The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘poll’

Even Most Religious Voters Want Candidates to Debate Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 18, 2012

From the fine folks about at ScienceDebate.org come some important results from recent survey.  Long story short: even the vast majority of religious voters want the 2012 presidential candidates to talk less about religion and much more about science and technology issues!  I couldn’t agree more; read on for the details…

New Poll: Even religious voters overwhelmingly want candidates to debate science

Consensus among Protestants, Catholics for science debates, science-based policies; Twice as many think the US not spending enough on alternative energy as do defense

Click for larger image

WASHINGTON (April 3, 2012) — In a surprising rebuff of recent political wisdom that Republicans and religiously affiliated voters are becoming “anti-science,” eighty-two percent of Catholics and eighty-three percent of Protestants say it is more important that the candidates for president debate the major science challenges facing the United States than it is they debate faith and values, according to a new national public opinion poll (PDF) of attitudes about science, faith and public policy commissioned by ScienceDebate.org. …

Click here to read the entire press release

Posted in politics, religion, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Questionnaire from the Clergy Letter Project

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 16, 2011

Many of you have already heard about the Clergy Letter Project, an effort to show that when it comes to the issue of accepting evolutionary science one doesn’t necessarily have to be an atheist.  Just as there is nothing wrong with being an atheist (I’m one), by the same token I don’t see any inherent problem to being religious while also accepting evolutionary science.  As I’ve said before many times, I don’t have a problem with religion, I have a problem with anti-science; and those are different things (though sometimes they do overlap).

As an update, the Clergy Letter Project started back in late 2004 when the latest variant of creationism, so-called “intelligent design”, was coming onto the national scene and causing lots of problems across the country for science education.  To date, the letter (which was originally geared towards Christian clergy but now includes Rabbinical, Islamic and Unitarian versions) has gathered nearly 13,500 signatories! 🙂

Now the Clergy Letter Project is taking part in another kind of outreach: developing a grant proposal designed to help foster discussion and improve understanding between faith communities and scientists.  They want to do this by sending out the following questionnaire to clergy members, so if you are a member of the clergy or know someone who is, please give it a look:

**Send all responses to Michael Zimmerman at mz@theclergyletterproject.org

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in creationism, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Scientific Literacy Among Americans Is Better Than Thought… And Getting Better

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 27, 2011

Often you will hear scientists, skeptics, and cheerleaders for science lamenting the sad state of scientific knowledge among the population at large, at least in the United States.  We continually get the message that our children are not being properly educated in science as compared to other countries, and this leads to all manner of hand-wringing.  However, as some recent research suggests, it may not be true.  In fact, the state of science education and scientific literacy in the United States may actually be better than almost all other nations and – dare I say it? – getting better!

Scientific Literacy: How Do Americans Stack Up?

… according to a Michigan State University researcher, while Americans are holding their own, they are not even close to where they should be.

Participating at 3:45 p.m. PST today in an American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium, titled “Science Literacy and Pseudoscience,” MSU’s Jon Miller said that Americans, while slightly ahead of their European counterparts when it comes to scientific knowledge, still have a long way to go.

“A slightly higher proportion of American adults qualify as scientifically literate than European or Japanese adults, but the truth is that no major industrial nation in the world today has a sufficient number of scientifically literate adults,” he said. “We should take no pride in a finding that 70 percent of Americans cannot read and understand the science section of the New York Times.”

Approximately 28 percent of American adults currently qualify as scientifically literate, an increase from around 10 percent in the late 1980s and early 1990s, according to Miller’s research. … [emphasis added]

Now, I have to agree that an adult scientific literacy rate of 28% is unacceptable, especially at the beginning of the 21st century.  However, the fact that we started out at around 10% in the late 80s (yikes!) and have almost tripled the scientific literacy rate gives me some real hope for the future of our species.

Also, to put things into perspective, I’d like to show you one of the charts from the research paper (the original paper is available in PDF format here)…

So what has led to this almost three-fold increase in scientific literacy in the United States?  There could be a variety of factors at play here: better secondary and post-secondary education in science and related fields, the rise of the Internet, the increasing visibility of pro-science groups such as the National Center for Science Education and the James Randi Educational Foundation, etc.  Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if all of the above had some influence on these results, and while it isn’t enough progress for my liking, at least we’re moving in the right direction 🙂

Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Majority of U.S. Biology Teachers Don’t Teach Evolution Adequately

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 7, 2011

Sometimes science supporters lament some very stubborn statistics, specifically those regarding the public acceptance of evolutionary science in the United States.  Rather consistently, for many decades, the number of people in the U.S. who are outright ignorant or mistrustful of evolutionary science hovers at around the 40-45% mark, with most of those identifying as Young-Earth creationists (i.e. those who believe the Earth is ~10,000 years old as espoused by certain Biblical interpretations).  Fortunately, recent research has shown this number slowly declining, but it is a really slow decline.

And many times, those of us in the pro-science crowd have wondered why it is that, despite amazing advances in evolutionary science and defeat after defeat for creationism in the federal courts, this blatant ignorance of (or outright animosity towards) evolution still exists to such a large degree?  Well, some recent survey research may provide some clue as to an answer, and it – sadly – involves the nation’s teachers…

13% of H.S. Biology Teachers Advocate Creationism in Class

The majority of high-school biology teachers don’t take a solid stance on evolution with their students, mostly to avoid conflicts, and fewer than 30 percent of teachers take an adamant pro-evolutionary stance on the topic, a new study finds. Also, 13 percent of these teachers advocate creationism in their classrooms.

“The survey left space for [the teachers] to share their experiences. That’s where we picked up a lot of a sense about how they play to the test and tell students they can figure it out for themselves,” Michael Berkman, co-author of the study with Penn State University colleague Eric Plutzer, told Livescience. “Our general sense is they lack the knowledge and confidence to go in there and teach evolution, which makes them risk-averse.” …

So it seems that part of the problem is that many biology teachers themselves are not adequately prepared to teach about evolution.  However, this is a problem which can (and should) be corrected by making adjustments to the university curriculum & training for prospective biology teachers, giving them (well, the 87% who are NOT creationist) the appropriate skills & training in the subject matter.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a deeper problem: that of intimidation, either explicit or implicit, of biology teachers who actually want to teach evolution…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Religious in the United States… Aren’t So Religious, After All

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 4, 2011

To conclude my marathon posting of religious matters (see the first two posts here and here), I wanted to share with you something very revealing about religion in the United States.  By now, I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard that the U.S. is the most overtly religious country in all of the industrialized, Western nations.  You hear this claim repeated long & loud, on both the right and left; it is a constant drumbeat which goes on and on… except, as I have long suspected, it may not be true at all.

In a recent article on the Slate website, a detailed analysis of various polls & surveys on this question is broken down, and it makes a key distinction: what is it that people say they do/believe versus what is people’s actual behavior/beliefs?  The results are very revealing, and seem to indicate that the U.S. probably isn’t as overtly religious as previously thought…

Walking Santa, Talking Christ

Why do Americans claim to be more religious than they are?

By Shankar VedantamPosted Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010, at 5:13 PM ET

Two in five Americans say they regularly attend religious services. Upward of 90 percent of all Americans believe in God, pollsters report, and more than 70 percent have absolutely no doubt that God exists. The patron saint of Christmas, Americans insist, is the emaciated hero on the Cross, not the obese fellow in the overstuffed costume.

There is only one conclusion to draw from these numbers: Americans are significantly more religious than the citizens of other industrialized nations.

Except they are not.

Beyond the polls, social scientists have conducted more rigorous analyses of religious behavior. Rather than ask people how often they attend church, the better studies measure what people actually do. The results are surprising. Americans are hardly more religious than people living in other industrialized countries. Yet they consistently—and more or less uniquely—want others to believe they are more religious than they really are. …

The bottom line is that church attendance in the U.S. may be drastically over-reported, by as much as twice the actual attendance rate!  This basically means that while about 40% of people in the United States claim they attend church weekly, only about 20% actually do so…

… Hadaway and his colleagues compared actual attendance counts with church members’ reports about their attendance in 18 Catholic dioceses across the country and Protestants in a rural Ohio county.* They found that actual “church attendance rates for Protestants and Catholics are approximately one half” of what people reported.

A few years later, another study estimated how often Americans attended church by asking them to minutely document how they spent their time on Sundays. Without revealing that they were interested in religious practices, researchers Stanley Presser and Linda Stinson asked questions along these lines: “I would like to ask you about the things you did yesterday from midnight Saturday to midnight last night. Let’s start with midnight Saturday. What were you doing? What time did you finish? Where were you? What did you do next?”

This neutral interviewing method produced far fewer professions of church attendance. Compared to the “time-use” technique, Presser and Stinson found that nearly 50 percent more people claimed they attended services when asked the type of question that pollsters ask: “Did you attend religious services in the last week?”

In a more recent study, Hadaway estimated that if the number of Americans who told Gallup pollsters that they attended church in the last week were accurate, about 118 million Americans would be at houses of worship each week. By calculating the number of congregations (including non-Christian congregations) and their average attendance, Hadaway estimated that in reality about 21 percent of Americans attended religious services weekly—exactly half the number who told pollsters they did. …

So, to the confirmation of many a non-believer (such as myself), it seems that there are a LOT of people out there who – for some reason – want to have people believe they are more religious than they really are, despite their actual beliefs (or non-belief).  This seems to indicate that the level of religiosity in the U.S. which has been so widely reported in the past is likely a convenient fiction, which activists of all stripes like to use to whip people up into a frenzy regarding issues of faith & politics.

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Good News: Large Majorities Support Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 11, 2010

I just wanted to share a bit of good news which came across my computer screen recently: it seems that, in a reversal from 10 years ago, large majorities of people in the United States (from across multiple demographics) support government-funded embryonic stem cell research.  In my opinion, progress on this particular branch of scientific research has been slow, but steadily public attitudes have been improving with science winning out over the more shrill, erroneous and Luddite-like voices out there who would like to compare it to abortion.  It just goes to show what can happen when the scientific community & its public supporters sticks to their guns – the fight may be long, but we can win 🙂

Most Americans Back Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Poll

Americans overwhelmingly support embryonic stem cell research, and that backing stretches across a broad range of demographic groups, including Republicans, Catholics and born-again Christians, according to a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll.

Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of the adults surveyed believe that scientists should be allowed to use embryonic stem cells left over from in vitro fertilization procedures to search for potential treatments or ways to prevent diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and other conditions.

Only 12 percent oppose using stem cells for biomedical research, numbers that mirror those from a similar poll conducted in 2005.

“There is now overwhelming public support for using embryonic stem cells in biomedical research,” said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of the Harris Poll, a service of Harris Interactive. “Even among Catholics and born-again Christians, relatively few people believe that stem cell research should be forbidden because it is unethical or immoral.” …

**Note: A more detailed breakdown of the poll results can be found here.

Posted in medical woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Ironically, Non-Believers Know More About Religion Than Believers

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 28, 2010

**Update: Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, has an excellent analysis over at the Chicago Tribune religion blog – check it out!

===========================

In a widely reported poll today (here is the link to the actual Pew survey), it seems there are some rather counter-intuitive results regarding religious affiliation & level of factual religious knowledge in the United States.  Namely, from the survey, the non-religious (atheists & agnostics) are among the most religiously literate when it comes to knowing facts & details about various religions…

Survey: Americans don’t know much about religion

A new survey of Americans’ knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.

Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn’t know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ.

More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation. And about four in 10 Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the greatest rabbis and intellectuals in history, was Jewish. …

Now, while I am not a religious believer myself – I identify as an “Epicurean freethinker”, basically a modern-day atheist – I am a pretty serious student of religion and religious history.  I also include among my circle of friends & acquaintances people from all religious and non-religious backgrounds: Christians (including Catholics & Mormons), Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and so on.  However, I have to say that while I don’t believe any of the supernatural aspects of religion, I do understand how a knowledge of religion & religious history is advantageous in knowing more about who we are as a society.

This is why I am a bit amazed and upset by the results of this survey.  I would think that people who are sincere religious believers would want to be educated about the facts & history behind their faith.  If people don’t learn for themselves the factual information about the origins, history, and basic tenets of their own religion, then that opens them up to all manner of hucksterism in the name of God, etc.

For example, I know someone who is what I would call an ardent fundamentalist Christian; however, they are also terribly ignorant of the origins & history of their own religion.  When I try to have a discussion with them about where the Bible came from, who wrote it, when it was written, the formation of the early Christian Church, and so on, they just want to ignore me or change the subject.  It is almost as if they are uncomfortable with the very thought of learning about their religion, as if they have a fear that if they learn too much their faith might be shaken (perhaps it might be).  As a result, they are heavily influenced by those who would use Christianity for political and other nefarious purposes.

Perhaps that is what is going on with some religious believers: they want to remain willfully ignorant, because – as the saying goes – ignorance is bliss.  Or maybe they just want to be told what to believe by their religious leaders, either because they are a bit intellectually lazy (thinking about this stuff is hard work), they don’t have the time to look into it (if you’re working three jobs, it’s tough to study during what little free time you have), or they believe that if they question things they could be cast out of their religious community.  I’m sure it could be a combination of all of the above.

In any case, I think it is a sad state of affairs.  Knowledge, even the knowledge about religion, should be something that we aspire to collect & nurture.  Cultivating an environment of intellectual curiosity & critical thinking should be encouraged among the religious, partly because people can then arm themselves against those who would use their beliefs to manipulate them (such as politicians making bogus “Christian nation” claims or crusading faith-healers).

To sum up: we need skeptics & critical thinkers in all areas of human endeavor, including religious believers within their religious communities.  Since the majority of the U.S. population is religious, the more ignorant they become about their own beliefs, the more susceptible they become to erroneous claims & extremism – and that can affect all of us.  If you know someone who is religious, or are religious yourself, take some time to actually learn more about their (or your) faith.

Posted in philosophy, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

U.S. Public Only Seems to Like “Practical” Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 26, 2010

I just caught this post over at the Woo-Fighters blog, and thought it worth sharing.  The results of these polls give me some reason to hope, but it also shows that those of us in the pro-science community certainly do have our work cut out for us.  Read on…

Science? Only when it’s practical, please.

April 25th, 2010 | Author: Matthew Newton

When the idea of “science” is brought up, most people agree that this so-called science is a good thing. In fact, in a somewhat recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 84% of Americans surveyed believed the science in their lives to have a positive influence on society, with only 6% indicating the opposite. 70% said they believed scientists to have a positive influence on society, which is even more than doctors!

While the magical idea of “what science is to me and not to you thank you very much” sounds preferable to your average consumer of science, the reality behind belief in American scientific progress is a bit more bleak. From the same poll, only 17% of those surveyed believed America to among the “best in the world” when it comes to scientific research, with 49% believing America to have the best scientists in the world. It’s a lot easier to deny an intangible idea, isn’t it?

Three separate Gallup Polls taken between 1990 and 2001 measured public beliefs in various paranormal phenomena. Notably, and in spite of the 84% of Americans putting their faith in science, a large portion in all three time periods (50%) said they believed in Extrasensory Perception (ESP) , with only 21% definitively certain about its nonexistence.

How do Americans, who are so sure of science’s contributions to society, have such a poor misunderstanding of such basic concepts? Principal researcher Heather Ridolfo’s recently published paper entitled “Social Influences on Paranormal Belief: Popular Versus Scientific Support” examined differences in perception of ESP based on both public and scientific opinion. What was found is that while people tend to evaluate the validity of claims based on how many other people support said claims (a cognitive bias known as the Bandwagon Effect), the support of the scientific community (or lack thereof) has no impact on evaluating the validity of claims made about ESP.

From this, the researchers concluded that their finding “may reflect decreasing trust in the institution of science”. Whatever the reason, the romantic idea of science and the reality behind science have a long way to go before they meet.

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The Pew Science Knowledge Quiz

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 21, 2009

I saw today that the Pew Research Center has posted an online Science Knowledge Quiz at their website as a way of testing the general public’s scientific knowledge & understanding.  Click here to take the quiz…

My thoughts on this?  First, the good news: this is a great idea, and I’ve already seen it making the rounds like crazy on the Internet.  I also have more than one teaching colleague who has incorporated into their lessons (or at least plans to do so).  This is great PR, in my opinion, for pointing out our collective strengths & weaknesses when it comes to understanding science.

Now the bad news: the questions are pathetically easy, but what is really pathetic is that only about 10% of the people taking the quiz get all 12 questions correct (full disclosure: I’m in that top 10% 🙂 ).  In addition, the questions are merely fact-based in nature – all multiple choice with no questions geared towards testing the critical thinking skills of the test-taker.

All in all, I think the popularity of this little online quiz is a plus.  I encourage you to take it yourself, and then pass it along to others.

Posted in education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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