Wednesday, May 10, 2006

MSNBC poll says UFOs exist...or does it?, sometimes referred to as a news source, ran a live poll about UFOs which seems to indicate that the majority of those polled believe that UFOs are real. But let's take a look at the phrasing of the poll...
The British Ministry of Defense confirmed that a secret study completed in December 2000 had found no evidence that "flying saucers" or unidentified flying objects were anything other than natural phenomena. What do you think?

- UFOs certainly exist. There's no way we're alone in the universe.

- UFOs might exist. Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence.

- UFOs are pure science fiction.

- I'm not sure.

OK. Statement number one found the majority in agreement...40%!! Man, seems pretty impressive for the pro-UFO camp, eh? But, in reality, statement number one is actually TWO sentences, isn't it? Let's take a look at that second sentence...

"There's no way we're alone in the universe."

I am confident that the vast majority of people believe this sentence. By tagging that sentence on to the previous sentence, and placing it at the end of the statement, is it any wonder that the majority agreed with that statement?

This also seems to indicate that when people think of UFOs, they think of spaceships from outer space...alien spacecraft. When the statement is phrased in this way, you may very well disagree that UFOs are certainly real, but you likely very much agree that we are not alone in the universe. So, the statement actually infers that if you believe we are not alone in the universe, then you obviously believe that UFOs are real. This is hogwash. Even though the majority agreed with this statement, less than half of those polled actually agreed with it. My suspicion is that if the statement had not included that second sentence, we may have seen even less agreement.

Now, the second statement sounds a bit more balanced..."UFOs might exist. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." But this statement is troublesome, as well. If I agree that UFOs might exist, am I agreeing that some UFOs are alien spacecraft, or am I agreeing that there are some flying objects that we have not been able to identify? Adding the sentence about absence of evidence seems to legitimize agreeing with the previous sentence, but it really has nothing to do with whether there are UFOs, since we all know that there are things that fly that we cannot identify. So the second sentence seems to imply that if you agree with sentence two, you must agree with sentence one, which again is illogical unless the premise is that UFOs are alien spacecraft. This statement found 32% of those polled in agreement. Less than a third.

The remaining statements are definitive, one sentence statements. Statement 3 is basically, UFOs don't exist except in science fiction. Well, this is patently false, since military, civilian, and commercial airline history all include stories of unidentified flying objects. So, if you agree with this statement, you must be saying that you don't think UFOs are alien spacecraft. 24% of those polled agreed with this.

And finally, we have "I'm not sure". A paltry 4% agreed. Of course, people who take polls usually have an opinion on the subject of the poll, so there's no surprise that very few had no opinion.

In summary, this was a very flawed poll. The clear intent of the poll phrasing was to elicit more agreement with statement one or two, and only a narrow-minded skeptic would choose statement 3. And most that aren't sure simply didn't take the poll.

There's nothing new about skewing poll questions to support a thesis. It happens in political polling all the time.

But as a method of determining what people think about UFOs, this poll is useless.

A far better poll might have been phrased this way...
Please indicate your level of agreement with the following statements, with 1
representing total disagreement, and 5 representing total agreement...

1. UFOs are alien spacecraft from another planet, dimension, or some other place.

2. UFOs are misidentified or misunderstood phenomena, but they are not alien

3. There isn't enough evidence available to determine what UFOs are. Just because we can't
explain something doesn't mean it's from elsewhere.

Now, where do you stand on THIS poll? I'm guessing I'd get an awful lot of 5s on that last statement...and a lot of 3s on the first two.

At least we would learn something from it, unlike this MSNBC mess.

[hat tip to UFO Updates]

1, 1, and 5.

It’s indeed an absurd poll. Answer #1 and #4 are the only one which comes close to being reasonable. UFOs certainly exist I.E. people certainly see aircraft that they cannot identify and it’s very unlikely that there is no intelligent life in other solar systems.

#4 is a nice agnostic statement and is probably the most truthful of the set.
No... #42, I suspect, but certainly whatever provides Mr. Pettingill the most ontological solace, by any means... somebody pat his hand and tell him its going to be OK.

There, there Mr. Pettingill, just keep chanting "spin...rate... charge...spin...rate... charge..." you'll be OK. ...'K? ...'K.
AVG Blog --
You're right, it was an absurd poll. But that's quite fitting for MSNBC, considering they're an absurd station.

No wonder the media constantly smear the internet--now, we the people have a growing ability to disseminate, disect, and discuss information for ourselves, instead of passively accepting whatever lies these corporate jackasses try to feed us.
Wow, I sense a bit of hostility in that last comment. I wasn't responsible for that particular poll, but I'd say the best course is not to overthink these kinds of surveys. I think the person who put this one together was just trying to come up with a "yes, maybe, no, don't know" range of responses. I realize it could be worded better, especially for folks who take this issue quite seriously ... but hey, we corporate jackasses keep trying, and sometimes we actually listen to what you sages have to say. All the best, please feel free to send along e-mail if you want to keep in touch with (Came upon this through The Daily Grail, by the way.)
Thanks for your comments!

Paul -

I'm right there with ya!

Emperor -

I guess it all depends on whether you say UFO and think aliens or think...err...unidentified flying object. :)

Alfred -

You're playing pretty nice...keep it up! LOL

hmmm -

I agree with your remarks about the internet. But buyer beware...just because you read something on the internet doesn't necessarily mean it holds more water than the MSM...only mostly!! LOL

Alan -

Thanks for stopping by! And while many may mistrust msnbc BECAUSE it is msnbc, I tend to take each story as it comes. This was just a really good example of how polls can achieve a desired result of a pollster merely by the way the poll questions are phrased.

And a fond hat tip to the Daily Grail!!

And Alan, I'm indebted to msnbc for Keith Olbermann, if nothing else. :)

Thanks again to you all!
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