Reader survey results, biologists vs. non-scientists

By Razib Khan | September 23, 2012 3:54 pm

There are now over 400 responses to the survey. Here is a link to the responses in CSV format. If you import this into R, an extra parameter in regards to encoding may be necessary:

responses=read.csv("responses.csv",sep="t",header=TRUE,fileEncoding = "UCS-2LE")

I decided to separate the respondents into two categories, biologists and non-scientists (therefore, excluding other types of scientists from further analysis). You can see the filtered responses for biologists and non-scientists yourself. Below are some comments on interesting differences.

Non-scientists Biologists
Completed Doctorate 57 19
Completed University 23 38
Feminist 36 46
Important to prenatala screen? 83 75
Abort if 90% chance Down syndrome? 79 83
Abort if 90% chance 80 IQ? 58 54
GMO should be labeled 45 39
Drink every day 16 30
Never drink 13 3
Non-environmental race differences in personality 64 54
Non-environmental race differences in intelligence 69 57
Non-environmental sex differences in personality 85 77
Non-environmental sex differences in intelligence 58 39
Overpopulation is a major problem we are neglecting 28 44
Believe in policy responses to fertility differences across groups 33 13
Gattaca is unrealistic 28 41
Blogs read regularly
Bad Astronomy 26 24
Cosmic Variance 19 15
Loom 22 32
Ed Yong 24 47
Pharyngula 16 24
Why Evolution is True 15 28
Marginal Revolution 36 18
Kevin Drum 11 3
Instapundit 14 6
Steve Sailer 48 26
Matt Yglesias 17 10
DailyKos 7 7
RedState 2 3
Sandwalk 4 15
John Hawks 43 43
Dienekes 47 40
Panda’s Thumb 8 3

It makes sense that people who say they’re biologists tend to be very well educated. One thing not evident explicitly in the table is that the biologists who read this weblog tend to be more conventionally Left-liberal in their views, and I think that explains some of the differences in response to questions such as feminism.  More interesting to me is that my non-scientist readers seem to exhibit a more strongly hereditarian viewpoint, or accept the predictive power of genetics to a greater extent, than the biologists! You can chalk some of this up to ideology, but when you look at the Gattaca question I think you are getting to the heart of a major issue: biologists, and geneticists in particular, understand the limitations of genetic inference. This does not mean that one accepts a “blank slate” perspective. On the contrary, almost all of my readers accept individual differences in intelligence and personality being genetically mediated (I omitted that result there was so much unanimity). But, there does need to be some subtly in how we interpret the interplay between genes and environment. As Jim Manzi would say, this is an area with “high causal density.” The world of Gattaca is really more about social engineering than genetic engineering, and the former is much more difficult than the latter.

A minor admission of surprise, in a good way, is that it seems the overwhelming majority of my readers do accept non-environmental differences in personality between the sexes. Obviously someone who reads this weblog is not representative of the general population, but as you may know I have been moderately pessimistic about acknowledgement of non-reproductive biological differences of the sexes in the current intellectual/political climate (where in some quarters such acknowledgement is ipso facto admission of being sexist). These results update my assessment in this domain somewhat, though to be sure I stated the question in a very broad and general manner which would be difficult for many to disagree with.

Finally, it seems that biologists and non-scientists read blogs a fair amount, but their selection differs somewhat. In particular, biologists seem to be reading blogs by…well, biologists (e.g., Larry Moran, Jerry Coyne). Not too surprising. The main exception is Panda’s Thumb. But the reality is that many biologists have only a marginal interest in the ‘controversy’ of evolution, so I don’t think that this exception is very telling.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Administration
MORE ABOUT: Reader Survey
  • peter

    It would have been fascinating to see how this would have sorted out in terms of the age of the participants. I am 76, a retired biologist and anthropologist, and my views on many of these matters have changed dramatically since my undergraduate college years.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #1, if you don’t know R, you can still find stuff using excel, etc., from the CSV file. just sort/filter by the parameters of interest.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    Wouldn’t it be fair to say a largish proportion of your non-scientific audience found you through your associations with the “HBDsphere,” and thus would be expected to be both more right-wing and more hereditarian in outlook than the average biologist, who may have found your site through more “conventional” linkages?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #3, yeah. ~50% in fact by diagnostic blog readership.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    I’d be interested to compare the Steven Sailer readers versus those who do not read him regularly. After all, the HBD community is (no offense to those readers) an internet subculture which isn’t particularly representative of the views of other educated westerners.

  • http://delicious.com/robertford Darkseid

    I really didn’t know there were that many lefty biologists reading because they don’t seem to say much. am i wrong? i don’t really see them speaking out that often.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #6, it depends on the thread.

  • http://delicious.com/robertford Darkseid

    ah, then can we get a breakdown on where you guys differ? is there some kind of con/lib rift over the way genomics results are interpreted?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #8, there are hardly any conservative genomicists ;-) perhaps a minority of libertarians. anyway, i don’t know how it would play out.

  • RedZenGenoist

    Aha, biologists are drunks. I am shocked and appalled.

    I’m curious about the “Gattaca is unrealistic” aspect. I’ve more than occasionally discussed this with science-literate men and women (making no effort to distinguish between bio and non-), and have more than once heard noises along the lines of “gattaca is unrealistic”. But, when pressed to elaborate, I’ve never gotten a straight answer as to why… only “designer babies” objections, similar to the ones one might have heard 30 years ago about “test tube babies”. Arguments about how it would “not be accepted” (though it was, of course, since there was no bottleneck to cork). But I’ve never yet heard a good answer as to what exactly might stop the IMHO all but unstoppable tide of Gattaca, once sequencing gets cheap enough.

    If anyone knows exactly what they mean by “Gattaca is unrealistic”, I’d be interested in what exactly you mean. IE, what exactly would stop the motivated from pioneering it, and thus starting the trend.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    so do you actually think individual phenotypic prediction can be as powerful as gattaca presumes? i haven’t met many genomicists who find that part super plausible. how much noise can you squeeze out of the system? give me a number.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2011/06/genetics-existed-before-omics/

  • Dwight E. Howell

    I would not have thought that many biologist would have drunk that much. My mistake.

    While I would not expect them to tell me jack about a given individual what I’ve read says that just about any trait you care to name is impacted by gender, age, race, ethnic background or just about anything else you might care to name including drinking.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    scientists drink a fair amount of beer in my experience.

  • RedZenGenoist

    @Razib: there are two, discrete and distinct ideas in Gattaca:

    1) “neurological condition: 60% probability, heart disorder: 99% probability, dumb opinions about Star Wars, 46% probability, life expectancy: 30.2 years”.

    2) “keep in mind, this child is still you. Simply the best of you.”

    The first idea – “powerful, phenotypic prediction”, as you call it – is never intended to be deterministic. Those are just numbers, like “white male, MAOA polymorphism: 1.8% probability of death in car crash”. Vincent proves the non-deterministic point, which is the directors stated intent: it’s possible to choose to be an outlier. To an extent, anyway.

    The second idea is the interesting idea, and the one I refer to. IE, will people screen their babies, stacking the odds.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    will people screen their babies, stacking the odds.

    people are. so that’s not a major issue.

    i’ve never watched the movie, only heard people describe it. so i was under a clear misimpression. i assume a lot of the respondents are too.

  • RedZenGenoist

    Right. This is why I’m baffled that a geneticist would say that Gattaca is “unrealistic”, it’s already being done (primitively, for now… only eradicating obviously prejudicial conditions, not yet selecting FOR what we desire), and it encompasses more each year. I think it’s likely, as you say, that people on your poll just don’t know what they’re answering, the question is vague. But in reality, I’ve met people who answered negatively specifically to idea 2), and it baffles me.

    Here, Razib :)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=48-hnujqpoA
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lP1cCjBkWZU

  • April Brown

    Ah, it’s a cool movie, though it got trashed a lot. Should check it out. One premise I found interesting was the idea that job interviews were conducted entirely by genetic analysis – no resume, no chatting with the candidate, just a urine test. Sort of reminds me of some of the crap I’ve seen HR departments do, refusing to even bother interviewing people who didn’t have the right degree, even in fields like internet startups (like anybody had a degree in that back in 1999) or now with the State Department, where once you get out into the field the officers straight out of masters degree programs in international politics tend to be kind of useless.

    I think gattacca is implausible because there’s no way your typical HR department could even pretend to use complex data like a person’s genome to make a hiring decision. Unless they are REALLY self delusional. Ugh, I guess that could happen. /sigh

  • RedZenGenoist

    #17: They were not “hiring” him based on his DNA.

    The “interview” is to ascertain Jeromes identity. Like checking his ID. He had already sent Jeromes CV to Gattaca. The CV and genetic profile, in combination, qualify him for the training program.

    They were admitting him, based on his resume + DNA, into a training program, where he is supposed to excel (over a period of months), outcompeting a huge throng of brilliant, healthy astronaut candidates.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    Count me among those who also never watched Gattaca, and just presumed the question was asking if a society where large-scale genomic engineering was possible, and if so if it was desirable.

    More generally, I think your level of education might have some rotated numbers. I thought it was odd so few Biologists would have PHDs, so I counted up:

    38 PHDs
    10 MS
    14 BS
    3 Junior college.

    PHDs should comprise 58% of the biologist sample. Given the non-scientist number is close, I’m thinking the numbers on education at least were rotated.

  • jb

    Could you give us some idea of what percentage of your regular readers have taken the survey so far?

    Also, how did you arrive at your list of blogs to ask about? I notice a disproportionate number of responders read Steve Sailer, John Hawks, and Dienekes; but that makes sense to me, because those are the blogs in the list that, like GNXP, have a heavy focus on human genetics (Hawks & Dienekes), or politics and human nature from a point of view that acknowledges the importance of genetics (Sailer).

  • http://3lbmonkeybrain.blogspot.com/ Mike Keesey (@tmkeesey)

    Gattaca is that rare example of an enjoyable hard sci-fi film. I think in judging its plausibility you have to weigh it against the rest of its genre, and it comes out extremely favorably.

    2001: A Space Odyssey is a good point of comparison. Did everything in it come true? Obviously not. Is it well-researched compared to other sci-fi films? Absolutely.

    At any rate, if you haven’t seen the movie, you probably shouldn’t be answering the question.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #19, u are correct. i fixed that.

    Could you give us some idea of what percentage of your regular readers have taken the survey so far?

    well…i’ve never gotten more than ~600 responses to a survey. i think that mid-500s serves as a benchmark for those who read every day an engage. google gives a really high number for regular visitors within a month, so i’m not sure i’m reading it right. i assume you can at least multiple the 600 by 2. much of the sitemeter traffic seems to be search engine related.

    Also, how did you arrive at your list of blogs to ask about?

    previous times i’ve asked, and also referrals (lots of time people leave comments linking to my blog, even when the blog itself, like why evolution is true, does not link much to me).

  • Chris_T_T

    22 – It appears the non-biologist education attainment values are still flipped.

    It is the rare biologist indeed that gets involved in the creationism/evolution ‘debate’. There are actual controversies in biology that are far more interesting.

  • Emma

    I love Gattaca. The movy tries to explain that eugenics is soo awful by showing that if you cheat the system, a guy with a bad heart condition can become an anstronaut – so presumably he will be able to have a happy heart attack in zero gravity.

    Seing that Steve Sailer’s blog have many fans among Gnxp readers I just tried a few of the latest posts but I just don’t get it.

  • http://sep.stanford.edu/sep/prof/ Jon Claerbout

    You’ve fitted a straight line to econ lib vrs social lib. Had you done it the other way around, you would have found a completely different straight line. I think you’d be happier using something called “total least squares”.

  • Chris_T_T

    24 – The heart condition badly undermined the point of the film. Even modern NASA would never let the protagonist become an astronaut – for good reason too. Not only is his life endangered, but it puts the rest of the crew at risk as well.

  • pconroy

    @ 3, Karl,

    After all, the HBD community is (no offense to those readers) an internet subculture which isn’t particularly representative of the views of other educated westerners.

    Why do you say this, I’m curious?!

    IMO, those who identify with the HBD community are just the tip of the iceberg of those who see the importance of HBD. Most of those who don’t openly identify, are either extremely left-liberal (i.e. Marxist sympathizers) or being disingenuous…

    I do understand that in lefty quarters – especially on campus – there is some stigma to admitting publicly to HBD sympathies, but that’s not the same as not having them, do you see the difference?

  • Karl Zimmerman

    27 –

    You suggest a “silent majority” exists for your opinions. Do you have data to back this up?

    IMHO the national zeitgeist in America still strongly “leans toward nurture,” albeit less on gender these days. This is almost as true on the right as it is the left. The difference is most American conservatives talk about social influences in different ways “culture of poverty” for example, or a “cycle of unwed motherhood.”

    Are there people in the U.S. who think there are biological differences between the races which are not actively part of the “HBD” community? Sure. However, for the most part they hold these beliefs because of preconcieved notions, not access to any actual data. They are bigots.

    Furthermore, most of those who I’ve met who fall into this category are of working-class background, and if not actually dim bulbs themselves, they are not people who place a high value on intelligence. If you’re white and have an IQ of 93, the difference between average black/white IQ matters far less. These people might talk about moral depravity, or crime, but they don’t talk about test scores.

    But really, I was talking about HBD supporters not being very representative of the average commenter you would find on a science-focused blog. And the data in the other thread shows this is true – few social conservatives on this site don’t read Stephen Sailer’s blog for example. The scientifically literate are almost entirely left liberals or libertarians.

  • pconroy

    @28, Karl,

    But really, I was talking about HBD supporters not being very representative of the average commenter you would find on a science-focused blog

    Not true. Anyone who studies science/biology understands and appreciates HBD – it’s only non-scientists who imagine there is any doubt about this!

  • Karl Zimmerman

    Uhh…

    Look at Razib’s post above. Look at his points.

    1. That biologists are less likely to believe in non-environmental race and gender differences.

    2. That they are around 50% less likely to read Steve Sailer’s blog.

    3. They are more likely to support feminism.

    4. He says in the first paragraph following the chart that “the biologists who read this weblog tend to be more conventionally Left-liberal in their views”

    Right there, straight from the mouth of God so to speak.

  • Brel

    To me the greatest source of surprise came from the fact that a majority (albeit slim) of biologists believe that there are non-environmental racial differences in personality and intelligence. Indeed, more biologists believe in racial differences in intelligence than believe in sex differences in intelligence! I would have figured that there’s stronger evidence for the latter (shorter tails for women) than the former.

    Perhaps Razib’s blog attracts a certain sort of biologist, just as it attracts a certain sort of layman.

  • pconroy

    @30, Karl,

    So what’s your point? Biologist on this blog are Left/Liberal – therefore Left/Liberal notions are correct – is that it?

    What you are missing – and what seems obvious to me – is that there are many reasons that, for instance, people do not read Steve Sailor. It could be:

    1. They cannot understand his reasoning – i.e. they are stupid
    2. Others have advised them not to read – and for group identity reasons they don’t – i.e. they are partisans, who engage in signalling
    3. They do read his blog – but don’t admit it – i.e. many people, including biologists
    4. They find that the major points of HBD are proven and so reading more doesn’t interest them – like reading blogs about why evolution is correct – i.e. it’s passe

    For me, it’s #4 above, what is it for you?

  • Karl Zimmerman

    32 –

    Quite honestly, you’re being tiresome here. As far as I can understand your basic outlook is:

    1. I am correct
    2. Most smart people secretly agree with me
    3. People who don’t agree with me are mostly stupid
    4. The smart people who don’t agree with me are Marxists
    5. Marxists should be killed (from a comment in another thread)

    If this is your basic attitude, I don’t see why any sort of debate should be fruitful.

    Regardless, I was making no conclusions whatsoever to the rightness of HBD. As I see it, both those opposed to, as well as those who support, the conclusions of HBD do so for largely irrational reasons. Either they are attracted to – or repulsed by – the arguments due to their own ideology and other preconceived notions. Frankly, the only way I think you could ensure a genuinely objective belief (as opposed to objective data) would be to get the proverbial anthropologist from Mars. Smart people disbelieving it in no way invalidates HBD – any more than smart people believing it validates it. Smart people believed in a lot of bullshit in centuries past after all. The scientific method is what finds truth, not genius.

    Speaking personally, I find Steve Sailer to be an intellectual lightweight who frequently makes arguments from lazy (and sometimes personal) anecdote. I suppose it’s rah-rah for people who agree with him, but I can’t see why anyone who disagrees would find anything to relate to there.

    Data is what wins arguments, at least for me. The day that someone does a study that correlates white admixture to IQ in blacks is the day I’ll start believing. Given many earlier studies have looked at skin tone, blood type, or reported ancestry, and found very weak to no correlation, I’m pretty certain what the results will be.

  • pconroy

    @33, Karl,

    And I find you tiresome, as pretty much everything you hold dear has been disproved by science long ago – yet you eagerly/desperately cling to it, and not only that, you spout it on a science blog to boot – how absurd is that!

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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