I will go anywhere to find out what is on the minds of Americans. This includes visiting a dark road in the middle of nowhere while the moon is shining, and then freaking out when a group of high school students with flashlights start to leave the forest.
Do you believe in them? My friend and Citizen Free Press colleague Chase Masters does, and I recently learned that he is one of almost 50% of Americans who do. Chase tried to explain to me why he was doing it, and in doing so I think he summed up two visions of the world that sometimes compete.
“You’re a numbers guy, right? So you’re always in the middle of the data, the facts,” Masters said. “And with ghosts, it’s not so much about hard and fast data, it’s more about a sentiment or almost like a faith.”
This exchange is from the first episode of my podcast, “Margins of Error,” which launches Tuesday. The poll-inspired title is a pun on the fact that there are plenty of stories that may appear to be on the margins at first glance, but are actually where the fun and insight really begin.
I started the podcast because I love numbers and statistics. He was the kind of kid who memorized baseball card backs and the order in which states were called in the 2000 election. (Ghosts aren’t usually my thing, but we’ll talk about that later.)
Today, numbers and statistics are more useful to me than ever. The reason is very simple: in a world full of information that is branded as “fake news” and opinion, numbers are one of the few ways to distinguish between fact and fiction. I listen to the numbers, even when I don’t like what they tell me.
I often look at statistics that help us understand topics generally considered hard news: things like politics and the coronavirus. But the truth is, I needed a break from those topics, and I suppose many of you need it too.
Still, I long to learn more about the world around me. And statistics can tell us much more than who goes up or down in the polls.
The numbers can help us to know things about our society that are not so obvious. In the case of ghosts, I was surprised to learn that Americans’ belief in them has skyrocketed 400% since the late 1970s.
A figure like this is just the starting point, a reason to explore a topic. The figure is interesting enough, but I wanted to find out why people are more likely to believe in ghosts than before. That’s why it’s the subject of my first episode, titled “How the Paranormal Got, Well, Pretty Normal.”
I ended up talking to believers (like Chase) and experts. This journey led me to discover that the rise in ghost believers was related to much more in society than someone thinking that Casper (or someone like him) actually exists.
I learned along the way that although ghosts are often thought to be scary, many believers see them as a friendly reminder of the friends they have left us. It is not surprising that a quarter of Americans have declared not only to believe in ghosts, but also to see them.
To be honest, all the people I spoke to and everything I learned made me question some of my own beliefs. In fact, this program is a journey in which I open myself. We are on this podcast journey together.
More than anything, I hope you learn, as I did, that the world is much more complicated and intricate than we often think.
This is perhaps the biggest lesson of the series of episodes that will arrive this fall: There are many things that tell us who we are and where we are going, and they do not always have to do with the news of the day.
Of course, we are not going to talk only about ghosts. We will do a statistical immersion in issues that affect our daily lives, even if you do not realize it at first. I’ll explore the fight for daylight saving time, the “half age plus seven” dating rule, and even try to find numerical answers to how my uncle, Neil Sedaka, created such long-lasting musical hits.
I hope you join me. At least you would make my mother happy. (And yes, she also appears in one of the episodes.)
Listen to the latest episodes of the “Margins of Error” podcast as soon as they are released. Find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app.
Ben Oakley is the guy you can really trust when it comes to Mainstream News. Whether it is something happening at the Wall Street of New York City or inside the White House in Washington, D.C., no one can cover mainstream news like Ben. Get a daily dose of Trustworthy News by Ben Oakley, only at Globe Live Media.