A well-known problem with on-line polls is when special interest groups attempt to sway the outcome. For example, a national newspaper might put a poll on their website asking if corporate taxes are too high. An organisation interested in lowering corporate taxes might then distribute the link among grass-root supporters, encouraging them to vote "Yes". If they're successful, they will manage to sway the outcome of the poll, creating the impression that "the public thinks that corporate taxes are too high". A similar yet rarely acknowledged problem is when the respondents in a letter poll correspond with each other, coordinating their replies.
For a while, I've been disappointed with the lack of sociological data concerning how those who see themselves as "defending science" perceive intelligent design. There is plenty of evidence that this group suffers from stereotypes (such as Douglas Altshuler claiming that, "People in the ID community have said that we don't even know how bees fly."), but no systematic surveys. So I decided to do my own little informal survey, e-mailing various ID critics and asking them about intelligent design.
The biggest blog devoted to criticism of intelligent design is The Panda's Thumb, so for my group of respondents, I e-mailed its contributors as well as those which PT identifies as Science and Evolution Blogs*. A total of 36 persons received this mail:
You have been contacted because you contribute to a blog which has been identified as a "pro-science blog". I am conducting a survey on outsiders' perception of intelligent design, and I would appreciate your input. The results will be published on Telic Thoughts, an independent blog about intelligent design, and every reply will be treated as anonymous. Please read the following carefully, and send your answer to [my e-mail address.]
For the purpose of this survey, "creationism" will be defined as "a belief in the literal interpretation of the account of the creation of the universe and of all living things related in the Bible" (source: Dictionary.com). "Evolution" will be defined as "the theory that all modern life forms are derived from one or a few common ancestors via descent with modification".
Please answer the following:
On which points are intelligent design and creationism identical?
A. Both creationism and intelligent design require one to have a particular interpretation of the Biblical creation account.
B. Both creationism and intelligent design require one to accept a particular age of the Earth and of the universe.
C. Both creationism and intelligent design require one to reject evolution.
D. Both creationism and intelligent design identify the Christian God as the creator.
E. Both creationism and intelligent design hold that there is an intelligence behind certain features of nature.
F. There are no points of similarity between creationism and intelligent design.
G. None of the above options accurately describe the relationship between creationism and intelligent design.
(Please check all that apply.)
Thanks in advance,
Unfortunately, some ID critics
didn't like the scientific method to be applied to themselves were afraid of providing what could be seen as ammunition to the enemy. Within 27 minutes, one of the respondents, Wesley Elsberry of The Austringer, had posted the contents of my letter, advising others to reply by choosing "G". And within hours, other blogs had followed, including the highly popular Pharyngula. As another respondent, Tara Smith, said, "If you received [a mail], check out their comments before sending your answer back." Predictably, all of the respondents who replied either chose "G" or refused to participate in the survey (as it was of course their right to do, the survey being voluntary).
The reaction of these "defenders of science" is itself an interesting piece of sociological data, and I might deal with them in a later post. For now, I will leave you with a question: If the poll was indeed "wretchedly incomplete", as Elsberry claims, why did he see it necessary to notify his fellow bloggers immediately after receiving the poll? Was he worried that some might feel that one or more of my options adequately described their perception of intelligent design?
*)I excluded the contributors to RealClimate and Philosophy of Biology, which would otherwise have given me an additional 53 persons to poll. RealClimate is a blog dealing with environmental issues, and has no my knowledge never written about intelligent design. And most of the contributors to Philosophy of Biology seemed to be "silent members", having posted little or not at all. Investigating the beliefs of ID critics by polling a group of people of whom more than half have never spoken about intelligent design is bad practice, so I left that part of the group out.