Dear News Media…

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | January 23, 2010 8:05 pm



Comments (10)

  1. nathan

    Thank you thank you thank you. I support this message wholeheartedly. This is a major pet peeve of mine.

  2. Adeist

    Not bad. But there are lots more.

    5. Find out how the sample was selected. If the subset chosen is linked to the quantity under study, the results will be biased.
    6. The quoted errors are usually calculated assuming an independent sample selection, the true errors may be bigger.
    7. How many people refused to take part? Could the balance of results be different among them?
    8. Ask what post-survey adjustments were made. Professionals sometimes knowingly take selection-biased samples and then try to correct for them mathematically.
    9. Did everyone tell the truth? Some things people are embarrassed to admit. Did everyone understand the question?
    10. People will often give the answer they think the surveyor wants or expects. Are the questions worded to hide that? Are any of the questions loaded? Many issues are in shades of grey – do the tick-box categories cover all cases?

    I could go on.

    Incidentally, your point number 1 might not be true if the errors are positively correlated.

    And on point number 2, scientific facts are not established by *any* sort of opinion poll, (unless you’re studying opinions).

  3. Ian

    Panel no 2 is historically inaccurate.

  4. Ian

    I would also day that in respect of point no 2, the example given is historically inaccurate. Very few people in Galileo’s time believed the earth was flat.

  5. moptop

    The importance of polls on global warming is not to show which side is “right”, and which side is “wrong”; in that regard they are dispositive of nothing. Polls tell you whether your rhetoric is working or, as in the case of global warming alarmism, no so much.

    What they tell you is that mockery of your opponents, instead of answering their objections, eventually devolves into mockery of the majority. You can say that you are tired of answering objections, then people conclude that you must think the issues in not nearly as important as you claim.

    If you are losing in the polls, the message is not do more of the same only louder.

  6. moptop

    P.S. It seems to me that many of the posters here are more interested in feeling like a member of a “smarter” minority than creating a political majority that might result in concrete accomplishment.

  7. Georg

    The necessity of this plea is obvious,
    as is its vanity.

  8. “It seems to me that many of the posters here are more interested in feeling like a member of a “smarter” minority than creating a political majority that might result in concrete accomplishment.” -moptop

    If being part of the majority didn’t require a science lobotomy i’d be all for it…
    What we need is a science-y philosopher king state in which the science educated elite rule over the ignorant masses…

    national physics care plan to include pre-emptive as well as emergency and in class round the clock coverage of all critical thinking needs…

  9. Brian Too

    Is the lady news anchor wearing a ‘stache? How European!


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


See More

Collapse bottom bar