe…i only read on his adventure books, precisely when i was between ages 7-10) !!!!! And i have always loved to read on books, more than the massive majority of all my co-nationals together, since i was around only 4(the age i have taught myself both the reading and writing, in the house of my emigrated great parents here, in Romania).
      Thank you very much for your free information, and for your unstoppably so unique and useful(for my brain only, as everyone has constantly hated me for my smartness a lot over the average and for my native and constant female gender too, since my birth..

  12. brian taylor says:

    I find it is impossible to reason with people who believe in these conspiratorial claims.
    Why, because the fairies at the bottom of my garden say so.

    • sittingbytheriver says:

      Yes. The people who believe the conspiracy theories claim they have “done the research”. They are stubborn and paranoid, and you cannot have a reasonable conversation with them.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        I teach Astronomy and all the time I encounter students who believe in Astrology, Alien Visitors, and the Lunar Landing Hoax.

        I used to try to engage them and present information – which was like throwing pastries at a T-72.

        Now, I just ask them two lines of questions:
        1) Why do you hold this position?
        2) How invested are you in this position?

        Rarely do I find a student who arrived at their position by reason and evidence. Even more rarely do I meet students who do more than pay lip service to their position (the main exception is some have paid for astrological forecasts).

        I am far, far more concerned with students being radicalized than students believing in space-traveling proctologists.

  13. I’m totally confused by the expression “relatively possible”. Do you mean that you think the claims are credible? If so, why (I don’t). If not, what *do* you mean?

    • Beth K. says:

      “Relatively possible” means that it’s something plausible or possible to have happened, understanding how the world works. Yes, a lab leak is possible. Yes, a zoonotic virus jumping into humans from a wet market is possible. A huge conspiracy to depopulate the planet, requiring literally millions of conspirators, none of whom credibly leak the information is not possible. 5G, frequencies formerly used for UHF television stations, causing the problem is not possible. Using the vaccination to implant microscopic tracking chips is not possible with current technology, nor does it have any purpose.

  14. james says:

    Completely left out of the picture is how the pandemic was handled. Disproportional measures abounded in many countries. Some countries went in complete lockdown. According to Schwab (WEF) he had his disciples in many government positions, which they had worked on for many years ahead of the pandemic.
    In other words it looks more like a plandemic .

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