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Jul 10, 2009

Be Skeptical About Scientists and Polls

Scientists Versus The Great Unwashed
07/10/09 - Just One Minute by Tom Maguire

Survey Shows Gap Between Scientists and the Public
07/09/09 - New York Times by Cornelia Dean

Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public and Media
07/09/09 - Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

I don't trust Pew research polls, after seeing this poll and information about it. I am skeptical of all polls, and the word "scientist".

Mr. Maguire reviews an article in the NY Times which reports a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, working with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Opinions differed between scientists and the general public.

Pew said "scientists". I credit Ms. Dean for the following, which is not emphasized in the Pew report:

NYT Ms. Dean: [edited] The survey involved about 2,000 of the public and 2,500 scientists drawn from the rolls of the AAAS, which includes teachers, administrators and others involved in science, as well as researchers.

The Pew report section About the survey is at the end of the report, the last segment of 10, and says:

Pew Report [edited] Results for the scientist survey are based on 2,533 online interviews. A sample of 9,998 members was drawn from the AAAS membership list excluding those who were not based in the United States or whose membership type identified them as primary or secondary-level educators.

The term "scientist" is used everywhere, but the survey contacted the AAAS membership, which includes people with a career related to science, and can include anyone. The survey excluded grade-school and high-school teachers, but included administrators. It seems that this classification is whatever each member listed when joining.

Rhetoric and Bias

It bothers me that Ms. Dean reports on a survey and inserts her own beliefs. For evolution and global warming, the supposed scientists agree with her, and the public is dumb. For nuclear power, she does not report on the supposed scientists who come to a conclusion different from liberal opinion.

This is a common misuse of surveys and group opinions. We often hear that we should believe something because "almost all scientists agree".

  • How can we know that thay all agree?
  • What does "all" mean?
  • Who are the "scientists"?
  • If "scientists" are all trustworthy, how can they disagree? If they are not all trustworthy, why are we polling them?
  • Who employs them and how will they benefit from acceptance of their results?
  • What are their areas of expertise?
  • Have they opened their research, data, methods, and computer models to public examination?
  • Has their research survived critical attention? Did they respond to criticism with thoughtful detail, or dismiss their critics as evil idiots?

Macguire selected these parts of the NY Times article.

[edited] There is a large gap between the views of scientists and ordinary Americans about climate change, evolution, and the state of the nation’s research enterprise.

Almost all of the scientists accept that human beings evolved by natural processes and that human activity, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels, is causing global warming. The general public is far less sure.

Almost a third of ordinary Americans say human beings have always existed in their current form. Only 2% of the scientists agree. Only half of the public agrees that people cause climate change, and 11% does not believe there is any warming at all.

About a third of Americans think there is lively scientific debate on both topics. In fact, there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution and there is little doubt that humans are altering the atmosphere in ways that threaten global climate.

Dean associates evolution and global warming as two settled theories. Evolution has been studied for 150 years with confirmation from many directions and sources that has survived public evaluation and criticism. Global Warming investigations are recent, biased by government support and political pressure, and results are unsettled and exaggerated The proponents of Global Warming don't mind lying for the good of us all.

Dean says "almost all of the scientists accept", implying that the issue is settled, except for the dumb public that has not yet accepted the uncomfortable implications.

Macguire points out something Dean does not report. The supposed scientists want more power plants, an action that is not supported by liberals.

[edited] Interesting, the Times forgot to report this factoid from a Pew chart. 70% of scientists (but only 51% of the public) favor "building more nuclear power plants". On global warming, 49% of the public and 84% of scientists believe that "the earth is getting warmer because of human activity".

Global warming caused by humans is a scam
The proponents of Global Warming don't mind lying for the good of us all. Saving the world justifies much cutting of corners.

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