Opponents of evolution have reacted with shock and alarm to the release of TFN’s survey of Texas science faculty last week. This is not, in itself, terribly surprising, since the first-of-its-kind survey exploded many of the myths perpetuated by evolution-deniers. Indeed, its definitive rejection of any hint of a “controversy” in the academic community over evolution is devastating to the premise underlying the entire intelligent design movement.
This “emperor has no clothes” moment has left these evolution-deniers only one option – discredit the survey. But their arguments against the survey are as pathetic as their arguments against evolution. Let’s take a look at their criticisms one at a time.
The survey was sponsored by an advocacy group (TFN), so the results are tainted.
We can hardly blame anyone for a healthy skepticism when confronted with research by a group with a stated political agenda. That’s why TFN contracted with an experienced academic to design and administer the survey, as well as analyze the results. The study was conducted by Dr. Ray Eve, professor of sociology and program director for sociology at the University of Texas at Arlington. Dr. Eve took the extra step of having the survey reviewed and approved by the human subjects review board at UTA (though, of course, the findings and analysis of the survey represent his opinion and not the university’s.) So while the survey was sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network, the actual administration of the survey was entirely under the supervision of Dr. Eve.
More than half the biologists in the state didn’t respond to the survey, therefore, it’s invalid.
This bit of silliness, peddled by members of the State Board of Education, is clearly the ramblings of those who have no experience with survey work. It hardly needs to be said, but 100% participation in a survey does not exist in the real world. In this case, the survey was sent to every biology and biological anthropology faculty member we could locate at the 35 public universities and 15 largest private universities in the state (a universe of 1,019 individuals). In the end 464 completed questionnaires were returned, providing a reponse rate of better than 45%. Dr. Eve characterizes this return rate as extraordinary, noting that it is “almost unheard of for the remote return of a lengthy questionnaire of this type.” The diversity of the response was also extremely robust, with respondents from 49 different institutions.
All the creationists and intelligent design-sympathizers at Texas colleges and universities were too afraid to answer the survey, so they are not represented.
This is essentially the claim advanced in the recent movie “Expelled” – that there is such an atmosphere of intimidation within the academic science community that creationists are cowed into silence. Problem is, it’s not true in the film (see www.expelledexposed.com) and there is no evidence that it’s a problem in this survey. For starters, survey responses were strictly anonymous – the invitation to participate made clear that responses would be “kept confidential according to current legal requirements.” Thus, 2-5% of respondents did consistently register sympathy toward intelligent design or creationism. These respondents obviously did not feel cowed into silence.
At some point don’t these evolution deniers have to actually produce these mysterious creatures they say are hiding out the academy – the mythic evolution dissidents?!? I suppose their convenient excuse is hypothetically possible (“you can’t see them because they are too scared to appear”). But isn’t the more likely explanation that they really are a tiny, tiny minority? Say, 2 – 5% like our survey showed?
So here, for the record, is a full explanation of the survey’s methodology:
In the summer of 2007, Raymond A. Eve, Ph.D., one of the authors of this report, was approached by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund (TFNEF) to conduct an unbiased survey of faculty who teach human evolution at Texas colleges and universities. TFNEF intended the survey to evaluate faculty views about the level of preparation of incoming college students for college level biology courses and, more specifically, their preparation for courses on evolution. Additionally, the survey asked science faculty about their attitudes toward controversies involving evolution, creationism and intelligent design, particularly pertaining to the affect of that debate on the public school science curriculum in Texas.
With the help of TFNEF staff and graduate students acting as interns, we collectively compiled contact information for all faculty members who teach either biology or physical anthropology at 50 Texas institutions of higher learning. (Physical anthropologists specialize in the study of the evolution of ancient hominids and often teach courses that include human evolution.) The final list included 1,019 individual faculty members from all 35 public universities and the 15 largest private institutions in the state. (See full list below.)
On October 22, 2007, TFNEF sent a 59-question survey to this full list of 1,019 names. An electronic version of the survey (administered by the online survey tool SurveyMonkey) went out to all who did not respond to the initial mail survey. The survey was closed on January 30, 2008.
In the end, we received 464 completed questionnaires. This represents better than a 45% response rate – almost unheard of for the remote return of a lengthy questionnaire of this type. The diversity of the response was also extremely robust, with respondents from 49 different institutions. (Only Sul Ross State University was unrepresented among the 50 institutions included in the sample.) Presumably this high response rate reflects the sense of eagerness and importance that the respondents attached to expressing their actual opinion on this issue.
The report authors at the University of Texas at Arlington entered all responses into the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). All statistics and accompanying analyses found in this report have been drawn from this data set. While not appearing in detail here, the findings were subjected to advanced parametric and nonparametric analyses, including relevant measures of strength of association and examination of levels of statistical significance. Where these are relevant, they are discussed in lay terms in the body of the report.
It should be noted here that this survey is funded by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. While the research process was reviewed and approved by the human subjects review board of the University of Texas at Arlington, the funding, the actual conduct of the survey and the interpretation of the results are solely due to, and the responsibility of, the authors of this report and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the University of Texas at Arlington.