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SKEPTOID BLOG:

Evolution is science not opinion.

by Stephen Propatier

January 10, 2014

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Donate AAAAAAArgh to quote Charles Schultz charlie brown character.

Reuters is publicly pronouncing that 1 in 3 Americans don't "believe in evolution". A frustrating pronouncement that caught my eye as it was plastered all over the internet last week. As a science promoter this figure is depressing at best. The reports are focusing on what I would call the political aspects. IE: "Republicans figure of 62% believing that humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time". or worse "33 percent of Americians reject the idea of evolution, saying that humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time," As I said very depressing...

Is this accurate reporting or is it thrill press about bad research?

Primarily I would like to point out that belief is separate from fact and belief is not an indication of reality. Just because you believe in god does not make god real to anyone but you. Conversely refusing to accept the facts of evolution does not invalidate its existence. You can deny the existence of a bullet all you want, but it will still kill you. The original poll and this story says nothing about the science of evolution. Despite the provocative headlines, this poll has no effect on the reality of evolution. It does give evolution deniers and persons without critical thinking skills the wrong impression. That the public at large does not believe in evolution. The poll may be a sad commentary on the state of science education and critical thinking in the US, but more than half accept evolution. The way this story has been reported you would think 95% of americans deny evolution. My opinion, this is just another flashy news story that further skews the public perception of science. Telephone polls are marginally scientific at best, this poll is about as good as they get.

What does a poll say about anything?

The purpose of polls is not to get direct information about a sample alone. It is to learn about the "mother set" of all those from which a poll's sample is randomly drawn. This "population" consists of everyone or everything we wish to understand via a sample. A particular population is defined by the questions asked. The object is not to poll the whole population, but rather to draw a sample from it and directly poll them for sake of authoring an "inference" or judgment about that population. But all samples have an inherent property. They fluctuate from one sample to the next one as each is drawn at random from the elements of the targeted population. A polls accuracy is defined by their confidence intervals and sampling error.

In statistics, a confidence interval (CI) is a type of interval estimate of a population parameter and is used to indicate the reliability of an estimate. In applied practice, confidence intervals are typically stated at the 95% confidence level.[ However, when presented graphically, confidence intervals can be shown at several confidence levels, for example 50%, 95% and 99%. Certain factors may affect the confidence interval size including size of sample, level of confidence, and population variability. A larger sample size will normally lead to a better estimate of the population parameter. A confidence interval does not predict that the true value something has. It is a particular probability of being in the confidence interval given the data actually obtained. Intervals with this property, called credible intervals, exist only in the paradigm of Bayesian statistics, as they require postulation of a prior distribution for the parameter of interest.

Credible intervals and prior distribution is why I feel that Bayesian statistics are the better method of statistical evaluation. That is another whole post in itself.

Sampling error is another polling aspect to consider. Since sampling is typically done to determine the characteristics of a whole population, the difference between the sample and population values are considered a sampling error. Exact measurement of sampling error is generally not feasible since the true population values are unknown. Sampling error can often be estimated by probabilistic modeling of the sample. A well constructed poll adjusts the best that it can, to avoid pitfalls. It is never accurate to the level of experimental data, but it can be scientifically useful.

This poll seems reasonable structured. I would love to poke holes in the structure but it is about as valid as any telephone poll can be. The interpretation and stratification is depressing.
One-third of Americans reject the idea of evolution and Republicans have grown more skeptical about it, according to a poll released on Monday.

Sixty percent of Americans say that "humans and other living things have evolved over time," the telephone survey by the Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project showed
Depressing figures. It is akin to saying that 1 in 3 people do not believe water is wet.

It gets worse...
The gap is coming from the Republicans, where fewer are now saying that humans have evolved over time," said Cary Funk, a Pew senior researcher who conducted the analysis.

The poll showed 43 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of Democrats say humans have evolved over time, compared with 54 percent and 64 percent respectively four years ago.

Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants topped the list of those rejecting evolution, with 64 percent of those polled saying they believe humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.
As I said depressing. Still there are some aspects that hold out hope. There is a significant percentage that admit that evolution is happening but it has been guided by a supreme being.

Kind of something I guess. Why oh why did I read this piece.

Here's the Hopeful part.
Younger adults are more likely than older generations to believe that living things have evolved over time. And those with more years of formal schooling are more likely than those with less education to say that humans and animals have evolved over time.
So maybe the next generation will have less idiocy. Keep your kids ins school folks. I don't mean home school either!

Personally I have never really understood why religion in the US is threatened by evolution. If you have an all powerful being who is all knowing. Why can't he/she/it just have started the whole thing, planned out the universe from the big bang and it runs on it's own.

See everyone wins.

No, according to religious fundamentalists you have to either be built by a supreme being or evolved over time by evolutionary pressures. Therefore because there is a supreme being, evolution must not exist.

Lunacy.

Evolution is a natural process that has well defined components and multiple lines disparate evidence. It is not an opinion, it is a fact. There may be some fuzziness at the edges and individual unknowns (that deniers point at) but it is happening.

No matter how much you wish it your opinion has no effect on reality.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confidence_interval

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sampling_error

http://www.mailund.dk/index.php/2009/08/07/the-problem-with-confidence-intervals/

http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/30/publics-views-on-human-evolution/

http://www.pewforum.org/about/

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/30/us-usa-poll-evolution-idUSBRE9BT0LC20131230

http://cstl-cla.semo.edu/renka/Renka_papers/polls.htm

by Stephen Propatier

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