Pieces of Opinions

I find it bewildering that such a large number of human beings tend toward a perverse world view, adopting highly unscientific and sadly irrational perspectives on topics that I would not have thought subjects for great emotion.  This is, in fact, one of the confounding things about the human race which contributes to the sense of isolation experienced by many geeks.  And I suppose that, to an extent, I count myself as one of these obsessive creatures.

In my continuing search for truth, justice and the Rational way, I ran across this article citing the results of a Pew Research Center survey on global warming.  The survey included a broad question and several more specific questions; including among these was Does human activity cause global warming? Cynic that I am, I was not surprised to learn that a significantly higher proportion of Republican college graduates answer No to this question than those with the same party affiliation who are not college graduates.  And the press has pathetically pounced on this, accepting it at face value, without asking deeper questions about the nature of the survey.

There is something very obvious missing from this discussion, not to mention the survey, in that neither include the subject matter studied by the college graduates.  For example, do Democrats constitute a higher proportion of science graduates, while Republicans a higher proportion of business graduates?  Is there a tendency among science graduates to conclude that global warming is caused by human behavior?  At a more specific level, are the results different, in a statistically meaningful manner, between those who studied biology compared to those who studied archaeology?

The failure to examine this kind of data leaves me with a deep distrust of such survey results.  How can one draw a reasonable conclusion without examining the background of respondents thoroughly?

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7 responses

  1. This is interesting and of course would need to be researched much deeper, as you point out, in order to draw any sort of relevant conclusions. However, I find it interesting that you expect the difference to show up in regards to the question of the scientific knowledge… To my humble opinion (not statistically proven 😉 ) I would say there are other influences play a major role in taking a position in regards to questions like whether human activity causes global warming or not; mass media, social network, personal values, psychological tendencies towards denial and blaming etc… If it was primarily the amount of scientific knowledge I believe things would be pretty straight forward.

  2. I agree – there are many variables that ought to be collected. This is one of the frailties of surveys: factors that could be relevant are often excluded (perhaps for reasons of expediency?), and the result is the type of generalization that we see in the published results of the subject survey.

    Of course, certain data is easier to collect and confirm than other data. Factors such as blame and denial are necessarily difficult to measure, and the determination of what constitutes a personality with tendency toward blame or denial is defined well on the maladaptive side (see DSM-IV) than on the functional side, and the diagnosis might vary from shrink to shrink. Collecting data that can be confirmed ensures a certain level of increased accuracy, though it does as you point out leave a very large gap all the same.

  3. Basically any statistic quoted without the supporting information of the methodology and operational assumptions and parameters involved is practically useless. And this means that almost all statistics are themselves, useless. I’m sure 99.9% of the population would agree with me on this one

    There is a very good BBC Radio Programme called More Or Less which takes a look at the ways in which statistics are used and abused in the media.

    I found the section on “Which UK town has the highest concentration of pubs?” particularly interesting.

  4. OK – I have to say that my favorite headline on that page is ‘Do Doctors’ Strikes Save Lives?’

  5. 100% of people who have seen a doctor, die at some point afterwards. Therefore all doctors are lethal. Breathing oxygen – very dangerous, everyone who has been exposed to it, dies. Eventually. And food, it kills everyone who eats it. Don’t eat, breathe or see a doctor, and you will live forever.

  6. @mmonyte, this is hilarious, I love your use of statistics… Made my day. 😉

  7. …and it’s all 100% true and totally irrefutable!

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