In September there was much news coverage about how a study conducted by YouGov showed that belief in ghosts has risen. Examples here at The Metro and The Telegraph. I was at the conference that the results of this study were announced at and I was instantly interested in finding out more, so when I got home I started digging through past studies to find which 2005 and 2009 studies the results had been compared to, but I had some difficulty because the poll information being written about was not obtainable anywhere.
With this in mind I contacted ASSAP and asked for the details. The results of the YouGov poll commissioned by ASSAP were then make available to view on their website. I think this is important because if you’re making big claims – especially in the media – you ought to make the information that backs your claims up available for people to study. It’s wrong to insist people take you at your word on something like this.
Yet, even with the ASSAP poll results now to hand, it was still difficult to work out exactly what 2005 & 2009 studies these results were comparable to, because the questions asked did not match any previous poll questions that I could find. I turned to other researchers to see if they were aware of any 2005 & 2009 polls that I wasn’t, but they too could find nothing that was comparative.
I again approached ASSAP for clarification, and was told that the results had been compared to a 2005 Gallup poll and a 2009 Comres poll. This was baffling.
The ASSAP poll, run by YouGov, asked participants ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?’
– ‘I believe some people have experienced ghosts (i.e. seen, heard, smelt or otherwise sensed the spirit of a deceased person or animal)’
– I believe some people have witnessed UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) that have an extraterrestrial origin.
Participants then selected that they either ‘strongly disagree’, ‘disagree’, ‘slightly disagree’, ‘slightly agree’, ‘agree’, ‘strongly agree’ or ‘not sure’.
The Comres poll asked people ‘do you believe in the following?‘
-Life after Death
-The human soul
-Astrology, or that the position of the stars and planets can affect people’s lives
– That extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth at some time in the past
-That people can hear from or communicate mentally with someone who has died
That’s a methodological question. And the methodological experts disagree. I’m taking their advice on this. My focus now is to fundraise to ensure the polling can be repeated each year to allow a full picture to be built up over time. Our focus on this was the level of belief, much more so than the comparisons but newspapers chose to take that angle.
This is the start of what is hopefully a growing set of data that will come in year on year. I don’t want that project to get off to a bad start.
These are fair goals to set out, however I feel that this project was off to a bad start the moment the papers were handed the incomplete data set from this project and allowed to sensationalise how belief in ghost is rising, when the organisation that commissioned the study themselves admit that this is an incomplete and ongoing project.
thanks to CJ Romer, Bob Dezon, Stuart Ritchie & Wendy Cousins.