Ron Matus and Donna Winchester report on the results of a survey done by the St. Petersburg Times.
First, what they found:
The Times survey – which included questions about evolution and a host of other education issues – was administered to 702 registered voters Feb. 6-10, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
It revealed a huge gulf between scientists and the public.
While the vast majority of scientists consider evolution to be backed by strong evidence, nearly two-thirds of those polled were skeptical.
Twenty-nine percent said evolution is one of several valid theories. Another 16 percent said evolution is not backed up by enough evidence. And 19 percent said evolution is not valid because it is at odds with the Bible.
This is a different distribution from the nearly-stable numbers found by the Gallup poll over several decades across the USA. Why might that be the case?
A summary of the Gallup numbers shows that 49% of respondents thought humans evolved. 37% of those thought evolution occurred with God’s guidance, and 12% thought God had no part in it.
The Gallup question on man’s origin had these possible answer categories:
Humans developed, with God guiding
Humans developed, but God had no part in process
God created humans in present form
The St. Petersburg Times has a sidebar with the polling questions. People studying survey design could use this as a model of how not to phrase questions. Especially egregious is the last question and its provided answer categories:
Which of these do you think should be taught in public schools?
A. Evolution only: Evolution says that human beings evolved from earlier stages of animals. (22%)
B. Creationism only: Creationism says that human beings were created directly by God. (21%)
C. Intelligent design only: Intelligent design says that human beings are so complex that they required a powerful force of intelligent being to help create them. (29%)
D. All three (18%)
E. None of them (5%)
F. Don’t know (5%)
This comes close to using the rhetorical framing that the Discovery Institute likes. They always talk about “Darwin-only” education. And they know how to use rhetoric, those folks at the Discovery Institute. What the St. Petersburg Times poll demonstrates clearly is that when using the framing preferred by the Discovery Institute, people respond in a way that the Discovery Institute likes.
What if the poll designer actually thought about the issues a moment before drafting that last question? We might have seen something like this:
Which of these do you think should be taught in public school science classes?
A. Science only: Teach only those concepts that have undergone long, rigorous scrutiny by the scientific community and have been found to be useful and productive concepts by the scientific community.
B. Creationism only: Creationism says that human beings were created directly by God, though this concept was considered and rejected by the scientific community in the 19th century.
C. Intelligent design only: Intelligent design says that human beings are so complex that they required a powerful force of intelligent being to help create them, though this concept was considered and rejected by the scientific community in the 19th century.
D. All three
E. None of them
F. Don’t know
Think the numbers would be the same? I don’t think so.