The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘survey’

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.

Posted in scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

National Science Foundation Omits Evolution Polling Data from Report

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 11, 2010

I found out recently, through an article in Science Magazine (the official journal for the American Association for the Advancement of Science) that the National Science Foundation has released a report which has actually omitted polling data regarding evolution & the big bang.  Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot?!!

Needless to say, this story is getting a LOT of attention from science supporters…

From the National Center for Science Education: What happened to evolution at the NSB?

And PZ Myers at Pharyngula chimes in: Let’s hide that embarrassing conflict in American culture

Here is the actual Science article in question:

Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report

In an unusual last-minute edit that has drawn flak from the White House and science educators, a federal advisory committee omitted data on Americans’ knowledge of evolution and the big bang from a key report. The data shows that Americans are far less likely than the rest of the world to accept that humans evolved from earlier species and that the universe began with a big bang.

They’re not surprising findings, but the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF), says it chose to leave the section out of the 2010 edition of the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators because the survey questions used to measure knowledge of the two topics force respondents to choose between factual knowledge and religious beliefs.

“Discussing American science literacy without mentioning evolution is intellectual malpractice” that “downplays the controversy” over teaching evolution in schools, says Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit that has fought to keep creationism out of the science classroom. The story appears in this week’s issue of Science.

But why is it this information, which has been part of every previous Indicators report to date, been removed at the last minute without any oversight?  Here’s a clue…

Board members say the decision to drop the text was driven by a desire for scientific accuracy. The survey questions that NSF has used for 25 years to measure knowledge of evolution and the big bang were “flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs,” says Louis Lanzerotti, an astrophysicist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who chairs NSB’s Science and Engineering Indicators Committee. …

The board member who took the lead in removing the text was John Bruer, a philosopher who heads the St. Louis, Missouri-based James S. McDonnell Foundation. He told Science that his reservations about the two survey questions dated back to 2007, when he was the lead reviewer for the same chapter in the 2008 Indicators. He calls the survey questions “very blunt instruments not designed to capture public understanding” of the two topics.

“I think that is a nonsensical response” that reflects “the religious right’s point of view,” says Jon Miller, a science literacy researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing who authored the survey 3 decades ago and conducted it for NSF until 2001. “Evolution and the big bang are not a matter of opinion. If a person says that the earth really is at the center of the universe, even if scientists think it is not, how in the world would you call that person scientifically literate? Part of being literate is to both understand and accept scientific constructs.”

So what exactly was the offending material deleted from the report?  Here you go…

The deleted text, obtained by ScienceInsider, does not differ radically from what has appeared in previous Indicators. The section, which was part of the unedited chapter on public attitudes toward science and technology, notes that 45% of Americans in 2008 answered true to the statement, “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” The figure is similar to previous years and much lower than in Japan (78%), Europe (70%), China (69%), and South Korea (64%). The same gap exists for the response to a second statement, “The universe began with a big explosion,” with which only 33% of Americans agreed.

So rather than report the honest truth about the state of scientific literacy in the United States on these topics, it seems the NSF has chosen to hide the embarrassing facts.  But, thankfully, it didn’t work.  We cannot change the poor state of science education in this country by hiding such information, either to save political face or to kow-tow to religious fundamentalists who push creationism; rather, we must face the challenge head on.

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments »

Polls & Surveys on Creationism/Evolution

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 25, 2010

If you pay attention at all to the creationism/evolution struggle, then you know that (in the United States) there is a great group dedicated to furthering good science education while battling the attempts of creationists to push their extreme religious & pseudoscientific flummery into public schools.  That group is the National Center for Science Education, and now the NCSE has another tool to use in the fight.  NCSE has put together a great webpage which tracks polls & surveys on the issue…

Polling the creationism/evolution controversy

NCSE is pleased to announce a new section of its website that provides information on polls and surveys relevant to the creationism/evolution controversy. You’ve seen the alarming statistics:

  • Evolution is accepted by 97% of scientists in the United States, but by only 61% of the public.
  • Among thirty-two countries surveyed, the United States was next-to-last for its public acceptance of evolution.
  • One out of eight high school biology teachers in the United States presents creationism as scientifically credible.

Now you can find it all in a single spot — NCSE’s coverage and links to external resources — organized in the categories of general polls, international polls, polls on creationism, polls on evolution, polls on religion, and scientist, student, and teacher polls.

Specifically, all of the polling & survey information is broken down and sorted into a variety of very convenient categories for your perusal…

So the next time you need to reference a poll when in the midst of a discussion of the creationism/evolution issue, you have a great resource.  In addition, I just want to give a general shout-out to the NCSE because they are, in my humble opinion, the go-to folks for dealing with creationists.  In fact, I encourage you to support them by becoming a member!

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

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 »

Polls, Evolution, and Science in the 21st Century

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 20, 2009

Sometimes people wonder why I spend so much energy addressing pseudoscience, specifically creationism, in this blog.  Well, some recent news out about U.S. attitudes concerning science and specifically evolution (the linchpin of biology) spells out why it is so important to fight against the anti-scientific agenda of the creationist movement (and pseudoscience in general).

The Pew Research Center recently released a survey where the U.S. public’s views on evolutionary science were compared to those of the scientific community…

“Nearly all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while only 61% of the public agrees, according to a new report (p. 37) from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Asked which comes closer to their view, “Humans and other living things have evolved over time” or “Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time,” 97% of scientists responding chose the former option, as opposed to only 2% choosing the latter option; 61% of the public responding chose the former option, as opposed to 31% choosing the latter option.

Those who chose the former option were also asked whether they preferred “Humans and other living things have evolved due to natural processes such as natural selection” or “A supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.” Among scientists, 87% preferred the former option and 8% preferred the latter option; among the public, 32% preferred the former option and 22% preferred the latter option. Members of the public were also asked whether scientists generally agree that humans evolved over time; 60% said yes, 28% said no.

“Views on evolution vary substantially within the general public,” the report observed (p. 38), “particularly by religion and attendance at religious services.” For example, among white evangelical Protestants responding, a majority, 57%, agreed that humans existed in their present form since the beginning of time, and among those respondents attending religious services weekly or more often, a near-majority, 49%, agreed. In contrast, among the religiously unaffiliated responding, 60% agreed that humans evolved due to natural processes. Also correlated with acceptance of evolution were youth and education.

Read the rest of this entry »

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