Re: An interesting Poll from Zogby

From: David Opderbeck (
Date: Wed Sep 10 2003 - 10:21:43 EDT

  • Next message: "Re: An interesting Poll from Zogby"

    Hello. I'm new to this list and am finding the discussion of the Zogby
    survey results interesting. By way of brief background to my following
    comment, I'm a law professor and previously I was a litigation attorney for
    12 years. Surveys are often introduced as evidence in court proceedings,
    particularly in my area of expertise, intellectual property. For example,
    in a trademark infringement case, surveys are often used to determine
    whether the consumer public perceives the defendant's mark to be
    confusingly similar to the plaintiff's mark. One of the key evidentiary
    principles for determining the weight to attribute to a given survey is
    whether the survey employed leading questions or questions that make
    questionable assumptions. This survey would be easy to attack on that
    basis. To highlight one example:

    > 2. The state board of education is currently deciding which biology

    > textbooks should be approved for use in public schools in Texas.
          Which of
    > the following two statements comes closer to your own opinion?
    > A: The state board of education should approve biology textbooks
          that teach
    > only Darwin's theory of evolution and the scientific evidence that
          supports it.
    > B: The state board of education should approve biology textbooks
          that teach
    > Darwin's theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence
          against it.

    > By nearly a five-to-one margin, people are more likely to agree
    > Statement B (75%) than Statement A (16%). Approximately one in ten
          are not
    > sure (9%)

    Part B of this question assumes there is "scientific evidence against"
    Darwin's theory of evolution. Behind that assumption, as has previously
    been pointed out, is an assumption about what is meant by "Darwin's theory
    of evolution." Also behind that intial assumption is, presumably, an
    assumption about what is meant by "scientific evidence," and that, whatever
    "scientific evidence" means, there is some such evidence "against" Darwin's
    theory. We could have expert witnesses on the stand for days testifying
    about those assumptions alone.

    The really difficult and interesting thing from a public policy perspective
    is how it would be possible to craft a fair and balanced (to use a phrase
    that has been much bandied about lately) survey when much of the public
    generally lacks any understanding that terms such as "scientific evidence"
    are loaded. I'd hate to see public policy made based on this Zogby survey,
    but I'd also hate to see public dollars spent on public education without
    accounting for public opinion at all.

    Prof. David W. Opderbeck, Esq., J.D., LL.M.
    Fellow, Visiting Professor and Associate Director
    Institute of Law, Science and Technology
    Seton Hall University School of Law
    One Newark Center
    Newark, NJ 07102
    (973) 642-8955

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