I came across an Associated Press story that discusses a recent AP-AOL News telephone poll asking 1,000 Americans to make predictions about 2007. In amongst all of the worries about terrorism and global warming, two predictions caught my attention.
- 25% expect that Jesus Christ will return to Earth.
- 35% expect that a cure for cancer will be found.
I find both of those predictions to be quite worrying. I'm not worried that they'll come true, of course. The cancer cure in particular would be wonderful. The return of Jesus Christ would merely be surprising.
What I find worrying is that such a large percentage of the American population apparently expects these things to happen in 2007.
The belief that Jesus Christ will return isn't all that surprising. I've known from previous polls that quite a significant percentage expect Christ to return within the next 50 years. I was a bit surprised at how many expect it will happen this year. On the other hand, I recently read a blog post somewhere in which the author provided several examples of messages posted on a forum at Rapture Ready. In those messages, the writers were discussing how surprised and somewhat disappointed they were that the Rapture hadn't happened yet. It was apparent at least some people wake up every day thinking "today could be the day!"
I just didn't expect that 25% of the American people felt that way.
If they think that the end of the world is likely to happen this year, it's no surprise that it's difficult to get them to consider the long-term impacts of their actions (e.g. global warming). Is this something that U.S. policy makers need to take into account on those rare occasions when they try to plan for the long term?
On the other hand, I can't help wondering whether that 25% figure is inflated. Does some significant percentage just say that they expect Christ to return this year because that's what they're supposed to say? How many of them have significant money in certificates of deposit that won't mature for many years? How many of them are saving money for college for their children and retirement for themselves? If you really thought that the world would end within the next 12 months, it would still be prudent to plan for the possibility that you were wrong, of course. But still... Wouldn't your motivation for long-term planning be diminished?
The other prediction -- that a cure for cancer will be found -- was made by 35% of those polled. I find this to be completely mystifying.
I can understand the religious reasons behind a prediction of the return of Christ, but what could possibly lead 35% of the American people to expect a cure for cancer within the next 12 months? Aside from the fact that there is unlikely to be a single cure for all cancers, medical science has been working on this problem for many years. There are always news stories about "promising" possibilities, but the odds that a silver bullet will emerge this year are vanishingly small.
To me, the fact that 35% expect a cure for cancer to be found in 2007 indicates a depressingly poor ability to evaluate medical news stories. I suspect it's related to the same reasons why so many people put their faith in alternative medicine. (Speaking of which, I wonder what percentage of those people expect that the cure will come from alternative medicine rather than from mainstream medicine? I suspect it's a rather high percentage.)