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Most say humans aren't alone; few have seen UFOs

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: July 15, 2008

07/15/2008

By THOMAS HARGROVE and GUIDO H. STEMPEL III

Scripps Howard News Service

Most Americans say it is very likely or somewhat likely that humans are not alone in the universe and that intelligent life exists on other planets.

Only a third of adults, however, believe it's either very likely or somewhat likely that intelligent aliens from space have visited our planet, according to a survey of 1,003 adults conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.

The poll revealed that one in every 12 Americans has seen a mysterious object in the sky that might have been a visitor from another world, while nearly one in every five personally knows someone who has seen an unidentified flying object.

America's fascination with UFO sightings has been robust, dating at least back to 1947 with the discovery of unusual objects near Roswell, N.M., that many claimed were the remnants of an extraterrestrial craft that crashed.

Among the ranks who have seen something strange in the sky are former President Jimmy Carter, the late Beatle John Lennon and the late comedian Jackie Gleason.

One of the largest mass sightings on record -- the so-called "Phoenix Lights" that hovered for several hours over two or three Southwestern states on March 13, 1997 -- was even seen by then-Arizona Gov. Fife Symington. The governor at first made jokes about the incident, but later apologized for making light of something that thousands of people saw.

"The universe is a big place," Symington told reporters last year. "We're conceited to think we're alone."

At least one of the participants in the poll saw the strange, slowly floating lights over Phoenix.

"Maybe it was a military thing; I don't know," said Fran Chodacki, 62, of Page, Ariz. "Everything is mysterious in this world. It's a possibility."

She is among the 56 percent of adults in the poll who believe it is very likely or somewhat likely that intelligent life exists on other worlds. The survey found that 35 percent said extraterrestrials are unlikely and 9 percent are uncertain.

Men, young adults and college-educated Americans are more likely than most to believe that humans are not alone in the universe.

The survey found some patterns in the kinds of people who have reported having seen UFOs.

Men are almost twice as likely to have seen something peculiar in the sky than are women. Older Americans are much more likely than younger people to have seen something, as are residents of rural areas or suburbs rather than those living in major cities. People living in Western states are three times more likely to have seen a UFO than are residents of the Northeast, Midwest or South.

UFO experts agree that these trends all make sense. Men are more likely than women to be outdoors on a dark night. Older Americans have had more opportunities simply by virtue of a longer life to see something unusual in the sky.

It is also logical, they say, for people in Western states to have seen more UFOs than people in other regions. Most of the nation's largest and most expensive observatories are located in the West, which provides optimal views of the sky.

"These people have had more opportunities than others to see things in a darkened sky. That makes sense," said Mark Rodeghier, director of the Chicago-based J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies.

Peter Davenport, director of the National UFO Reporting Center in Seattle, Wash., agreed.

"Of course, we get lots of reports from major cities," Davenport said. "But it could be that people in rural areas have a better view of the sky. People in cities are blinded by all of the bright lights."

But the experts were quite surprised by other trends found among the UFO witnesses.

People who have attended church recently and who identify themselves as born-again Evangelical Protestants are much less likely to have seen UFOs or to believe in the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence than people with little or no involvement with organized religion.

People with strong political and ideological convictions -- self-identified "strong Republicans" and "very conservative" people as well as "strong Democrats" and "very liberal" persons -- are much less likely to report having seen a UFO than are politically moderate persons.

"There are just so many variables when addressing this issue," said Davenport. "But the religious trend is very, very interesting. Maybe you are more open to having seen things outside your experience if you don't have very tightly held religious beliefs."

But why are people with strong political beliefs less likely to see UFOs?

"They are more attuned to the establishment," said Rodeghier. "People who are in the establishment are more likely to have distain for the whole UFO issue. That's something those of us in the field of UFO study have seen over and over again. But people who are independent are more open to the issue."

The survey was conducted by telephone at Ohio University's Scripps Survey Research Center from May 11-28. The poll was funded through a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation.

The overall survey has a margin of error of about 3 percentage points.