Nothing is alien to scientists

May 16, 2003

Scientists are "remarkably" open-minded about supernatural and new-age beliefs, researchers have discovered.

They refuse to discount the possibility of ghosts, aliens visiting Earth, the power of the ouija board, water divining and healing crystals, a study conducted in the UK and New Zealand found.

Researchers from Leicester and Waikato universities surveyed 18 academics to test assumptions in science education literature that scientists work and think from an objective point of view.

The findings, submitted to the International Journal of Science Education, suggest that scientists are not prepared to dismiss superstitions just because they have no evidence to support them.

Neil Taylor, a researcher at Leicester's school of education, said: "The findings provided a fascinating insight into the ways scientists think."

Richard Coll, honorary visiting fellow at Leicester from the Centre for Science and Technology Education Research in New Zealand, said: "One would have expected them to say these things are complete nonsense, but they didn't.

"Probably most important was a perception of at least a potential underlying theoretical basis to the belief. So water divining 'might be possible' because there is a physical difference between dry, waterless land, and land that has water flowing under it. The very possibility meant the scientists were prepared to keep an open mind."

The researchers conclude that the findings should give the public more confidence in scientists' willingness to consider all possibilities.

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