Monday, 2 February 2009

Ignorance and Obfuscation

Half of Britons do not believe in evolution, survey finds.

"More than one-fifth prefer creationism or intelligent design, while many others are confused about Darwin's theory."

Right from the start, we have a misleading headline which suggests (not explicitly, but leaves open for misinterpretation) that half of Britons are creationists. In fact it's less than one quarter.

The real story here is that, to my mind at least, the creationist campaign - particularly that of intelligent design - has succeeded in blurring the issue. While I don't know that more people believe in creationism, I think more people are under the impression that there is doubt where no serious rational doubt exists. I can't seem to bring the previous figures to hand, though - so if you know what they were, please let me know - particularly if I've got it wrong. I wouldn't be surprised if this poll returned the exact same results as last time, actually. It wasn't that long ago. Also, let's not go over the many ways this data could be skewed - I'd at least want to know what questions were asked before trying to draw any sensible conclusions.

I'm all in favour of having these issues out in the open where they can be discussed, but that's not what we're dealing with here. Creationists are campaigning to get their rubbish accepted to the same degree as evidence-based theories, and disguising it under the banner of freedom of speech and open debate. Scientists are not blameless, either - more needs to be done to promote the public understanding of science, which would hopefully prevent a quarter of people from simply being "confused" by evolution. Those who bear the overwhelming burden of responsibility here, though, are the media; while there is a great deal of good science on the BBC and elsewhere (Attenborough being the absolute pinnacle), there is too much dumbing-down, and ignoring of science stories in favour of sensationalism and big headlines.

There is no easy solution, nor one single person or group to blame. What I do know is that 50% is too high a proportion of the population to be in any serious doubt about the theory of evolution.

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