Saturday, October 15, 2016

What is the government concealing from us? Paranoia in the 2016 Chapman Survey of American Fears

In the 2015 Chapman Survey of American Fears the most common fear was Corruption of government officials. (It also was this year, as I discussed yesterday). Based on that, this year’s survey also included ten questions in the scary category of Fears About Government’s Concealment of Information.

The general question was: “The government is concealing what they know about...” and the ten specific conspiracy questions were about:

Alien encounters
The 9/11 attacks
The North Dakota Crash
Obama’s Birth Certificate
Global warming
The JFK assassination
The moon landing
The death of supreme court justice Antonin Scalia
The origins of the AIDS virus
Plans for a one world government

For each question people were asked how they felt about that event, that is whether they:

A] Strongly Disagree

B] Disagree

C] Agree

D] Strongly Agree

There also was a category of Refused for those who did not reply to a question. Results were reported on October 11, 2016 in a blog post titled What Aren’t They Telling Us? It included a vertical bar chart showing results for the sum of Agree and Strongly Agree, which were:

The 9/11 attacks 54.3% [54.0] (52.2%)
The JFK Assassination 49.6% [50.1] (48.4%)
Alien encounters 42.6% [42.0 ] (40.4%)
Global warming 42.1% [42.3 ] (40.7%)
Plans for a one world government 32.9% [32.6] (31.4%)
The North Dakota crash 32.5% [32.0 ] (30.1%) (I added this one)
Obama’s birth certificate 30.2% [31.3] (30.2%)
The origin of the AIDS virus 30.1% [29.0] (27.9%)
The death of supreme court justice Antonin Scalia 27.8% [27.3] (26.3%)
The moon landing 24.2% [23.2] (22.3%)

Comparison with the detailed survey results shows that the numbers listed above are slightly different than the Rescaled Percents [shown in square brackets], which were calculated via multiplying by a factor of 100/[100 - Percent Refused]. I also showed the original Percents (in parentheses). The charted number for Obama’s birth certificate just is the original Percent, which clearly is wrong.  

They tried to add a nonexistent event as a control to this survey, but unfortunately failed:

“Perhaps most indicative of the conspiratorial nature of Americans is the tenth conspiracy theory we asked about…one which, to our knowledge, we created.

Respondents to the Chapman University Survey of American Fears were asked if ‘The government is concealing what they know about…the North Dakota crash.’ A third of Americans (33%) think the government is concealing information about this invented event.”

Referring merely to a North Dakota crash without specifying a date, city, or vehicle (plane, train, truck, etc.), was far too vague. Back on December 30, 2013 near Casselton, ND a grain train derailed and fouled the adjacent main track. Then 20 tank cars of another unit train carrying crude oil derailed, and 18 caught fire, and exploded. More than 400,000 gallons of oil were released, with damage estimated at 6.1 million dollars. The next day the TIME magazine web site had an article titled North Dakota Derailment Shows Dark Side of America’s Oil Boom. The federal National Transportation Safety Board investigated the crash and released a preliminary report.

In a October 23, 2015 blog post titled A Somewhat Haunted World - Paranormal Beliefs in the 2015 Chapman Survey on American Fears, I discussed how just reporting the sum for Agree and Strongly Agree was insufficient and misleading - the sum for Disagree and Strongly Disagree also was highly relevant. 

A bar chart shows the sums for Agree (blue) and Disagree (pink). Click on it for a larger, clearer view. For the 9/11 attack the sum for agree actually is larger, for The JFK assassination the sums are equal. For the other eight events the sum for disagree is greater that fifty percent, so only a minority are believers. For The moon landing almost three-quarters (74%) disagreed. 

The image was adapted from a well-known World War I recruiting poster.

UPDATE - November 1, 2016

An October 31st article in The New York Post by Michael Kaplan titled What America Fears More Than Evil Clowns did what you expect from tabloid journalism - it made up details about The North Dakota Crash question:

"To truly measure the level of paranoia — and the degree to which that response is completely knee-jerk — Bader asked respondents to opine on the North Dakota crash. He provided details of the crash, and nearly one-third of respondents believed it to be covered up by the government. That was before they realized that the North Dakota crash was completely fabricated."

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