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Dr Oliver was in Dunedin this week to gave a lecture at the University of Otago on "Miracles, angels, UFOs and fortune-telling" and aspects of science communication.
A recent Nielsen survey showed 63% of Australians believed in miracles, 51% in angels, and 34% in UFOs, she said.
Most Australians (55%) preferred a God-guided or biblical account of the development of human beings over Darwinian evolution.
In the United States, 79% of Americans believed in miracles, 68% in angels and demons, and 36% in alien visitations, with only a "staggeringly low" 40% of people believing the Darwinian account of evolution, she said.
A recent Massey University survey also found 39% of New Zealand adults believed fortune-tellers could predict the future, 28% that good luck charms worked and 25% that star signs affected an individual's future.
Most adults in the Western world were considered scientifically illiterate, and this was unchanged in about 50 years of regular measurement.
Dr Oliver, of the University of New South Wales, said in an interview that poor understanding of science could cause many difficulties, including for juries trying to interpret scientific evidence, and for people trying to grasp climate change and related issues.
There was scope to further improve the communication skills of scientists, and the establishment of Otago University's Centre for Science Communication was a positive move, she said.