• How to Make a Useless Poll

    The Discovery Institute ran a poll recently (on a generic group of people from Survey Monkey[1]) and wrote a blog post highlighting the results.

    The author highlights a few results for us

    Only 19 percent of Americans believe that “biology teachers should cover only scientific evidence that supports the theory.”

    “Americans agree by an overwhelming margin that students should learn about all of the scientific evidence relating to Darwinian evolution, pro and con,” said Dr. John West, Vice President of Discovery Institute. “This is a common-sense approach. Most people understand that it’s not good education to present a one-sided review of the data, especially in science.”

    There’s a couple of issues here.

    First, of course people should support the presentation of both sides of an issue. That’s a huge problem with journalism (in my opinion).

    Second, and here’s where we start getting into some issues, a theory has a specific meaning in science. That is that it is a concept that is so well supported, there is essentially nothing that will discredit it. Human understanding of the theory of gravity and Newton’s Laws of motion let us put 3 people on top of several million pounds of explosive and send them on a 3 day mission to the moon.

    A theory isn’t something that has a lot of evidence against it. If there was significant evidence against it, then, by definition, it wouldn’t be a theory.

    We don’t, in general, teach kids about all the failed ideas in science. There are too many. We teach students what is well known, well understood, and what works. In a history of science unit, a teacher might mention the aether theory of light and the various failed models of the atom, but not in a way that makes these somehow critical of the modern understanding of how atoms work.

    Third, I wonder what the question actually was that the DI asked? Like morons who can’t stop digging when they are 6-feet under, they tell us.

    when teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution, biology teachers should cover both scientific evidence that supports the theory and scientific evidence critical of the theory.

    What, exactly, is the “scientific evidence critical of the theory”? Here’s where their problem really is. I’ll note that this is also a problem with US education. People in the US, especially people whose total biology experience is a single class class in high school and whatever they read in the paper, don’t know that there is no scientific evidence that is critical of evolution.

    Ann Gauger, now a DI employee, says

    There is growing peer-reviewed research that questions the adequacy of the Darwinian mechanism of random mutation and natural selection,

    Yeah, OK. Actual evolutionary biologists have known this for decades. There’s much more to evolution that random mutation and natural selection. There’s genetic drift, the founder effect (a special case of drift), epigenetics, and migration.

    So, it’s not like this is a surprise.

    We have a random selection of people, who are asked an ambiguous question, and the results are touted as somehow being in support of Intelligent Design.

    I should note that this language is almost exactly the same as the “Teach the Controversy” campaign.

    The campaign was devised by Stephen C. Meyer and Discovery Institute founder and President Bruce Chapman as a compromise strategy in March 2002. They had come to the realisation that the dispute over intelligent design’s (lack of) scientific standing was complicating their efforts to have evolution challenged in the science classroom. This strategy was designed to move the focus onto an approach that stresses open debate and evolution’s purported weakness, but does not require students to study intelligent design. The intention was to create doubt over evolution and avoid the question of whether the intelligent designer was God, while giving the institute time to strengthen their purported theory of intelligent design.[29] Another advantage of this strategy was to allay teacher fears of legal action.[30]  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teach_the_Controversy

    In other words, this idea of “promoting evidence critical of evolution” is almost 15 years old. So far, the evidence critical of evolution is non-existent.

    I’ll give any DI employee a totally unedited blog post here, if they talk about the scientific evidence that is critical of evolution. Any DI employee willing to step up?

    The final point, of course, is that this still meaningless. You don’t ask random people what the best treatment for your heart condition is. Nope, you go to experts. Likewise, you don’t go to the DI for discussions of education or evolution. You go to scientists and professional educators who have experience in these matters. I’d be willing to consult with them for making valid polls and analysis, my fee would be donated to the Center for Inquiry.


    1. This is actually quite important. Asking random people specific questions about areas they are not familiar with is a great way to make huge mistakes. There’s a reason that GOP pollsters don’t call registered Democrats to ak about primary elections.

    Category: CreationismEvolutionScienceSkepticism


    Article by: Smilodon's Retreat

    • Doc Bill

      For your enjoyment I created a survey in SurveyMonkey that asks the question which is more effective, an Attack Hamster or an Attack Gerbil.

      Preliminary results have the Attack Gerbil leading the Hamster 2:1.

    • josh

      “There is growing peer-reviewed research that questions the adequacy of the Darwinian mechanism…”

      What a weasel phrasing. Research can only grow, it doesn’t shrink. Thus there is “growing research” on the psychic powers of tap water, the prevalence of lizard people in government, etc. As long as some nut somewhere wants to write up their half-baked opinions you can claim research is being done. The question is: is DI-style evolution denial growing as a percentage of the academic field? The answer is no, rather the evidence for Darwinian evolution continues to mount, and that includes the modifications from the high-school summary version, like horizontal gene transfer and genetic drift.

    • “…biology teachers should cover both scientific evidence that supports the theory and scientific evidence critical of the theory.”

      I’m actually okay with this, so long as the amount of time spent on each side is strictly proportional to the quantity and quality of the evidence therefor. 😉