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United States Science

NSF Report Flawed; Americans Do Not Believe Astrology Is Scientific 326

RichDiesal writes "A new report (PDF) from the National Science Foundation, which we discussed a few days ago, states that roughly 40% of Americans believe astrology to be scientific. This turns out to be false; most of those apparently astrology-loving Americans have actually confused astrology with astronomy. In a 100-person Mechanical Turk study with a $5 research budget, I tested this by actually asking people to define astrology. Among those that correctly defined astrology, only 10% believe it to be scientific; among those that confused astrology for astronomy, 92% believe 'astrology' to be scientific."
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NSF Report Flawed; Americans Do Not Believe Astrology Is Scientific

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  • Really good question (Score:5, Informative)

    by sideslash ( 1865434 ) on Friday February 14, 2014 @03:34PM (#46248955)
    I searched/skimmed the NSF paper, and it wasn't obvious that they took any pains to define astrology for their interviewees. So you very well may be right; good job.
  • by joe_frisch ( 1366229 ) on Friday February 14, 2014 @03:40PM (#46249037)

    It is easy for surveys to give very misleading results if the questions are not well thought out, or if they have intentionally been designed to produce some result. The media tends to pick up on the more surprising results from surveys so that magnifies the effect in the public perception.

    "do you believe in evolution" "do you believe the current theory of evolution is correct" "Do you believe that god was involved in the creation of life" "should students be taught to question scientific theories like evolution". "do you think evolution likely is a correct description of the species we see on earth now" These may seem to be asking the same question, but are really quite different.

  • by __roo ( 86767 ) on Friday February 14, 2014 @04:37PM (#46249721) Homepage

    If the NSF Report actually stated "that roughly 40% of Americans believe astrology to be scientific," this would be an interesting use of five bucks. But that's not what the report says.

    Here's what the NSF report acually writes—and it's actually interesting:

    Fewer Americans rejected astrology in 2012 than in recent years.
    * In 2012, slightly more than half of Americans said that astrology was “not at all scientific,” whereas nearly two-thirds gave this response in 2010. The comparable percentage has not been this low since 1983.

    Page 7-6 of the report gives actual details about the survey—speciically, the Science and Technology portion of the General Social Survey" []. You can search the GSS survey for the word 'astrology' [] to see the actual question:

    ASTROSCI : ASTROLOGY IS SCIENTIFIC - 1037. Would you say that astrology is very scientific, sort of scientific, or not at all scientific?
    0 NAP
    1 Very scientific
    2 Sort of scientific
    3 Not at all scientific

    The whole point is that they're asking Americans if they know what the word 'astrology' means.

    If there was a mass epidemic of amnesia between 2010 and 2012, I don't remember it. So what caused the reversal in a steady trend that lasted from 1983 to 2010? Why did the number of Americans who know the definition of the word 'astrology' make a sudden and very large negative drop from 2010 to 2012?

    This is an interesting result, and to their credit the authors of the NSF report do a good job of accurately reporting their finding without resorting to hyperbole or finger-pointing.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"