The Disco. Inst. is in a tizzy. No, it’s more than a tizzy, it’s all-out Disco. Inferno! Spokesman Rob Crowther writes: Liberal Darwin Activists Spin Push-Poll in Attempt to Water Down Science Standards:
The liberal Darwin lobby group Texas Freedom Network has just published a push-poll of scientists titled, “Survey of Texas Faculty: Overwhelming Opposition to Watering Down Evolution in School Science Curriculum.”?
What is stunning is the TFN’s jackbooted thuggery of threatening parents!
I can hear you all typing your comments now: “Surely not!,” you’ll tell me. The Texas Freedom Network is a group of mild-mannered civil libertarians.
But Rob has proof, from their press release announcing a systematic survey of science faculty at the state’s universities:
“Many of these science faculty members almost certainly help determine who gets into our state’s colleges and universities,” Eve said. “Their responses should send parents a clear message that those who want to play politics with science education are putting our kids at risk.”
“Sounds ominous, doesn’t it?,” Crowther asks.
Yes indeed, that’s some jackbooted thuggery. Saying that kids’ college applications will be judged on the basis of whether they have learned accurate science is just like an ATF agent kicking down your door, or like a Nazi stormtrooper taking you off to a concentration camp. I can see how you’d draw that comparison. Unless you’d been to college or paid any attention at all to modern world history.
As for that “push poll,” you’ll be shocked to learn that Crowther is trying to hustle you again. As professional pollster Mark Blumenthal explains:
Many organizations have posted definitions (AAPOR, NCPP, CMOR, CBS News, Campaigns and Elections, Wikipedia), but the important thing to remember is that a “push poll” is not a poll at all. It’s a fraud, an attempt to disseminate information under the guise of a legitimate survey. The proof is in the intent of the person doing it.
To understand what I mean, imagine for a moment that you are an ethically challenged political operative ready to play the hardest of hardball.?
You want to spread the rumor or exploit the issue without leaving fingerprints. So you hire a telemarketer to make phone calls that pretend to be a political poll. You “ask” only a question or two aimed at spreading the rumor (example: “would you be more or less likely to support John McCain if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate child who was black?”). You want to make as many calls as quickly as possible, so you do not bother with the time consuming tasks performed by most real pollsters, such as asking a lot of questions or asking to speak to a specific or random individual within the household.
Again, the proof is in the intent: If the sponsor intends to communicate a message to as many voters as possible rather than measure opinions or test messages among a sample of voters, it qualifies as a “push poll.”
We can usually identify a true push poll by a few characteristics that serve as evidence of that intent. “Push pollsters” (and MP hates that term) aim to reach as many voters as possible, so they typically make tens or even hundreds of thousands of calls. Real surveys usually attempt to interview only a few hundred or perhaps a few thousand respondents (though not always). Push polls typically ask just a question or two, while real surveys are almost always much longer and typically conclude with demographic questions about the respondent (such as age, race, education, income). The information presented in a true push poll is usually false or highly distorted, but not always. A call made for the purposes of disseminating information under the guise of survey is still a fraud – and thus still a “push poll” – even if the facts of the “questions” are technically true or defensible.
The TFN survey is very different. Here is their brief description of the methodology:
In late fall 2007 and early spring of 2008, a lengthy survey (59 questions ? some open-ended) was sent to 1,019 individual biology and biological anthropology faculty members from all 35 public universities plus the 15 largest private institutions in Texas. In the end 464 survey recipients submitted completed questionnaires. This represents better than a 45% response rate ? almost unheard of for the remote return of a lengthy questionnaire of this type. The diversity of the response was also surprisingly robust, with respondents participating from 49 different institutions. Presumably this high response rate reflects the sense of eagerness and importance that the respondents attached to expressing their actual opinions on this issue. The overwhelming response rate provides the first unambiguous finding of this survey: we can now say with certainty that scientists are extremely invested in the issue of creationism/intelligent design generally and in the political debate over science standards in the state of Texas specifically.
A lengthy survey, sent to a small and well-defined group of respondents. It focused on eliciting information from respondents, using not only multiple choice and true-or-false questions, but open-ended questions allowing respondents to express nuances of opinion.
The survey’s questions are not even biased against ID. For instance, respondents were asked to select which of these best fit their own view of evolutionary biology:
?Modern evolutionary biology is largely correct in its essentials, but still has open questions for active scientific research.?
?Modern evolutionary biology is correct in some respects. While further scientific research will re-
quire some major alterations to current theory, these advances will not invoke intervention by any supernatural agent.?
?Modern evolutionary biology is right about the common ancestry of all extant organisms, but it is necessary to supplement it by invoking periodic intervention by an intelligent designer.?
?Modern evolutionary biology is mostly wrong. Life arose through multiple creation events by an intelligent designer, although evolution by natural selection played a limited role.?
?Modern evolutionary biology is completely wrong. Life was created essentially as we see it today.?
The penultimate option nicely captures ID creationism, and does not label it as creationism, nor does it point out that this designer must be supernatural. Even so, 89% of Texan biology faculty selected the first option, 8% chose the second (rejecting supernatural intervention, but calling for substantial revisions to current evolutionary thinking), and only 2.3% chose any of the last three. 92% disagreed with the statement that “Intelligent Design (which holds that some intelligent agent intervened in the creation or evolution of life)” should be “presented in public school science classrooms as scientifically
Strong majorities of biology professors opposed the current “strengths and weaknesses” standard. A whopping 94% disagreed with the statement that “‘weaknesses’ advanced by proponents of creationism or intelligent design represent valid scientific objections to evolution.” Two thirds (67%) stated that the State Board of Education “should amend the [state's science] standards to exclude discussion of the ‘weaknesses’ of evolution as advanced by proponents of creationism or intelligent design theory.” Again, they give ID too much credit in treating it as distinct from creationism, and in granting it status as a theory. Even so, opposition by professors is striking.
This is not to say that the professors oppose discussing scientific controversies in class. Asked “To what extent do you agree that the Texas State Board of Education should explicitly encourage coverage in high school classrooms of areas of genuine uncertainty and active research within the scientific community regarding evolution (e.g., whether speciation can occur sympatrically, neutral theory, punctuated equilibrium)?,” almost 85% agreed either somewhat strongly, and 4.5% were unsure.
One professor explained that “Scientific skepticism and challenging is central to how science gets done. But this component of scientific methodology is being exploited by the creationists/ID types to attempt to insert their ideas into the curriculum. These attempts are not being done in the professional scientific realm, where they are supposed to be done, but in the political realm, so their approach is a distortion of how science reaches a consensus of understanding. I don?t hear calls for discussion of the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ of quantum theory, or gravitational cosmology.”
No, you don’t. Because those sorts of challenges are dealt with in graduate seminars and the academic literature. When they’re resolved, they’ll move first to upper-level college classes, then to introductory courses in college, and perhaps then to high school. Through their efforts to circumvent the normal scientific process, Disco. is attempting to use the power of the state to force dishonest and inaccurate nonsense on children.
This has consequences. One professor responded to the survey by explaining that
My students are woefully unprepared. They report that their high school teachers are often 1) afraid to teach evolution properly because of parent reaction, 2) unsupported by their principals and admin, who “let them slide,” 3) ignorant of actual information on evolution, or 4) belligerently unwilling to teach the material and make snide comments about how their religion says evolution is for atheists. Their understanding of science as a whole is damaged by this environment.
No surprise, then, that 8 in 10 of the professors think that “teaching high school students that these ‘weaknesses’ are scientifically valid impairs their readiness for college,” and 72% think that it “impairs their ability to compete for 21st century jobs.”
Disco. is right to be worried about this study. It puts the lie to their attempts to undermine Texas science education. The “strengths and weaknesses” standard doesn’t help students, it doesn’t help teachers, and it surely doesn’t help post-secondary educators.
With luck, Disco.’s work will be as outmoded in a few years as 1979’s Disco Handbook, from which the artists’ conception of Rob Crowther and the Disco. Inst. offices (above) are drawn.