Monday, January 25, 2016

A New 'Poll' conducted by the DI says what the DI says, what a surprise!

Since the United Methodist Church (UMC) has seen fit to not allow the Discovery Institute to present their marketing material at their General Conference, the DI has been quite vocal about it.  Multiple press releases and posts about their 'banning'.  Now they have hit a new low . . . which before today I wouldn't have believed possible.  I really should know better by now.

A new post on their Evolution 'news' and Views site looks like this:

What the headline forgot to tell you is that Discovery Institute itself conducted the poll.  That raised a question, or several, for me.  The reason is simple, polling, like any human endeavor, can be twisted and spun to produce the results that you want, and the DI are masters of the spin!  A lot depends on what question you ask and who you ask.  I recall a bad joke from years ago, you ask someone "So, when did you stop beating your spouse?"  Of course how you answer that question can be taken a number of different ways.  But no matter what, it immediately puts one on the defensive, intentionally so.

Here is the question that got asked:
"The United Methodist Church recently banned a group from renting an information table at the Church’s upcoming general conference because the group supports intelligent design—the idea that nature is the product of purposeful design rather than an unguided process. Some have criticized the ban as contrary to the United Methodist Church’s stated commitment to encourage “open hearts, open minds, open doors.” Rate your level of agreement or disagreement with the following statements:
  • The United Methodist Church should not have banned an intelligent design group from renting an information table at its conference. 
  • The United Methodist Church’s ban on the intelligent design group seems inconsistent with the Church’s stated commitment to encourage “open hearts, open minds, open doors.” "
Now, if anyone has used Survey Monkey, you know they do not write the survey questions and the possible responses.  They are simply the medium by which surveys can be asked.  They also let you define the type of audience you are trying to reach.  The wording and audience for this is straight from the DI!  Yes, that makes a difference.

But this is quite a long question, but please note the wording.  First of all, they use the word 'banned'.  That tells me which way they want the result skewed.  Anyone, especially people who aren't familiar with the nefarious marketing methods of the DI, would not like the term 'banned', it creates an instant negative connotation.  Many people would automatically vote in opposition to it regardless of the rest of the question simply because of the word 'banned'. 

But did the UMC actually 'ban' the DI?  No, they simply said that this time, the first they have considered outside exhibitors, that the DI couldn't have a table.  Can they, the DI, apply at the next one?  Certainly.  Did they issue some proclamation?  No, the UMC simply said, 'No!' and only for their General Conference.  The UMC holds many meetings at many levels, the DI is certainly free to try and horn in on one of those.  But for this General Conference, the answer is 'No!'  Of course we know how much the DI likes hearing that.

They sort of left out a few things, things that might have framed the question within a very different context:
  • Did the question mention the UMC's stand on supporting real science?  Or that the UMC is a supporter of the Clergy Letter Project?  Which means the UMC already rendered judgement on ID, and that was also something the DI didn't like.
  • Did it mention that Intelligent Design is considered by the rest of the world to be pseudo-science?  That might have had the respondents seeing things differently.
  • Did they forget to mention that the definition the say for ID is not their complete definition, just the soft-soap one, sort of the pablum-version?  Wikipedia defines ID as "is the pseudoscientific view that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."  That certainly reads a bit differently, doesn't it.
  • Now they did mention "Some have criticized the ban  . . .", but did they mention who that 'Some' were?  Guess who they are?  The criticisms I have been able to find, to the tune of multiple posts and press releases, are from the DI itself, or people who already support the DI.  Funny how they forgot to mention that little detail.
 Don't you love how they worked in their main whine, the supposed stated commitment of the UMC, "open hearts, open minds, open doors".  Funny how come I can't find that commitment on the UMC's website?  Sounds like a slogan of sorts.  But of course the DI wants to see it used as if it were carved in stone.  

So suppose it is the UMC's commitment, does that mean the DI should be allowed a table?  Again, let's take into account that the UMC is against teaching Creationism is their schools.  They formalized this doctrine back in 2008.  In other words, they've already considered Creationism/ID and they have already rejected it.  They 'opened their minds' and came to a conclusion and decided it was not for them.  So does the DI expect everyone who has rejected it to have an open door policy based on the words of a slogan?  Not very reasonable . . . but then the DI is never reasonable when they aren't getting their way.

OK, to sum things up.  The DI conducted a poll which, to no surprise, tilted in the way the DI wanted it to tilt.  They are now publicizing the results of their poll while completely disregarding the context of the discussion.  In fact the only way you know they were the ones who did the poll is the read much further down in the article.

I started a poll at Survey Monkey.  I would be curious as to the results.  I did this off-the-cuff and have no intention to pay Survey Monkey for passing the survey out to a defined audience.  But I hope the results are fun to talk about anyway.

My survey looks a little different. First I set the context of the survey:
"The United Methodist Church (UMC) is an endorser of the Clergy Letter Project which takes a stand for science and against supernatural causation. Recently the UMC decided not to allow an organization, The Discovery Institute, from sponsoring a table at the General Conference. Just so you know, the Discovery Institute is an organization dedicated to replacing current science with what they call 'theistically-friendly' science, in direct opposition to what the UMC stands for."
Then I asked two questions:
  • Does the United Methodist Church have an obligation to allow the Discovery Institute to sponsor a table at their general conference?
  • Is Intelligent Design a viable alternative to Evolutionary Theory? Intelligent Design is defined as "is the pseudoscientific view that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection." (Wikipedia)
Again, please drop by and take my very unscientific survey.  If nothing else, we might get a laugh.

1 comment:

  1. Just added this to a facebook post:
    Opinion polling may have been best characterized in Doonesbury, one of my favorite comic strips. I don't have a copy of the specific strip, but it was back when former California Gov. Ronald Reagan was challenging President Gerald Ford for the 1976 Republican Party nomination. A pollster calls Michael Doonesbury on the phone and, if memory serves, the conversation went something like this:

    Pollster: "Who would you rather see in the White House -- a tired old matinee idol or a seasoned administrator who's already shown he can do the job?"
    Doonesbury: "Say, is this a privately commissioned poll by any chance?"
    Pollster: "I'm asking the questions here,"

    In other words, the way the questions are asked can greatly determine the answers. That is exactly what I think is happening here. By using trigger words, like 'banning' and softening up the definition of intelligent design, the DI was hoping people unfamiliar with UMC's position on actual science and the underhandedness DI's normal marketing methodologies would give answers favorable to them.