In the trailer for the film version of the Amazon bestseller, Alien Intrusion, author Gary Bates notes that the 2002 “Roper Poll concluded that up to 4 million Americans have been abducted by aliens.”
On the Alien Intrusion Film’s website, we find the same claim:
“[O]ne poll concluded that up to 20 million Americans had seen a UFO and possibly 4 million claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Such statistics are shocking, even to many Christians who are simply not aware.
“I cannot confirm if those poll numbers are correct, but I can say for sure that literally hundreds of people have contacted me, or turned up at my speaking events to share their experiences. There is no question that something is happening to these people, but the big question is always, ‘Is it really aliens? Are these entities who they claim to be?’
“Jesus said that He is the truth and that His truth will set people free (John 8:32). I can confirm, first-hand, that this is true. I’m aware of hundreds of examples directly related to the UFO phenomenon alone where people have been ‘set free’ through this message.”
Wait, what? If the truth is so important to Gary Bates (and it certainly should be), why doesn’t he care enough to find out whether the statistics he just quoted to promote his film are, in fact, accurate? I mean, who cares if your film will have top notch special effects if it’s not accurate?
Gary. Make an effort, dude.
Now I happen to care if those polls are accurate or not. There’s a big difference between an experience claim affecting millions or just hundreds.
So have up to 4 million people been abducted?
That’s not quite what the 2002 Roper Poll concluded. Rather it stated that 2% of respondents claimed that they or someone they knew has had an encounter with extraterrestrial life.
The 2002 Roper Poll itself qualified those claims by noting that 1.4% of the respondents, or 2.5 million Americans, “say they have experienced at least four of five key events that believers of UFO abductions have identified as being of particular interest in examining whether UFO abductions might actually have taken place.”
This is significant because this section of the poll was modelled after an earlier 1992 Roper Poll from which Bates actually pulls his 4 million abductee figure.
The 1992 Roper Poll & Alien Abduction
The 1992 Roper poll was based on a survey of 5,947 adult respondents. It was commissioned by Budd Hopkins, David Michael Jacobs and Ron Westrum, and funded by Robert Bigelow and an anonymous partner. (Yes, this is the same Robert Bigelow who received most of the $22 million funding for his long-time friend Harry Reid’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program to study UFOs for the U.S. Defense Department from 2007 to 2012.) The results, including raw data, summary and commentary were published by the Bigelow Holding Company in a booklet titled Unusual Personal Experiences that was sent to thousands of psychiatrists in the hopes that they would take the abduction phenomenon more seriously.
The 1992 poll concluded that 2% of the respondents had likely been abducted, based on the fact that they answered “yes” to four out of five indicator questiond. That response represented the opinion of 119 of the 5,947 people interviewed; since the population represented by the sample was 185 million, the total number was extrapolated to 3.7 million, leading to the claim that nearly four million Americans have been abducted by aliens. The claim of up to 4 million is not supported by the Roper Poll itself but seems to be derived from a tendency to round up decimals. Unfortunately, it means that we could only accurately say that up to 3.7 million Americans believe they have been abducted by aliens… and that the number of Americans being abducted by aliens a decade later had dropped by 1.2 million. Wait. What??
We should keep in mind that these figures seem to be an American phenomenon. Actual abduction reports are most common in English-speaking countries, with a disproportionate number of those coming from America.
Note that the 1992 Roper poll doesn’t say that these folk believe they were abducted. At no point were they directly asked if they had ever been abducted.
How the 1992 Roper Poll Came to its Startling Conclusion
The figure of ~1.4% of Americans who have potentially been abducted by aliens is taken from those who answered “Yes” to 4 out of 5 key questions without also answering “Yes” to a red flag question that was certainly false (“Hearing or seeing the word TRONDANT and knowing it has a secret meaning for you.” The 2002 Roper poll included a similar red flag question involving the word TRI-NERVER.)
It’s fair to as what those 5 key questions were, so here they are. The participants were asked “How often has the following occurrence happened to you?”:
- Waking up paralyzed with a sense of a strange person or presence or something else in the room
- Experiencing a period of time of an hour or more, in which you were apparently lost, but you could not remember why, or where you had been
- Feeling that you were actually flying through the air although you didn’t know how or why
- Seen unusual lights or balls of light in a room without knowing what was causing them, or where they came from
- Finding puzzling scars on your body and neither you nor anyone else remembering how you received them or where you got them
Why didn’t they just ask people if they’d been abducted?
Well, their reasoning was that “Few abductees are fully, consciously aware of their unenviable status, and fewer still, we thought, would admit being so aware to a Roper representative.” It should be noted that this survey took the form of a face-to-face interview in the respondent’s home, so their may be some validity to the fear that some abductees wouldn’t want to admit to their experience; however, the idea that few people actually know they’ve been abducted sounds like a mighty presumption! In fact, it’s an unsupportable premise. We’ve no way of knowing if people are actually being abducted by aliens, or having experiences with demonic forces for that matter. We’ve even less means to ascertain whether most of the people who’ve been abducted simply cannot recall the experience, implying that such close encounters are being under-reported. It becomes clear that the use of these indirect questions bears evidence of an agenda to uncover “as-yet-unremembered” alien abductions.
Criticism of the 1992 Roper Poll
The methodology of the survey has been various criticized. For example, the question regarding sleep paralysis is “double barreled.” The authors of the survey questions admitted that “a fleeting sensation of paralysis is not unusual in either hypnogogic or hypnopompic states, but adding the phrase ‘with the sense of a strange person or presence or something else in the room’ forcefully narrows the scope of the question.” They explained that “this question asks if two conditions have occurred simultaneously. One might therefore expect it to have a lower percentage of positive responses than other, simpler items.” This occurrence was reported in 18% of the respondents, making it the largest response to any of the key questions. Unfortunately, their expectation was false.
In “Measuring The Prevalence of False Memories: A New Interpretation of a “UFO Abduction Survey,” Dr. Ted Goertzel, of Rutgers University noted that “Dawes and Mulford’s (1993) innovative study at the University of Oregon which demonstrated that the dual nature of Hopkins, Jacobs and Westrum’s first item, which asked about waking up paralyzed and about sensing a strange person in the room in the same item, actually led to an increased recollection of unusual phenomena as compared to a properly constructed single-issue survey item. Textbooks on questionnaire writing universally warn against “double-barreled” questions of this sort because they are known to give bad results. Dawes and Mulford confirm this and further offer the explanation that the combination of the two issues in one item causes a conjunction effect in memory which increases the likelihood of false recollection.” In other words, the double barreled question resulted in an increased positive response, contrary to the survey authors’ expectations.
Both the 1992 and 2002 Roper polls included this faulty double-barreled question.
There are other problems with the poll, including other poorly constructed questions and, more importantly, the fact that we have no means of determining whether these five factors are an adequate indicator of alien abduction because we have no objective means of determining whether abductions occur at all. We don’t even know if 4 out of 5 key events is sufficient to identify an abductee. If all five key events were required, the number of potential experiencers is, at most, 0.2% which is only a few hundred thousand.
…which is a lot closer to Gary Bates’ “hundreds,” I might add.
The 2002 Roper Poll’s Glaring Discrepancy
A repeat of this Roper Poll in 1998 resulted in a significant drop in the designated potential abductees from roughly 2% to 1%. No reason for the drastic drop was evident, but we must here interject that if this study were a valid measure of the scale of alien abductions, the problem seems to be going away! Are the aliens (or demons) getting bored?
We should also point out that the 2002 Roper Poll has a glaring inconsistency. If the 1.4% of Americans who answered “Yes” to 4 out of 5 indicator questions are supposed to give us an idea of the number of folks who’ve been abducted even if they don’t know about it, how do we account for the 2% of Americans who claim they or someone they know has been abducted? That 0.6% difference is about a million people over the amount of key question respondents (who, again, are supposed to account for all abductions, hidden by amnesia or recalled); the key question respondents should theoretically outnumber those who have known experiences.
A better explanation?
Dr. Ted Goertzel notes that there is another explanation of the poll that better fits the data: “that the individuals who score high on the scale share a psychological tendency to have false memories,” a phenomenon known as cryptomnesia. He concluded that:
“The observed correlations are part of a broader psychological syndrome which includes non-UFO related phenomena. Of course, none of this proves that UFO abductions have not occurred in a small number of cases… However, the public can rest assured that there is no evidence that millions of Americans are being abducted. Further research on the psychological phenomenon of cryptomnesia, however, is warranted. Both our survey and Hopkins, Jacobs and Westrum’s representative national sample suggest that it is an identifiable syndrome affecting several million people in American society.”
I should point out that if this is the case, the small number of “UFO abductions” that Ted Goertzel allows and which Gary Bates identifies as demonic activity would (again) more correlate to Bates’ own experience of mere hundreds of people.
In the interests of full disclosure, its possible that the experiencer phenomenon is subset within the larger cryptomnesia scale at a percentage more in line with that of participants who indicated that they’d experienced five out of five key events in the 2002 Roper Poll. I suspect that this number is much smaller. I’ve never denied that some abduction accounts may be explained as demonic activity; however, the principle of mediocrity which holds that a minority of the UFO problem is likely to have a supernatural explanation – a prediction which happens to be confirmed in Dr. Goertzel’s conclusion that, while millions aren’t being abducted, a small number of “UFO abductions” may nonetheless be occurring.
Yet speaking of false memories, a 10-year Harvard study reveals why some people have false memories of alien abduction. In “Explaining ‘Memories’ of Space Alien Abduction and Past Lives: An Experimental Psychopathology Approach” [Journal of Experimental Psychopathology 3(1): 2-16], Richard J McNally notes that “the ingredients for a space alien abductee include:
- New Age beliefs (e.g., high scores on measures of magical ideation),
- Episodes of isolated sleep paralysis accompanied by hypnopompic hallucinations,
- Hypnotic memory recovery sessions,
- High scores on a measure of absorption, [a trait related to fantasy proneness, vivid imagery, and hypnotizability]*, and
- familiarity with the cultural narrative of alien abduction.”
[*brackets mine for clarity, but quoted definition appears elsewhere in the cited paper]
Experiencers have roundly rejected this psychobiological explanation for the alien abduction phenomenon, but the fact that a natural explanation exists cannot simply be swept aside because one prefers a different explanation, be it aliens or demonic forces! Unfortunately, Bates has proven that he is not above a selective presentation of evidence when it comes to “proving” his demonic theory on so-called alien abductions.
A Multitude of Counsellors
At this point we have to ask ourselves if there’s a reason Gary Bates, with all of the resources he has available to him at Creation Ministries International, couldn’t be bothered to find this out for himself? After all, in our exchange on this site, he indicated that his position was derived “from a multitude of counsellors”:
“Moreover, unlike your individual considered opinion, the opinions espoused in these articles on creation.com are derived from a ‘multitude of counsellors’ including theologians and scientists with the aim of defending Genesis.”
Couldn’t any of those counsellors have been bothered to research whether these poll numbers were, in fact, accurate? I don’t have Bates’ resources, but I managed to secure a copy of the Unusual Personal Experiences booklet containing the raw data for the 1992 Roper poll. I even managed to secure the 2002 Roper poll results from Archive.org. Surely, Bates or his multitude of counsellors could’ve done as much.
I can’t tell you why Gary Bates is apparently uninterested in confirming the credibility of poll numbers he cites to sell his merchandise. I can only promise you that the information in my book, Strangers and Aliens, was researched at the level you’ve read here because I think the truth is worth knowing.