Re: An interesting Poll from Zogby

From: David Opderbeck (
Date: Wed Sep 10 2003 - 15:01:39 EDT

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    I've been trying to think of a "fair" question, but I'm having a hard time.
    It really seems to be the kind of topic that requires more sustained
    dialogue than an opinion survey permits.

    I haven't personally worked with Zogby and I'm not aware of them doing the
    kinds of surveys we would use in a court case. It certainly is a "brand
    name" in public opinion polls often quoted in popular media, but that
    doesn't mean anything.

                > To: <>
                          Sent by: cc:
                          asa-owner@lists.c Subject: Re: An interesting Poll from Zogby
                          09/10/03 11:03 AM

    Welcome to the list David.

    Your insight to the pitfalls of polling is very helpful, but I wonder if
    you could give an example of a question roughly corresponding to the one
    you criticized below that would be relatively immune to the difficulties
    you noted. It seems to me that any set of questions pertaining to evolution
    simple enough to be posed to and answered by the general public would be
    subject to such problems.

    Of course, this probably just means that polling is not the best way to
    address this issue.

    Also, what is your general take on Zogby as an organization? What is its
    professional status? Is it well resepected?


    Discover the sevenfold symmetric perfection of the Holy Bible at
     ----- Original Message -----
     From: David Opderbeck
     Cc: ;
     Sent: Wednesday, September 10, 2003 7:21 AM
     Subject: 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
     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

    > 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,
     "scientific evidence" means, there is some such evidence "against"
     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
     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
     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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