Thursday, February 4, 2016

Another poll from the Discovery Institute, oh boy, oh boy!

The Discovery Institute (DI) conducted another poll and, just like the last one, the poll came to a conclusion supporting the DI.  Wow, how incredible is that, two for two!

This time the poll was announced here: "For Darwin's Birthday, Poll Shows Broad Support for Teaching Evidence For and Against Darwin's Theory"  You might recall my issues with their last poll, ("A New 'Poll' conducted by the DI says what the DI says, what a surprise!"), where the main issue was how the questions being asked drove the answers in a certain direction.  Well, can't make that complaint this time since they failed to tell us exactly what they asked, they did put a couple of phrases within quotes, so I am going to assume those were the questions, or at least part of the questions.  They are:

  • "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."
  • "biology teachers should cover only scientific evidence that supports the theory."
Before looking at their conclusion, let's look at the questions.  Pretty innocuous, aren't they?  But look at what the questions imply.  By asking this way they are implying that biology teachers are only considering pros of evolution, not the negatives and that the teachers are also engaging in some sort of cover-up by only teaching the scientific evidence.   What they fail to do is provide any actual context for the questions, yet imply things to lead the respondents in the direction they wish.  Here are a few contextual things that someone should know before answering the poll:
  • Did the DI mention how that in past 150 years, not a single Creationist, including the Discovery Institute, has managed to provide any evidence contradicting the theory of evolution?  Of course not, that wouldn't drive the poll in the direction they want.
  • Did they simply forget to mention that science classes are already encouraged to teach  pros and cons, providing those pros and cons are based on actual science.  No they didn't forget, they deliberately left that part out.
  • Are biology teachers even qualified to teach any non-scientific evidence?  Regardless of the fact non-scientific evidence would be nothing but conjecture and wishful thinking. 
  • Should they have mentioned who the DI is their agenda?  I think so!  It might have affected the result and not in a way the DI would have liked.
One other thing  . . . just what are the possible answers allowed by the poll?  I don't know and they don't tell you.  Often a simple 'yes' or 'no' actually makes the poll harder for people to understand because they don't fully allow people to express their opinion.  For example if a poll asked "Is it OK to yell 'Fire!' in a crowed movie theater?"  Yes or No!  It's impossible to use any data from this poll effectively.  Most people would answer something like "Yes, if there is an actual fire!", but the poll doesn't allow for that.  Go back to the questions themselves and imagine a simple "yes or no" option.  Can you think of things that would make such a simple answer to a complex question worthless?  I know I can!  I do wonder how many people surveyed did not respond on the basis of a lack of context?  Now that would be an interesting statistic.  The only thing claimed is a little over 2,000 respondents out of a pool of something like 6,000,000.  Hmmm, statistically not very significant.

Would the DI ever be guilty of these type of lawyer-word-games?  Let me take you back a few years.  Do you remember this:
"We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."
This is the text to a petition the DI put out back in 2001.  Look at the wording, it is fairly innocuous.  The wording can also take on multiple meanings.  By itself this statement doesn't imply issues with current evolutionary theory, but that was exactly how this little petition was used in 2001 and is still used today.  Here is a couple of different points of view on the DI's little petition:
"Southeastern Louisiana University philosophy professor Barbara Forrest and deputy director of the National Center for Science Education Glenn Branch comment on the ambiguity of the statement and its use in the original advertisement:
Such a statement could easily be agreed to by scientists who have no doubts about evolution itself, but dispute the exclusiveness of "Darwinism," that is, natural selection, when other mechanisms such as genetic drift and gene flow are being actively debated. To the layman, however, the ad gives the distinct impression that the 100 scientists question evolution itself."
(Wikipedia: Dissent from Darwinism)
The 'ad' mentioned was a reference to how this list of signatories was advertised in a number of prominent periodicals as a list of over 100 (That was back in 2001, since then they have managed to get over 800 signatories in recent years) scientific dissenters from what the DI called 'Darwinism.  We've talked about this list before, how the New York Times and the National Center for Science Education pretty well ripped it to shreds.  How the majority of the signatories had philosophical (religious) issues with evolution, not scientific ones.  How there were very few biologists, and many had their organizational affiliations inflated, or in the case of folks from the DI itself, hidden.  And how some of the scientists who signed the list didn't know what the DI was or how the list was going to be used.  Skip Evans, also of the National Center for Science Education, noted:
"that when interviewed, several of the scientists who had signed the statement said they accepted common descent. He thus suggests that this confusion has in fact been carefully engineered."(Wikipedia: Dissent from Darwinism)
'Carefully engineered'!  Sound familiar?  A fancy expression for marketing word games.  So, yes, the DI is very guilty of playing those games, and playing them often.  Remember the BS about calling ID a theory and then in the saem breath trying to compare it to an actual scientific theory?  Lots of word games!

Back to their poll, and here is their conclusion:
"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.
Do they really?  Since when is 2,117 out of 6,000,000 an overwhelming margin?  Based on these numbers the only thing you can really say is an overwhelming majority did not respond.  If you look at the American population of 318,000,000 the 2,117 respondents start looking even less and less representative.  In addition we have no idea what audience group the DI targeted.  Don't forget, when you run a survey through Survey Monkey, you get to select the type of audience to aim the survey toward.  More information we don't have.  I will even go so far as to agree with the face-value statement I quoted from John West, with a slight wording change.  Students should learn all about the scientific evidence related to the Theory of Evolution.  But since that evidence would not include Creationism or Intelligent Design, I don't think that John really means just scientific evidence.

Here is my main takeaway.  Two things, since science classes already allow, and encourage, an examination of the scientific evidence, asking this as a poll question serves no purpose.  This does not indicate support for teaching Intelligent Design or even support for the pseudo-academic freedom bills like the LSEA.  If this conclusion were not associated with the DI, you might take it as face value, but since it was uttered by John West, you know there is a not-well-hidden agenda! My final takeaway, if the DI says it, you shouldn't place your trust in it!  After years of reading the foolishness that comes out of the DI, if they came out and said the sun rose this morning, I would still look outside to verify they aren't lying to me.

Based on their track record they would like me to believe the sun rose due to the actions of a sort-of unnamed Deity designer that we need to pay homage to with our every waking breath.  Sorry, Johnnie . . . the reason the sun 'rose' is due to a number of factors, chief among them is gravity . . . which is a fact and also a scientific theory.

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