Friday, February 13, 2009

Poorly Worded Zogby Poll on Evolution Produces Deceptive Result

When one does a poll, it is very important to word the questions in such a way that the person answering is not biased by the wording to answer a certain way. One of my favorite examples comes from a political poll I once received that asked:

Do you believe we should eliminate wasteful government programs?

Had that been a telephone poll, I'd likely have sarcastically burst out with "No! I want more waste!". By describing the government programs as wasteful, something practically no one is for, the pollster steered people to answer "yes", even if their views are not in the spirit of the way he will represent them.

The same can be said for a a new Zogby poll on evolution containing questions about evolution now being touted by the ID PR folks (pardon the redundancy) as vindicating their position. It does no such thing, but may appear that way because of Zogby's poorly worded questions which bias respondents to answer in a way that appears to support the ID position, yet could come from someone ardently against ID. Take question 4:

4. Would you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree that teachers and students should have the academic freedom to discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution as a scientific theory?

80% of respondents agreed, which of course was taken as evidence that the ID educational agenda has broad support. However, that is due to the IDers skillful manipulation of language, which presumed the very issue in question, not popular support. "Strengths and weaknesses" sounds quite reasonable to any scientifically literate person who hasn't followed the ID issue closely enough to know that in ID-speak it means "arguments having their sociological roots in Biblical fundamentalism that have been rejected by the overwhelming majority of scientists in the relevant fields for decades." In similar fashion, "discuss" sounds reasonable enough until it is made clear that in this context, it means "arguing with the teacher and refusing to learn the material". Let them ask the question that way and see what sort of response they get.

Of course any science course should involve a discussion of "strengths and weaknesses", which if properly stated scientifically, means the evidence supporting the theory, and the experimental data the theory fails to explain. The issue is whether the creationists' tired old discredited objections warrant the title "scientific" merely because they've dressed it up in the cheap tuxedo known as Intelligent Design.

5. Charles Darwin wrote that when considering the evidence for his theory of evolution, “…a fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with Darwin’s statement?

Again, a huge majority agreed, and again, it doesn't mean what the IDers would have us think it means. Darwin was talking about the healthy analysis of evidence and debate within science, not pedagogy. Who among us thinks that students, who are in a class precisely to correct their ignorance on the subject at hand, are capable of fully stating and understanding said complicated subjects like biology sufficiently to tell the difference between science and pseudoscience? That is the question that should be asked if we are to learn who supports the ID position on biology classrooms, and once it is asked, one need only grasp it to see the absurdity of the ID position.

6. I am going to read you two statements about Biology teachers teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. Please tell me which statement comes closest to your own point of view—Statement A or Statement B?

Statement A: Biology teachers should teach only Darwin’s theory of evolution and the
scientific evidence that supports it.

Statement B: Biology teachers should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also the
scientific evidence against it.

Gee, wouldn't you know it, 78% of the respondents voted for the well rounded position. Do I even have to say it? Of course all scientific evidence should be taught. The question is whether the moldy oldy creationist arguments qualify as science. A near unanimity of scientists the world over in the relevant fields say no, unless we allow them to categorize them as bad science.

So when one of the DI hacks like Anika Smith says things like:

"But the public has not been convinced. Indeed, support for the Darwinists’ position has dropped significantly while support for teaching the controversy over evolution has risen."

she is bloviating out her bunghole. The polls say no such thing. When, and only when, the creationists come clean about their agenda and their motives, and ask questions of people honestly, will such polls indicate how much support they have. However, given what great effort they put into hiding their agenda, and the history of creationist school-board members being tossed from office once that agenda is known, it's safe to conclude that support is small, as it should be.


Capt. Phileas J. Werewolf said...

Good post. I was driving through an unfamiliar part of Louisiana (where I'm from) and scanning the radio stations for some classic rock when I heard a Christian talk show touting this poll. They only quoted the sixth question, the wording of which made me laugh at loud. What nonsense. I googled the poll and your post was the first one on the page to critically assess the choices offered--the rest were by the ID crowd. Keep up the good work.

ScienceAvenger said...

Thanks Capt. When digesting polls, we all have to remember to look into exactly what was asked and exactly what the responses were. Those with dishonest agendas will always tell you the poll supports them, even when it doesn't.