Monday, June 30, 2008

Stuff poll stuffed with....well stuff

The lovely people over at Fairfax media ran an article over the weekend regarding creationist material being sent to schools in New Zealand, as Mr Fett alluded to in a previous post. They also ran a poll for 12 or so hours along with it and Should schools be allowed to teach 'intelligent design? was the question posed. Now, we saw some pretty feverish posting from both sides for the duration of the poll, but the final results were Yes 15479 (46.5%) and No 17814 (53.5%). I didn't realise that many people read stuff let alone cared enough to vote - WTF?

I can only suppose that after it was posted on the Pharyngula and a bunch of creationist sites that both sides of the debate went nuts with poll scripts trying to outdo each other, because over 30,000 people voting on an internet poll is pretty bizarre even for a contentious topic such as this. To give you something to compare and contrast against, here's a run down of some of the totals for other super important questions posed by Stuff "

What's your favourite season?
11264 votes and summer was the winner. Crazy I know - who'd have guessed.

Pick your worst ever cover
11103 votes. When I first read this I thought it was talking about insurance - turns out its Music Covers. Winner was Celine Dion - You Shook me all night long. I didn't even know she did a cover of that, but she would have got my vote just for the simple fact she's couldn't sing her way out of a wet paper bag.

How financially literate are you?
8048 respondents, and I must admit I have no idea what the question means. Does it mean "Can you read a bank statement?", or is it talking about the stock exchange? No idea really - winner was "somewhat" which sounds more like a question itself - Some what?

And the pièce de résistance
Will warnings about long-term use of jandals make you rethink wearing them?
Of the 8853 people who bothered answering this one, over 5000 said "No way, I love my jandals." Wow. What illuminating information. I don't know about you, but I feel changed.

These internet polls we see on so many new sites these days are much like the ones I post on this site - a load of bollocks. A majority of them either ask questions so inane it would send your caffeine and cocaine hammered druglord neighbour to sleep within seconds (How interested are you in politics? 85% say Sod off!), or are so badly worded they are not even really worth answering.

This poll about ID for instance - the question, as pointed out by Bjorn over at Pharyngula was nothing to do with the article it linked to. The article spoke about creationist material being sent to schools in an effort to get their brand of nonsense into the science class. The poll asked a different question - should it be taught? In all fairness, who am I to say what the jebus nutters teach in their churches? Its their right to teach religion in religious classes or creationism in Sunday school. I may wish they wouldn't, as its total crap, but that's their right as a religion to teach the tenets of their faith. The same goes for a science class inasmuch as only science should be discussed therein, and since ID\Creationism is not science, it has no place there.
Bjorn did point out that if he ran a class he would mention it as a "this is not science" and while I agree with his philosophy behind the argument, I probably would agree with Alison and restrict that kind of thing to the higher years of school science and university. Our standard schooling should be teaching the science framework, creating skeptical and enquiring minds, and not bombarding them with every example of bad thinking in the world.

So if I were to answer the question on its own merits, I would agree with my Bjorn Free commenter and say Yes - people should be allowed to teach it. But in the context of the article, I would say No - not in the state schools.

And my point? Internet polls are bullshit. The question can be obtuse, you can use scripts to load them (much as this one obviously did) or you can be so confused you don't answer and the results are skewed beyond all recognition. Even Stuff say "Stuff polls are not scientific and reflect the opinions of only those internet users who have chosen to participate" and that's the best description ever - they are not scientific. They are meaningless.

The problem is that this information is used by lazy ass journo's to write articles. You see them frequently now on the major news sites "according to a poll on our site last week, 42% of people want to be flogged with licorice twice a week". Or they drop the "on our site" and it becomes "according to a poll taken recently, 85% of respondents have eaten a VW Beetle".

I guess all I'm saying here is that these polls cannot be taken seriously, and we should read closely what articles say when referring to polls.

“Opinion polls measure the public's satisfaction with it's ignorance”

"I haven't trusted polls since I read that 62% of women had affairs during their lunch hour. I've never met a woman in my life who would give up lunch for sex."
Erma Bombeck

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