Prompted by some questions on twitter and elsewhere, I’m working on some research based on the much-discussed Miss USA answers to a question about evolution.

I’d like your help with that research. I need to come up with a consistent rating of the contestants’ answers, and I created a survey that you can use help.

Please take the survey, and share it with others. I’d prefer to have science-friendly and science literate people take the survey, but don’t be shy about sharing the answers more widely.



  1. #1 J. J. Ramsey
    June 28, 2011

    I tried doing the survey, but I found ambiguous the question of how well a statement answers, “Should evolution be taught in public schools?” Do you mean “well” in the sense of providing a clear answer, even if it’s wrong, as opposed to a more clumsily phrased one? Do you mean “well” in the sense of it being closer to the right answer? Depending on what you mean, I could rate a straightforward creationist answer higher than a meandering pro-evolution one.

  2. #2 Martin
    June 28, 2011

    Survey answered, with the assumption that 1=”does not answer well at all” and 10=”answers very well.”

    You may wish to explain the scale in the survey text.

  3. #3 Sideshow Bill
    June 28, 2011

    Ditto to #2. I used the same assumption.

  4. #4 MiddleMan
    June 28, 2011

    This may be a nit-pick, but the question: “The First Amendment to the US Constitution does not permit schools to require students to pray”

    Shouldn’t that be “public schools”? I’m assuming that privately funded schools don’t have that same restriction, unless they accept public funds.

  5. #5 george.w
    June 28, 2011

    I tried taking the survey but was stopped by the ambiguity. I assumed that 10 meant “answered well” and that “answered well” meant it was a straight answer. Some of the creationist answers were quite clear and rated 10 by that understanding but there was nothing to indicate that was how you meant it.

  6. Too many questions, too hard to judge what was meant by some of them. I think evolution should be the only thing taught in science classes and it is important but in the context of a high school biology class it’s hardly the most important thing which most students will need to learn in it. I have a hard time taking anybodies opinion about something as well established as evolution seriously, it’s a fact you either accept or you don’t, your reasons for accepting it might be as bad as the reason someone rejects it, but that’s based in knowledge, not opinion.

    Religion shouldn’t ever be taught in a public school, period. It’s one of the only things that was unambiguous in some of the answers.

  7. #7 chris
    June 28, 2011

    Agree with the above commenters. It was unclear what you meant by how well the response answered the question.

    Also, if I have to read or hear one more person say something like “I think we should teach both sides and let the students decide for themselves” I’m going to have a fucking aneurysm. That’s not how education works, at least in science. Sure, we can let students decide for themselves whether the moors represent a distinct “character” in Return of the Native; one can make a case for both sides. But science is different, at least with areas where the evidence is overwhelming. I guess we should teach regular astronomy and also geocentrism and just let the kids decide for themselves. Utter fools, (almost) all of them.

  8. #8 harold
    June 28, 2011

    I may have accidentally trolled your poll.

    I had the same issue – I rated the stuff as to “how well it answered the question”.

    Unfortunately, a large number of contestants, including open creationists, said a direct “yes” or “no”, which answered the question, “should evolution be taught in schools”, perfectly.

    I gave straight answers a high score, waffling answers that implied a position a “5” (Miss CA got a “5”; she said she was a science geek and implied a “yes” answer but evaded saying “yes” or “no” in a straightforward way), and the rare answer that totally evaded the question a “1”.

    Therefore, I gave answers such as “Yes it should be taught, even thought it’s false and Jesus created the world 6000 years ago” a high score, because they answered the question.

    I realize now that you probably wanted me to rate the answers with respect to their quality of understanding of evolution and the US constitution. Had I done so, my scores would have been much different and much lower.

    You can probably figure out who I am, so feel free to toss me out as an “outlier”.

  9. #9 Mike from Ottawa
    June 28, 2011

    I did the survey but wavered on my standard for what was a good answer. That is, I tended to answer on the basis of how well they answered for someone who is essentially pulled off an America street, not how well they answered for a high school biology teacher, university biology prof or scientific organization. Not even how well they answered it for a regular reader here at science blogs. There were a lot of answers that would get a face-palm in the latter categories that I figured weren’t quite so bad all things considered.

    BTW, it would be nice if you could post the survey instructions somewhere you can go over them without having to dodge to retake the survey.

  10. #10 surgoshan
    June 28, 2011

    I, too, was flummoxed by the ambiguity of the standard. Are we rating clarity or science knowledge? I’m assuming science…

  11. #11 Sormani
    June 28, 2011

    Sadly you forgot to provide enough well reasoned arguments for teaching evolution. It was sad that the anti evolution folks actually seemed to speak more clearly on the matter than the others.

    By the way, on the initial survey there are some obvious strongly agrees based on high school science which are not strongly agrees based on the latest science. It is not 100% certain that all life on Earth evolved once as there might have been more than one start in the primordial soup. More clear would be to ask if humans and ants have a common ancestor as that is established beyond all doubt. Also does a father’s genes determine the sex of a child? Yes insofar as he might make more male sperm than female sperm, however, the environment in the vagina can sometimes eliminate more of the sperm of a certain sex. Better would be to ask whether a child’s sex is determined by chromosomes inherited from the father rather than those from the mother.

  12. #12 McWaffle
    June 28, 2011

    I had exactly the same issues as those above and also quit halfway through. I’d retake it though if we get some official clarification (and maybe shortening it? maybe randomizing it so that not everybody rates every statement? I’m neither a programmer nor a statistician but I imagine that’d be possible/valid, right?)

  13. #13 Retired survey researcher
    June 28, 2011

    I took it, but I think you need to explain your 1-10 scale, define what you mean by whether a statement answered a question ‘well’ (see previous comments for wildly different ‘scoring’ standards used by respondents, as well as confusion over what you want people to evaluate), & state whether you mean public versus private schools on the question asking about schools and the Constitution.

    Consider this one a pilot version. :-)

  14. #14 Physicalist
    June 28, 2011

    Ditto #2
    Ditto #4

  15. #15 Physicalist
    June 28, 2011

    Crikey! How much time do you think I have to read Miss USA babblings? Does it ever end? I’m feeling like Sisyphus here. Forever, and ever, and ever, and . . .

  16. #16 Hercules Grytpype-Thynne
    June 28, 2011

    Please, please fix the “answered well” ambiguity. I bailed when I found that to answer the question as best I understood it I had to give high ratings to pro-creationist answers. I wasn’t sure if that was what you wanted so I thought it was best to abstain.

    You may want to consult with people experienced in conducting surveys before trying this again.

    P.S. How is it that I can post comments using IE7, but when I try Firefox 3.6 I get “An error occurred: Permission denied.”?

  17. #17 Rob Knop
    June 28, 2011

    I suspect that the “answered well” ambiguity was intentional…. That is, if you correlate the “knowledge” section answers with the “answered well” answers,will you see rejection of well stated but wrong (i.e. creationism-supporting) answers?

  18. #18 Lynn Wilhelm
    June 28, 2011

    Wow, I should’ve read the comments before I tried to take the survey. I, too, stopped halfway through because I kept thinking I was misinterpreting your definition of the word “well”.
    I was giving high scores to those whose answers I didn’t like. I started second guessing that and quit so I could get more information.
    I was hoping to find your answer here in the comments, so I’ll wait until I do.

    Like Rob Knop I wondered if the ambiguity was intentional, bur realized that you couldn’t get good data from an ambiguous question. I do hope you are looking for good data, Josh.

    I always think too much about questions like this. I can nearly always answer such questions two (or more) ways. These questions were no exception.

  19. #19 Hercules Grytpype-Thynne
    June 28, 2011

    I suspect that the “answered well” ambiguity was intentional…. That is, if you correlate the “knowledge” section answers with the “answered well” answers,will you see rejection of well stated but wrong (i.e. creationism-supporting) answers?

    This assumes that Josh didn’t foresee, or did foresee but somehow has plans to cope with, the fact that some people (not just me) would simply throw up their hands and abandon the survey when the ambiguity became too painful to deal with. And if it was intentional, what was it intended to discover? Whether scientifically literate people interpret “answering a question well” to mean “providing a responsive answer” or “providing a correct answer”?

    I still vote for “poor design”.

  20. Well, if Josh didn’t plan for this to make something about the answers clear, he’s got the clear ambiguity we found in it to work with. You don’t always get the results you planned for but those results aren’t always useless.

    A lot of the problem I had with the answers, other than that ambiguity, was that it was clear a lot of even those with a positive predisposition to teaching evolution didn’t seem to have a good grasp of what it is and why it’s necessary.

    I think the issue of teaching evolution in public schools has gotten way, way more play than it merits. It’s clearly not the most important topic they will study in biology for more than a tiny fraction of those students who take up evolutionary biology as part of their work. I’d rather the person drawing blood or cleaning the hospital rooms in the local hospital was fuzzy on evolution if the topics relevant to anatomy and sanitation were stressed more.

    The reason that evolution has attained the status it has is complex but it was based in the use of evolution by people like Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spenser to attack religious belief and the other side to attack or counter-attack using religion against evolutionary science. Both of those sides made evolution a proxy for atheistic materialism, one side in a positive support for their ideology, the other side reacting to that use of it, in extreme cases taking that as a negation of all religious belief.

    There were, though, from the beginning, both religious and non-religious scientists and readers of the literature of evolution who rejected that use of it. I’d think someone really interested in finding out how to undo the damage of the ideologues could profitably look carefully at the religious acceptance of evolution, taking into account that accepting evolution in the 1890s is certainly not the same thing as accepting it today. I’m skeptical about the position of natural selection as the major force in evolution whereas there wasn’t much of a choice but to believe that a Darwinian description was the last word in it before other mechanisms became more obvious. A lot of the pro-evolution side from back then grates a bit.

  21. #21 Crowhill
    June 29, 2011

    One problem I have with your survey is the “all living things share a common ancestor” question.

    There is some dispute about that among people who believe in evolution. It might be better if you said “almost all living things.”

  22. #22 David
    June 29, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote: “Religion shouldn’t ever be taught in a public school, period.”

    So why is evolution taught in public schools?

    In May 2000, Michael Ruse (philosopher of science) wrote: “Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion–a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality. I am an ardent evolutionist and an ex-Christian, but I must admit that in this one complaint–and Mr. Gish is but one of many to make it–the literalists are absolutely right. Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.”

    Ruse, M., “How evolution became a religion: creationists correct? Darwinians wrongly mix science with morality, politics”, National Post, pp. B1, B3, B7 (May 13, 2000)

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