GHOSTS, DOCTORS, ETC.: Giving Credence Where Credence Is Due–Or Undue
Fretful advertisers view consumers as relentless skeptics. That’s why we’re inundated by self-mocking commercials that pander to our disbelief instead of trying to undo it. But are Americans really so skeptical? Don’t believe it! A Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers poll of New Jersey adults reminds us that numerous adherents can be found for almost any belief. And many people are prepared to combine beliefs one would have thought to be mutually exclusive. For instance, 57 percent said they believe “God created the Earth in six days” and 53 percent expressed faith in “the theory of evolution–that humans evolved from lower life forms.” While 29 percent embraced creationism and rejected evolution and 25 percent did just the reverse, a cross-tabulation found 23 percent giving credence to both propositions. Elsewhere in the poll, respondents expressed nearly as much faith in ghosts as in doctors: 47 percent believe “medical doctors are usually right” and 44 percent believe in ghosts. On the matter of extraterrestrial beings, 56 percent think there’s life on other planets and 35 percent believe in UFOs. The gap between those two numbers presumably means some people believe there are unsociable space aliens who can’t be bothered to visit us. The number who believe “Bill and Hillary Clinton like each other” (41 percent) lags far behind the number believing “in love at first sight” (63 percent). Indeed, some respondents may imagine they have first-hand knowledge of the Clintons’ private sentiments, since 63 percent believe in extrasensory perception. Among other findings from the survey: The number who believe “there is a God or Supreme Being” (92 percent) slightly exceeds the number who believe there is a Mafia and that “men and women have fundamentally different natures” (90 percent apiece). And more respondents believe “dogs can think” (75 percent) than believe “mother knows best” (70 percent).

BETTER LIVING : Our Great Pal, Technology
If you own tech stocks, you may have spent the past couple weeks feeling technology has not improved your life. That aside, a survey by Wired finds Americans well-disposed toward the technological revolution of the past decade. As you can see from the chart, just a handful feel their own lives have been worsened by the spread of new technologies. One curious tidbit: When respondents were asked whether technological advances have affected society (rather than themselves) for better or worse, noticeably more of them answered “somewhat worse” (10 percent) or “much worse” (5 percent). As you’d expect, people who are “very wired” are technophiles, with 93 percent saying these changes have improved their lives. It’s more surprising to find this attitude shared by “the modemless, laptopless minority.” Among the unwired cohort, 61 percent said techno-change has made their lives better; 7 percent said it’s made life worse. Elsewhere in the poll, people were asked what they like least about the Internet. Forty-five percent cited a “security risk” to personal information. Fifteen percent termed the Net “overhyped,” while 8 percent called it “impersonal and cold.”

MIXED BLESSINGS: Living With the Tax Man, A Mixed Day for Rover, Etc.
As the tax deadline drew near, Americans faced it with surprising equanimity. Among those who figure their own taxes, a survey by Greenfield Online found 64 percent describing their tax-prep personality as “organized, knowledgeable and in control.” Just 3 percent characterized themselves as “uninformed and overwhelmed,” with the rest falling in between. Seventeen percent expect the Internal Revenue Service will be “kinder, gentler” as a result of last year’s Congressional investigation of IRS abuses. On the other hand, 5 percent think those hearings will have provoked the IRS into being harsher than ever. Of course, the feds aren’t the only ones who want your money. A study by Bloomberg Personal Finance ranks the 50 states (plus D.C.) by how “wealth-friendly” their tax structures are. Wyoming is the most wealth-friendly, followed by Nevada and Washington. Rhode Island is the most wealth-hostile, says the magazine, with Montana and New York not far behind.

In case you thought Internet commerce was the exclusive province of 23-year-old whiz kids, an ad for bobbyorrslocker.com will disabuse you of that idea. A Web site is now devoted to selling memorabilia of the long-retired hockey great. In keeping with the norms of e-commerce, an ad for the site displays a bit of attitude. Axmith McIntyre Wicht of Toronto created the piece.

In a more civilized age, a dog-biscuit ad that alluded to the consumer’s testicles would have seemed beyond the pale. Now, given the way pop culture churns out gratuitous references to human private parts, it’s almost a relief to see a semi-ungratuitous reference to the canine variety. Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods of Little Rock, Ark., created the piece, which appears as a point-of-sale poster in veterinary offices where the dog treats are sold.

This just in on the politics of casual Friday: A Zogby poll found 61 percent of adults think casual dress at the office has a positive effect on productivity. Dissenting from that view were the 26 percent who feel such attire saps the professional atmosphere. There’s a distinct split along political lines, with pro-casual sentiment ranging from 68 percent of Democrats to 49 percent of Republicans, with independents falling in between at 61 percent.

LOOKS VS. BOOKS: How Today’s Young Women Know What They Are
Which is more important to women as they define themselves: the car they drive or the TV shows they watch? According to a poll by Glamour and Young & Rubicam Brand Futures Group, both rank low on the hierarchy of defining factors. (But TV beat the car, 38 percent to 24 percent). In the respondent pool of Pennsylvania women age 18-34, nearly all (96 percent) cited their upbringing as a defining factor. Runner-up was “hobbies and interests” (90 percent), followed by friends (82 percent). Religious beliefs and “romantic partner” tied at 74 percent. “Books they read” (64 percent) nearly equaled “physical appearance” (68 percent), which might prompt you to wonder why women’s magazines carry so many ads for cosmetics and so few for bookstores. In another juxtaposition, “the way they manage money” (68 percent) far surpassed “income level” (32 percent), suggesting the former is considered more a sign of true character than the latter.

LESS TV, ANYHOW: Maybe the Internet Isn’t Corrupting the Youth
There’s the Good Internet, which helps kids do their homework. Then there’s the Evil-Twin Internet, which turns them into maladjusted loners. Which one is real? A study commissioned by the National School Boards Foundation (and funded in part by Microsoft) tends to back the Good Internet side of the story. Among parents of wired children age 4-17, 22 percent said their kids spend more time reading newspapers and magazines than they did before going online; 10 percent said such reading has declined. Thirty percent said their kids spend more time reading books since going online; 14 percent said the kids spend less. But when 13-17-year-olds were polled, 18 percent said their book reading is up and 26 percent said it’s down since they found the Internet. (The report notes, with great composure, that a decline in book reading is a “natural pattern” among teens as they get older.) Best of all, 37 percent of parents reported a decline in TV viewing by their wired kids, versus 5 percent citing an increase. Do kids use the Internet for schoolwork? Fifty-two percent of wired 9-17-year-olds said they do so at least once a week. Nonetheless, the report remarks that “parents routinely seem to overstate the extent to which their children use the Internet for educational purposes.”