The frontpage yesterday had a short article pointing towards a recent poll of US citizen "confidence" in basic descriptions of scientific discoveries.
How representative is this poll?
The poll was conducted with an adult population of 1,012 individuals, therefore the margin of error is about ±3.5% In 2008 there was something like 234 million adults in the US, and there's been growth in that number over the past six years, so this poll is directly asking questions of slightly less than 0.00043% of the US population. That said, did it pick a thousand adult Americans who accurately model the US adult population?
When asking if the respondent was a supporter, or not supporter, of the Tea Party movement, it found 22% support for the Tea Party movement. That's mostly in line with what other similar-sized polls have found. When asked for US political party affiliation, the AP-GfK poll found roughly equal numbers for self-identifying Democrats, Republicans, and independents/"none of these" as other polls. When asked to self-identify as liberal, moderate, or conservative, the 1:2:2 trend seen in most polls was also seen in the AP-GfK poll. These three findings suggest this population was not overly-skewed politically, compared to other polls.
Looking at other demographic trends, the urban-suburban-rural mixture was representative of census findings that about a fifth of US citizens live in rural settings. If anything the poll seems to have under-sampled the amount of evangelical Protestant Christians. Ethnically, the poll over-sampled white non-Hispanics and under-sampled everyone else, but not by very large margins. The age skew is almost exactly what the 2010 US Census reported. Accounting for margin of error, one income bracket (those earning $100-150k a year) was over-represented and one income bracket (those earning $10-20k a year) was under-represented. The population dispersal is accurate at the Census Bureau regional level. So, accounting for everything, the polling population is fairly representative of the country.
What were the questions being polled?
On the next few screens, you'll see a series of statements about science and medicine. For each of them, please indicate how confident you are that the statement is correct.
The pollee was then asked, personally, whether they were extremely confident, very confident, somewhat confident, not too confident, or not at all confident in the correctness of that statement. For each of the statements it was also possible not to answer.
What were the results?
Within margins of error, Americans are decreasingly confident (here: extremely, very, and somewhat confident) of the correctness of the following things:
1 A causal link exists between smoking and cancer, mental illness is caused by something medically affecting the brain, the genetic code is present within our cells, and bacteria are able to be artificially selected for drug-resistance through antibiotic overuse. Approx 90%
2 Vaccinations during childhood are safe and effective. Approx 80%
3 Some supreme being guides the creation of the complex universe. Approx 70%
4 Anthropogenic global warming is a thing, humans and other life evolved, the Earth is billions of years old. Approx 55%
5 The universe is billions of years and started with a Big Bang. Approx 45%
The good news
Only a tenth of USicans think there is significant uncertainty about a link between smoking and cancer, even though tobacco industries spent decades lying to the US about this very link. That's phenomenal and shows that humans can undo corporate lying. In addition, nine out of ten of USicans recognize that mental illness is caused by physical factors, and that DNA is a thing, and that artificial selection can produce evolutionary change within human life times. Those are all things to be happy about.
The weird news
Apparently USicans are more certain about vaccines than they are about the gods.
The bad news
Basically everything else. The "not at all confident" category shows that almost 1 in 6 of USicans have serious doubts that AGW is a real thing, and that the Earth is billions of years old. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of USicans have serious reservations about the evolution of all life on Earth and of a multi-billion year old universe that started with a Big Bang.
Has the US stagnated in its attitudes towards AGW?
Because I read a lot about a prominent scientific research question of our day and age, I'm aware that previous polling has found that USican attitudes towards AGW are split into "Six Americas". The two groups that are categorized as Doubtful and Dismissive make up... about 1 in 6 of the people polled, roughly the amount of people that the AP-GfK poll found as being not at all confident of AGW. This number has been fairly stable for the past few years, indicating that there`s almost a sixth of USicans who are going to continue being really angry about one of the strongest scientific conclusions of our modern age.
On the other side of things...
The margin of error on this is ±4%, so USicans have only been worried "a great deal" about AGW more than today in 2000 and 2007. And in spite of always-increasing amounts of evidence and data, USicans have decreased their level of worry three times.
Is the grass greener in other countries?
Multiple countries are better than the US at identifying, correctly, that global warming is happening and it's anthropogenic. That Mexico is doing better at that than the US should be concerning to USicans.