Pharyngula

Florida’s big problem

A poll by the St Petersburg Times reveals that the people in Florida are ignorant. 21% want creationism only taught in the schools, and 29% want both evolution and creationism taught. It’s a horrendous result, and it’s also strikingly different from the results we’ve see in similar polls, which usually aren’t quite so lop-sided.

Wesley makes a good point, that one reason is the form of the questions asked, which set up an adversarial relationship between religion and science and lead people to make a choice between the two, increasing the likelihood that people will break to support their church. He argues that “framing works,” and proposes a different set of questions that, while generally similar, would produce a less one-sided result.

But wait, hang on there — this doesn’t tell me that framing works. It tells me that you can play rhetorical games with polls and get people to nominally agree with my position, or you can tinker with them to get people to agree with some other position. If the purpose of a poll is to get insight into how the minds of the populace are working, neither is very desirable.

I’m looking at the original poll and seeing that I would have no problem answering the questions in a pro-evolution way — there’s nothing to bias me in any crazy way, but I don’t have any pro-religion buttons to push. What I see in the results is that many Floridians do have great, big, easily manipulated religious buttons, and that 69% are abysmally ignorant of the science they are dismissing. Those are important True Facts, and in an important sense the St Petersburg Times poll is better than the one Wesley proposes: the answers aren’t reassuring, but they do expose the ugly reality we have to confront. There is no virtue in designing a poll that doesn’t push the religion button, because in the real world these people are getting the religious message every day and every week, and leaving it out only allows us to fool ourselves into thinking that the superstition and ignorance fostered by American religion aren’t the fundamental source of creationist foolishness in this country.

I think Wesley is looking for a way to frame the problem away, rather than a solution. If framing works, it is only as a blindfold.

Comments

  1. #1 Matt Penfold
    February 15, 2008

    I can see another reason why Wesley hopes the poll results would just go away.

    If the poll is an accurate reflection of the views of people in Florida then it does not say much for all the effort the NCSE have been putting in. How many years have they been going and yet there are still data like this ?

    They can try an blame the “new” atheists I suppose, but there they are kind of screwed by their own rhetoric. Beliefs entrenched as the Florida data suggests they are do not get formed overnight. Thus Wesley and co do not get to blame the new atheists unless they are also willing to accept they have been peddling bullshit about the so-called “new” atheism.

    How long can Wesley et al go on saying the way to fight creationism is in the courts. Yes court battles are necessary but it would seem on their own they are not enough. When Dawkins, PZ et al advocate being far more pro-active they say that such tactics are not helpful. It those who oppose Dawkins et al came up with up with some ideas of their own, instead of relying on the old tired tactics of using the law which so clearly is not winning the war.

  2. #2 gerald spezio
    February 15, 2008

    PZ, your concise condemnation captures the mandatory deception and deceit inherent in framing flapdoodle

    “IF FRAMING WORKS, IT IS ONLY AS A BLINDFOLD.”

    Lawyering, used car salesmanship, investment banking, marketing… an entire culture of trained yuppie framing geniuses rabidly tying blindfolds on their fellow citizens.

  3. #3 Holbach
    February 15, 2008

    What is it with Florida and the propensity for the sway
    of the majority to support religious insanities? Is it
    the swelling of elderly retirees with a more religious
    background and therefore set in their ways against
    rational thinking? An influx of all sorts of deranged
    sects that follow them and therefore multiply and grow
    as a result of their advancing senility and more apt to
    embrace the ideologies of less saner periods? Is it the
    air or water, or perhaps the food, grown with an ingredient
    that permeates more susceptible brains? Will it remain a
    mystery why this state is host to such easy pickings to
    the intelligently backward? What is the reason or answer?

  4. #4 J
    February 15, 2008

    Ignorance seems to reign supreme. In Bay County, the only person who took the time to read the improved science standards was the only dissenting vote against a poorly-worded resolution criticizing the evolution section:

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2008/02/local_florida_school_board_rej.php

    “Board member Ginger Littleton said she could not support the resolution. She believes this is more of a political move than an educational statement. She asked if any member had read the Sunshine State Standards completely, to which no board member could say yes.”

    I heard about this from LIttleton herself, since I wrote to thank her for being the lone voice of reason on the country school board. The “evolution is anti-religion” misconception seems to be so strong that people don’t even bother to accept anything other than the fundamentalist line.

  5. #5 Mike O'Risal
    February 15, 2008

    Holbach,

    The most conservatively religious parts of Florida aren’t the parts where people go to retire. Most retirees head for South Florida, which tends to be a lot more urban and cosmopolitan. The most conservative part of Florida is the Northern part of the state, which is largely rural and largely poor with the exception of a few cities (Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Pensacola). As they say in Florida, the South is the North and the North is the South.

    The reason that religious fundamentalism holds sway in north Florida is tied to multigenerational ignorance and a stubborn refusal to admit that the South lost the Civil War and weren’t a bunch of gallant heroes. Seriously, there’s a tie-in there. Baptist and Pentacostal Domnionism are the norm because much of the rural population wants to turn the clock back to what they view as the Golden Age — which is to say the time before the “War of Northern Aggression,” as it’s often called in that part of the world.

    Now, when was Darwin’s work initially published? This isn’t a coincidence, but part of a cohesive worldview. The insistence upon religious conformity is part of a larger desire to unmake modern society. Try being black and walking into a whites-only bar in Taylor County or asking a white woman for a date in Holmes County and see what happens. These are people who want a segregated, highly-structured society in which a divine mandate is responsible for giving them some kind of assuredly elevated position in the world. Evolutionary theory, racial equality, and in fact anything that feels to them like a forward-looking idea runs counter to these desires.

  6. #6 Sigmund
    February 15, 2008

    In question 1 it appears that only 6% of the responders believed in intelligent design (far less than either creationism or evolution) yet for question 3 far more of them (29% compared to 22% for evolution and even 21% for creationism) wanted intelligent design ONLY taught in the classroom.
    I think the answers underline a basic point, that most people in the general population think school biology is both easy and also somewhat pointless. This is why so many of the consider themselves experts in it already and why they don’t really care how it is taught in school.

  7. #7 Erasmus
    February 15, 2008

    Yankee @ #5

    don’t get out much, do you, boy?

    “Try being black and walking into a whites-only bar in Taylor County or asking a white woman for a date in Holmes County and see what happens”

    right… cause it never happens there does it? only on thomas jefferson’s plantation up there in virginia, huh? in taylor and holmes county you are either white or black and there ain’t no mixin’?

    That’s enough to dismiss the rest of your babbling. Nailed the pattern, flunked the mechanism. Just like IDiots.

  8. #8 Mike O'Risal
    February 15, 2008

    Hey Erasmus,

    Listen, Johnny Reb, I lived in North Florida for five years. And no, it DOESN’T happen here, and definitely not to the extent it happens in North Florida. Not by a longshot. I’ve lived in every part of the US except for the upper Midwest and I’ve never seen anything like what I saw when I lived in North Florida.

    So let’s cut to the chase. North Florida has a big problem with racism and ignorance. It’s got an infant mortality rate among non-Caucasians that’s higher than many third world countries and several times that of whites in the same counties. That’s straight from reports done by Florida’s own agencies, so don’t give me your “Yankee Boy” garbage.

    The lawsuits that keep coming up almost annually about segregation in Taylor County aren’t of my invention. One of them was brought, in fact, by a black lawmaker from Maryland who had the misfortune of having to be in Perry on official business, in fact.

    How ’bout all those Confederate flags, eh?

    How about when the Sons of the Confederacy (or was it the Sons of Confederate Veterans? There are so many pro-Confederacy organizations down there that I get them mixed up) came out to protest that exhibit at Tallahassee’s art museum that they thought denigrated Confederate heritage (aka White Pride)? Forgotten about that already?

    Ever gone just over the border to Climax when Swine Time’s in session and folks are walking around with “Invisible Knights” insignia openly displayed on their clothing? Big fun.

    Ever read any of the comments on local news stories on websites for your local newspapers? You know, like the ones that scream about how many babies all those crack-smoking black teenagers are having? No? Maybe I can dig some up for you. Would you like me to do it?

    Ever walk into a restaurant with the religious music playing so loudly it hurts, only to be told when asking to have it turned down that you were in a Christian business and if you didn’t like it you could leave? I’ve only had that happen to me in North Florida, too. Right across the street from a major university, in fact.

    Hey, here’s one for you! Give me a quick count of how many non-Christian bookstores there are in the state capitol that aren’t on the grounds of Florida State. Go look it up.

    Refusal to stare reality in the face. That’s a big part of North Florida’s problem, too.

  9. #9 uncle noel
    February 15, 2008

    High school science teacher here in the South. The biology teachers here seem to teach evolution so unenthusiastically that the students don’t get it anyway. I guess it’s hard when you know you’re stepping on toes while in an uphill battle. (almost not a mixed metaphor!) Erasmus, give it a rest, you know what he’s saying is true, more or less, in small towns all over the south. Anybody see the movie “Idiocracy” about the future distopia of utter ignorance? I’m worried.

  10. #10 Diego
    February 15, 2008

    Caveat: I think that this segue does not fully explain the problem of science education and religiosity but I will step in to the brouhaha for a moment. I may regret it though. ;)

    While I think that Mike’s explanation is a little too neat and pat and simplistic (I almost said “black and white”), I do agree that there is an uncomfortable amount of truth to what he says. And I am definitely not a yankee (my mom’s people have been in North Florida since before FL became a US territory).

    I would actually argue that racism is more of a problem in north central Florida (around Gainesville) than the panhandle (with KKK rallies and the spectre of Rosewood). This might be due to sheer numbers as I’ve noticed that in the “black belt” of north Florida white supremacist organizations have historically had little traction (I guess terror works better when you’re the majority). But I still see worrying patterns. My aunts and uncles all grew up playing with black children but as they became older they tended to adopt more racist attitudes. I can’t explain the phenomenon although I don’t think it’s quite as simple as a longing for an antebellum utopia, Mike.

  11. #11 Dr. Drang
    February 15, 2008

    I’m going to disagree with PZ on this one. Poll questions that skew the results in both directions are valuable if we want to learn what people think and what makes them think that way.

    If we must have poll questions skewed only one way, I’d prefer they give the most pro-evolution results, simply for propaganda purposes. There’s plenty of evidence that people will not move to the rational position by argument and education alone. When I was a kid, everything I read indicated creationism was dead, clung to only by the most primitive and ill-educated. Now it’s everywhere, and I’m tired of rationality losing ground to superstition because it won’t use the tools of PR.

    (I can’t believe I just used the term “pro-evolution.” It’s like pro-heliocentrism.)

  12. #12 Oldfart
    February 15, 2008

    From the article:

    – 52 percent of college graduates said humans evolved compared with 33 percent of those with four years of high school or less.

    – 31 percent of white respondents said only evolution should be taught in schools compared with 7 percent of nonwhites.

    Means that 48 percent of college graduates said that humans did not evolve. Must be the same ones that voted for Bush.

    Means that devolution is not only a white problem but is endemic in all the southern churches of whatever race and is a problem with religion in general.

  13. #13 Brandon
    February 15, 2008

    The state board of education meeting is on Tuesday. The event looks like it’s going to be a circus. Previously, the board had no intentions of taking public comment during the meeting. But apparently pressure from the anti-evolution folks changed the board members’ minds. They will now allow one hour of public comment. About 10 people for and 10 people against will be allowed to speak for 3 minutes each. To speak, you have to simply sign up before the meeting. With so few speaking slots and so much controversy, I can’t imagine that this will go well at all. See the Florida Citizens for Science blog for more.

    I will be at the meeting and I plan on live-blogging the event provided I don’t run into any difficulties, technical or otherwise.

  14. #14 Paul Phoenix
    February 15, 2008

    This just proves that a good science education is more difficult in Florida than in other places. The framing of the question matters too though. By seperating Cretinism and IDiocy they’ll attract more floaters.

    We don’t have polls to decide what to teach on medicine courses. I’m sure that if people were asked whether doctors should study crystal therapy or reiki they’d say yes.

  15. #15 Interrobang
    February 15, 2008

    When I was a kid, everything I read indicated creationism was dead, clung to only by the most primitive and ill-educated. Now it’s everywhere, and I’m tired of rationality losing ground to superstition because it won’t use the tools of PR.

    Yes. Exactly. Why are people so damn thick-headed about this? Our side, sad to say, isn’t going to win on the facts and the facts alone, because it’s not, and it never has been, about facts.

    We complain and complain and complain about how right-wing/cretinist/kook/crank/woo-woo memes can get three times around the world before the facts have their shoes on, but pretty much nobody with the big megaphone is actively doing anything to make the facts more fleet of foot. One can use rhetorical techniques without lying. Further, just because one can use rhetorical techniques to lie doesn’t make those rhetorical techniques completely invalid. Saying so is similar to saying that just because one can use nuclear technology to build bombs, nobody should have nuclear power generation. We’d rightly get after someone for being full of shit for saying so, too.

    This stubborn anti-framing bullshit smacks of anti-humanities prejudice. (Perish forbid someone with an arts background should come up with something that’s actually useful in the real world…)

  16. #16 ofATorigin
    February 15, 2008

    what makes me scratch my head is the strange universe they drew the sample from, namely “Florida registered voters” – is this a standard procedure in the US? (over here in Europe pollsters would take the entire Florida population, for this survey probably age 18 and above, as a universe)

  17. #17 John Marley
    February 15, 2008

    Saying so is similar to saying that just because one can use nuclear technology to build bombs, nobody should have nuclear power generation.

    That has been said, loudly, by well meaning people who should have known better.

    Creationists have a lot of practice at rhetorical manipulation, and usually feel free to spew any lie they can make up. (ID, for example)

    I agree that there are rhetorical techniques that can, and should, be used to promote rationality, but I don’t agree that framing is not one of them. Framing can get too close to lying. Take prayer, for instance. It has no practical effect. How do you frame that? Even if you focus on it providing psychological comfort, you’re still saying that God does nothing. Even so-called moderates are going to reject that.

  18. #18 Nentuaby
    February 15, 2008

    #16:

    It is standard practice. Actual participation in our elections tends to run rather low, so only taking those who are at least registered (hopefully) provides a clearer picture of those who will actually bother to exert an influence on political life.

    This is also one of our culture war problems, by the way- the wackos are a much lower portion of our population than youd think by their power; their political power is amplified by the fact that they’re an unusually disciplined voting block with far higher participation rates than most.

  19. #19 John Marley
    February 15, 2008

    but I don’t agree that framing is not one of them

    sorry, proofreading error, the “not” was supposes to be removed. that should be:

    “but I don’t agree that framing is one of them”

  20. #20 Chris
    February 15, 2008

    Yea, our science education isn’t too great down here. I can’t totally blame my lack of knowledge of science from my schooling, because I didn’t really apply myself and didn’t become interested in science until college. I did good in chemistry though, but I’m still trying to make up for my laziness in HS. But yea we didn’t cover evolution at all in school. This is why I don’t think kids should be allowed to decide what to be taught, because I look at what I was like as a HS student. Kids aren’t going to investigate both sides like ID claims, they are just going to do what they have to to pass and then think both are valid theories.

  21. #21 MAJeff
    February 15, 2008

    Take prayer, for instance. It has no practical effect. How do you frame that? Even if you focus on it providing psychological comfort, you’re still saying that God does nothing. Even so-called moderates are going to reject that.

    Two different framings, neither one wrong:

    “Prayer has been shown to have no efficacy in affecting medical outcomes.”

    vs.

    “Prayer is nothing more than talking to yourself.”

  22. #22 Tulse
    February 15, 2008

    Interrobang, you take a different lesson from the rise of creationism than I do. As I see it, science in the past has already been extremely careful to soft-peddle its relationship with religion, to promote “non-overlapping magesteria” and all that rot. And where has such accommodation and capitulation got us? Exactly where we are. The anti-framing folks aren’t anti-humanities, they (or at least I) just feel that such a strategy is doomed to failure in the long run. You can frame individual issues all you want (e.g., “Oppose global warming because God demands good stewardship”) but that will only win small specific battles, and not the war, and those battles will continue to flare up. And, as you and Dr. Drang note, the current strategy just ain’t working. You can push for greater use of framing if you like, and there may very well be certain limited circumstances in which it is helpful, but others will argue that it is religion itself which is the root problem, and which is best dealt with directly, and not uneasily embraced as an unreliable partner.

  23. #23 Erasmus
    February 15, 2008

    #8

    “Try being black and walking into a whites-only bar in Taylor County or asking a white woman for a date in Holmes County and see what happens.”

    Try being white and walking into any number of blacks-only bars any-damn-where. or take your pick and play demographic mix and match, say, take your white collar and go down to Little Mexico around here. Same story.

    You sure can’t link xenophobia in general to your contrived wish fulfillment imaginary can’t-forget-the-civil-war syndrome. Further I’m sure there is nothing special about Holmes county such that there aren’t interracial couples, and I’d be willing to bet that the statistics are no different for your choice of counties than for the south in general. For all the bitching and moaning about this sort of thing (being purple and not getting to mix with the green women) being prevented by those hick evil racist skinhead blah blahs, it remains a boringly common sight anywhere in the world: anywhere two different ethnic groups cohabit, you have offspring from the union of those two.

    Unconstrained pattern hunting without a moment’s thought to process. keep up the good work.

  24. #24 Tulse
    February 15, 2008

    Two different framings, neither one wrong:
    “Prayer has been shown to have no efficacy in affecting medical outcomes.”
    vs.
    “Prayer is nothing more than talking to yourself.”

    Do you really think the first is going to change a religious person’s mind about prayer? They’ll haul out anecdotes about their Aunt Matilda who was dying of cancer until she prayed for a miracle and went into remission. The very notion of talk of objective data and evidence-based medicine is foreign to those who believe, even for moderates (unless they themselves don’t really believe in the efficacy of prayer).

    The problem is the mindset, the approach to the world. All the empirical studies in the world will not convince them otherwise.

  25. #25 SteveM
    February 15, 2008

    what makes me scratch my head is the strange universe they drew the sample from, namely “Florida registered voters” – is this a standard procedure in the US? (over here in Europe pollsters would take the entire Florida population, for this survey probably age 18 and above, as a universe)

    Depends on the purpose of the survey. If you want to find out what effect these beliefs have on the government then it seems reasonable to me to exclude those who have no voice in government (by not being registered to vote).

  26. #26 Blake Stacey
    February 15, 2008

    I note in passing that the poll made a distinction between creationism (supported by 21%) and Intelligent Design (supported by 29%). The former was defined as

    Creationism says that human beings were created directly by God.

    The latter was defined as follows:

    Intelligent Design says that human beings are so complex that they required a powerful force or intelligent being to help create them.

  27. #27 MAJeff
    February 15, 2008

    Tulse,

    I didn’t say which would be effective. Just that both are different framings of the issue. They draw upon different conceptual networks (research and data versus, well, insanity). That’s the thing about framing–it’s about the connections between ideas and language, and recognizing that we’re dealing with systems.

    Damn, why did I even comment? I usually avoid these threads.

  28. #28 MAJeff
    February 15, 2008

    I’ll add one last comment:

    Framing is not a magic bullet. At it’s heart, at least in the terms it’s been used over the last couple years, it’s merely strategic communications, with an eye toward how ideas and language are related to each other. The way you phrase something, the metaphors you use, the particular descriptions, etc.; these draw up associations in the minds of your listeners.

    One of the reason’s it’s not some magic bullet is that some people are simply unreachable. I think that’s part of the issue. People want some guaranteed way of reaching the fundies, etc. They’re pretty much unreachable, and no matter how an issue is framed, they won’t get it.

  29. #29 Paul Burnett
    February 15, 2008

    “Oldfart” commented (#12): “Means that 48 percent of college graduates said that humans did not evolve. Must be the same ones that voted for Bush.”

    Speaking of which, I found a 2004 CDC study on the percentage of adults aged 65+ who have had all their natural teeth extracted, ranked by state. I did a mash-up with a “Red States / Blue States in the 2004 Presidential Election” datablock and came up with http://www.paulburnett.com/toothless.htm – the bottom half of the page is almost too good to be true.

  30. #30 firemancarl
    February 15, 2008

    I invite all of you to come to the “defense” of evolution in todays Daytona Beach News Journal http://www.news-journalonline.com/NewsJournalOnline/Opinion/Editorials/opnOPN16021508.htm

    we are in a battle against all types of dim wits including a very special guest appearance from Larry Fafarman who is doing his best to muck up anything evolution and if you look at the link I posted on there, he’s a Holocaust denier as well.

    Come join the fun!

  31. #31 Dr. Drang
    February 15, 2008

    Let me be a bit clearer about my comment back at #11: I wasn’t advocating “framing” an argument for science that accommodated the feelings of the religious. I wasn’t really commenting on arguments at all. I was saying that if we’re going to have biased polls on evolution, let’s get some biased in the pro-evolution direction so we can have some positive poll results on our side. The other side is using the “only xx% believe in evolution” poll results to wedge ID into our curricula, and it’s having a effect.

  32. #32 gerald spezio
    February 15, 2008

    The art of framing…

    Or working the sheeple with linguistic blindfolds

    Here is master framer Joseph Goebbels wonking about framing in Nuremberg in 1934.
    http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/goeb59.htm

  33. #33 J
    February 15, 2008

    From Cheryl at Panda’s Thumb – the Volusia Country School Board comes out in support of the new Florida State Science Standards:

    http://www.beacononlinenews.com/dailyitem.php?itemnum=602

    This is the most enlightened take on the issue I’ve read thus far from a Florida county school board, very encouraging!

  34. #34 negentropyeater
    February 16, 2008

    When analysing Poll results, first check for inconsistencies. Then you know if people understood the questions being asked.
    Some of the obvious inconsistencies in these results have already been noted by previous commenters.

    Any market research specialist will tell you that the obvious conclusion from these results, is that they are irrelevant.

    If you want to really analyse, what people really believe, and how adamant they are about these ideas, if you want to really understand which % of adults are adamant about what should, or should not, be tought to their children, and derive some conclusions, no poll, however well written will tell you that.
    That’s because, when prompted, people will always tend to pick an answer, even if they don’t understand the question, don’t know or don’t really care.

    You’ll need to organise focus groups, if you want to make a proper analysis on these issues.

  35. #35 MAJeff
    February 16, 2008

    gerry, you really are a ridiculous person…not that that doesn’t provide some entertainment.

  36. #36 Keith Douglas
    February 16, 2008

    The “both” answer seems to reflect a trend promoted by journalists and others excessively into “fairness” – namely that there two (and only two) views on an issue, and “both” is actually regarded as forward looking and unbigoted. This is of course ridiculous when it comes to well established science, but there you are.

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