April 28, 2005

A Marketing Plan for Biology: Part 2 - the Market

If you want to read Part 1, follow this link.

Before any marketing plan can be development, a little market research is in order. We need to know what we are up against and what are reasonable marketing goals. Normally this is an iterative process that starts with easy to obtain research results and then a market research regiment that will improve the understanding of the market and the competition is defined. I'm not sure our marketing budget can afford this approach. A survey of publicly available poll results will need to suffice. The goal of this survey is to determine the current "market" share for modern biological science vs. creationism and to get a sense of how firm "brand" acceptance is. To maintain some focus, only polls take in the US will be considered. Also, in this survey I am not considering polls of what scientists think. Only what biologists think would be relevant. They are a small, if highly dedicated, part of the general public and they overwhelmingly (~99%) are evolutionists. It is exactly their "product" that I seek to market.

I will start with various polls that have been done over the last few years. I believe NBC's telephone poll taken between March 8 and 10, of this year, is the most recent. This poll was entitled Religion and American Life and most of the questions concerned religion. The fourteenth question and its results are as follows:

Which do you think is more likely to actually be the explanation for the origin of human life on earth: evolution or the biblical account of creation?
  • Evolution - 33%
  • Total biblical account of creation - 57%
  • Don't know/none of the above - 10%
Margin of error: plus or minus 3%

Observations concerning this poll:

First, the total context of the poll dealt with religion. After thirteen questions on religion, spiritually and the relationship between religion and government and religion and various social issues this, the only question that concerns belief in a scientific subject, appears. It is likely that respondents interpreted the question as a religious question rather than a science question.

Second, only two questions had more "don't know" type responses: "What is your religion?" (14% not sure/refused) and "Do you think of yourself as more of a religious person or more of a spiritual person, or do you think of yourself as neither?" (11% Don't know). The question with the next fewer "don't knows" (8%) was the first question in the poll, "Would you say that things in the country are going in the right direction, or have they pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track?"

Third, the question focused on human life only. There are miss-guided popular evolutionists who think that evolution, while applying to plants and other animals in some way does not apply to humans. I have no hard data on this but many of my business colleagues have ideas something like this.

All of this makes me think that the 33% thinking evolution explains the origin of human life is somewhat understated and the 57% favoring the biblical account is somewhat overstated. By how much? I'm not sure but other polls may tell us. And, it is better to use the most pessimistic numbers for planning purposes.

Now, let's look at the November 2004 nationwide Gallop poll as reported by the National Center for Science Education .

Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings?
  • Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process. - 38%
  • Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process. - 13%
  • God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so. - 45%
  • The remainder expressed no opinion.

As the National Center for Science Education notes:

These results are also similar to those from previous Gallup polls, which extend back to 1982.

Another relevant question was,

Which of the following statements comes closest to describing your views about the Bible?

  • The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word, -34%

  • The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, - 48%

  • The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man?" - 15%

  • The remainder expressed no opinion.

  • Note that fewer people think that the Bible should be taken literally than believe that god created humans in their present form rather recently and this by a significant margin (34% to 45%). I'm not sure what to think of this, other than it may indicate a softness in their opinions.

    For the reasons noted, the Gallop poll likely reflects the national perspective on the issue of evolution better than the NBC poll.

    The demographic assessment is also important.

    Demographically, the article reports, belief that evolution is well-supported by the evidence is strongest "among those with the most education, liberals, those living in the West, those who seldom attend church, and ... Catholics," and weakest among "those with the least education, older Americans ..., frequent church attendees, conservatives, Protestants, those living in the middle of the country, and Republicans."

    I will return to the point about Catholics and evolution in a later post. I think it has strategic importance and I hope the new pope doesn't take it away from us.

    Another recent Gallop poll focused on the opinions of teenagers. I quote from the Western Recorder.

    The survey of 1,028 teenagers ages 13-17 found that 38 percent of respondents don’t believe in evolution, believing instead that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so."

    Another 43 percent believe that humans "developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided" the process. All total, 81 percent believe that God was somehow involved.

    Only 18 percent believe that evolution took place without God playing a role.

    The Gallup poll also asked teens their opinion about the evidence behind Darwin’s theory of evolution. Only 37 percent said they thought Darwin’s theory was "well supported by evidence." Thirty percent said it was "just one of many theories" and one that "has not been well supported by evidence." Thirty-three percent said they did not yet know enough about Darwin’s theory to answer the question.

    Two observations: first, 33% of teenagers thought they did not know enough. This is good news. They are educable. Second, by a significant margin (18% vs. 45%), teenagers were less likely to believe in evolution than adults if a god was not involved. This is not such good news.

    A November 2004 poll conducted by CBS is also instructive. This poll was conducted between November 18 and 21. Much of this poll dealt with the distribution of beliefs about evolution between voting blocks, I will start with the voting block neutral results and then look at what I think is the most relevant of the other data. If anyone has or knows how to get the actual questions and raw data from this poll, I would like to see it.

    On creation verses evolution:
    • God created humans in present form - 55%
    • Humans evolved, God guided the process - 27%
    • Humans evolved, God did not guide process - 13%
    • Don't know - 5%

    Margin of error: plus or minus 3%

    The percentage of respondents who think god created humans in the present form in this poll is about the same as in the NBC poll. While many biologists think those who agreed that humans evolved with god guiding the process are (or may be) wrong minded, I believe that they are an important segment that needs to be mobilized by our marketing effort. More on this below and in a later post. For now, suffice it to say that, they are a significant group of evolutionists among the general public.

    Because the current battlefield, chosen by the creationists, is the classroom, this poll's question about what should be taught is important.

    • Creationism and evolution - 65%
    • Creationism instead of evolution - 37%

    I don't know what the exact questions were, but on the face of it this is very scary stuff. I think the numbers add to more than 100% because there were at least two different questions with all or most of the second group responding favorably to a "creationism and evolution" question. This indicates that the "teach the controversy" advocates are currently winning the PR war at the grass roots level. Note that a higher percentage think that creationism and evolution should be taught than think god created humans in present form. I worry that there is a kind of "fairness" doctrine that affect these numbers. One of the things we may need to overcome is this particular spirit of fairness when it comes to pseudo-science.

    A couple of regional polls are instructive. A poll conducted between January 31 and February 10, 2005 in Georgia is referred to as the Peachtree Poll. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5%.

    • Public schools should teach evolution to the exclusion of other theories - 17%
    • Religious theories should be included in the classroom - 54%
    • Schools should not teach evolution at all - 23%
    • Didn't know - 6%

    This is actually more favorable to evolution than the CBS poll. Only 23% as opposed to 37% nationally believe that only some form of creationism should be taught. Again the difference could well depend on the way the question was asked and where it came in the poll. My guess is that in the case of the Georgia poll, these responses came from the same question rather than different questions. This would explain the lower numbers in the Georgia poll.

    The other recent regional poll was of college freshmen in Minnesota. The poll was conducted by the Minnesota Daily in March of this year.

    83 percent of University students believe in the theory that humans evolve over time. The remaining 17 percent of respondents believe God created man 10,000 years ago and humans have not evolved.

    That is good news but care should be taken. First, notice that the choice seemed to be between evolution and some form of young earth creationism. Second, when this same data is presented in pie chart form the captions are "Man evolved, either with or without, gods guidance (83%)" and "God created man in the present form and man has not evolved (17%)"

    I need to mention and dispose of the online poll conducted by the American Society of Agronomy (ASA). Voluntary online polls are worthless. Jason Rosenhouse at Evolutionblog says "worse than useless." And the way Dembski and the ID creationists have misused this so-called poll proves his point.

    A word of caution about polls: They are only valid if use descriptively. There is always a dangerous risk of using them proscriptively. In other words, polls offer a measure of how things are. They say nothing about how they should be. Reed Cartwright, writing for Panda's Thumb is correct in criticizing the misuse of a 2001 Zogby poll and a Steinberg Poll. In a Senate amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act that was dropped in conference committee, it appears that Senator Santorum was using these polls proscriptively.

    Finally, I want to turn to a few qualitative issues. First, there have been several articles on the various pressures on teachers to be less than rigorous in teaching evolution. You can read about them here and there. Early in the life of this blog I did a post on one. I quote from a March 23, 2005 USA Today article.

    Nearly one-third of science teachers who participated in a national survey say they feel pressured to include creationism-related ideas in the classroom.

    This does not bode well for good science teaching. Teachers, like all of us, adjust their approach when they feel intimidated. Any marketing strategy must support teachers at all levels.

    Second, opinion leaders as highly placed as the President of the United States have encouraged anti-science thinking with well publicized remarks. In the 2000 campaign President Bush famously said,

    On the issue of evolution, the verdict is still out on how God created the Earth.

    He also said at the same time.

    I’d make it a goal to make sure that local folks got to make the decision as to whether or not they said Creationism has been a part of our history, and whether or not people ought to be exposed to different theories as to how the world was formed.

    These ideas strengthen creationists on two fronts. First, they give authority to pseudo -science and second, they contribute to false ideas about the democratization of scientific results. This caution is similar to our caution about using polls proscriptively. Scientific results are independent of public or Presidential opinion.

    This post is already longer than I wanted, but there is one more item that needs to be addressed: "brand recognition." Do the users of other brands know about your brand? Do they know enough to make an informed choice? I could find no hard data on these questions with regard to creationism and evolution. For reasons I will develop in a subsequent post, I believe that there is very high brand recognition of all competing brands. Nearly all creationists have heard of evolution and nearly all evolutionists have heard of creationism. However, creationists tend to know far less about evolution then evolutionists know about creationism? This impedes informed choice on the part of creationists.

    Tentative Conclusions:
    Based on the polls surveyed above it appears to me that the following is a good working summary of the current "market share" or, perhaps better, "brand acceptance" in the market we are studying. Any attempt to be more precise than one digit would be futile and useless.

    • Hard core, young Earth creationists (YEC) - 10%
    • Those that are certain that a creator had a major hand in things but are not YECs - 40%
    • Those that believe a god or gods influenced an otherwise evolutionary process - 30%
    • Scientific evolutionists (no god needed, but not necessarily no god) - 20%

    In other words, the split is about 50/50 between creationists and evolutionists. Where do I put ID creationist in the mix? They are in the second group. However, I suspect that very few members of the general public would view themselves as ID creationists.

    The real problem is not just the numbers. It is the level of dedication to their brand. The YECs are immovably dedicated and many are aggressive in their dedication. They believe that the price of changing their position is eternal damnation for themselves. In addition, they believe that they have an obligation to save everyone else from the damnation that they fear. This group must be marginalized by any marketing effort.

    I worry that much of the second group also worries about theological issues as they consider scientific issues but there just may be some softness in this group that can, over time, be converted to our brand. Our strategy must move some of these folks into the third group. Care must be taken not to harden any soft positions in this group.

    Some members of the third group must be moved into the fourth group.

    The real problem we have is long-term commitments that translate into significant market inertia. Remember that the Gallop numbers have barely changed since 1982! What has changed is that the marketing effort of the competition has greatly intensified. They may not be increasing market share but they are increasing share of mind. Over time share of mind translates into market share, not to mention political power.

    In the next post, Part III, I will work to further segment the market and define specific measurable goals for the campaign. I will also sharpen some definitions. I have left some things a little vague as we plowed through the data. Then, in perhaps part IV, I will outline and evaluate that marketing strategy of the competition.

    Posted by Duane Smith at April 28, 2005 7:58 PM | Read more on Evolution |

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    Probably what we need to do is lobby the Gallup polling organization to do a poll on science, the real stuff that involves evolution, and see how that comes out.

    I would like to see a poll which, without having twenty questions on faith before, asks: "If you got a diagnosis of cancer, if required to choose, would you rely on prayer without medical treatment, or would you rely on medical treatment without prayer?"

    "If you were told that a cure for your cancer is completely the product of Darwin's theory of evolution, would refuse treatment because you find the theory to be sinful?"

    "Do you think that children in public schools should be acquainted with the most important ideas from western civilization, generally?

    "Do you think that children should learn about Marx's economic and political ideas in history classes, as they pertain to the development of the Soviet Union and Cold War?"

    "Do you think children in history classes should be encouraged to question the Constitution and U.S. forms of government, and critically consider alternatives such as communism or monarchy?"

    "On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being completely incompetent and 10 being a master, rate your abilty to do mathematics . . . understanding of history . . . understanding of biology . . . chemistry . . . physics . . . economics . . . civics . . ." etc.

    "In your pre-college schooling, did you spend a significant amount of time being taught Darwinian evolution, to the point that you can carefully explain what it is Darwin proposed and the science he used as evidence to back it up?"

    A poll on what people really know, and how they come to know it, about science, not posing it as something different from faith, would provide useful and interesting results.

    Posted by: Ed Darrell at April 30, 2005 9:09 AM


    I couldn't agree more. If the "marketing budget" was greater, I would go after the exact information you ant polled for. It would also be good to use focus group to fine tune the data. But, alas, we must work with what we have. I a latter post I will indicate how some of this information can be gleaned from existing data but this post was just getting too long.

    Posted by: Duane at April 30, 2005 10:25 AM

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