Miss USA answers on the Evolution question

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The fact that the winner of the Miss USA competition (Miss California, yay) supported evolution, whereas most of the other contestants did not, has gotten a lot of attention in the newspapers and blogs. But I’m not sure how many people have actually watched the answers that the Miss USA contestants gave to the evolution question. Here it is:

I haven’t watched every last answer yet – gotta go to post-Evolution 2011 bar-hopping – but I wasn’t amazingly impressed with even Miss California’s answer (she is at 1:52 if you want to skip there). Sure, she says she’s a science geek (and she used the words “history geek” in answer to another question…good line I guess), and supports evolution. And unlike most responses she doesn’t do a “yes, teach evolution, but teach both sides” sort of answer. But I guess it would asking too much for one of the contestants to say, “Actually, I’m a [scientific field] major and I know that evolution is the central organizing theory of biology, and everyone should learn it as part of a complete basic science education.”

Anyway, it is educational for us evonerds and academics to watch the video. The answers are closer to the kinds of default answers you get when journalists spring the evolution question on politicians. The Miss USA contestants are much closer to where the general American public is at than we are.

PS: Lauren Carter, Vermont, at 13:20 has the only decent answer I’ve heard on this video.

Hat tip: My friend Ashley Eden, who’s awesomer than this whole collection put together.

67 Comments

Random other video: At NESCent’s Evolution 2011 video competition, these were the contestants: http://evolutionvideo.wordpress.com/2011-entries/ . My favorite: Odonata.

The only thing that came to mind while watchng this was, Eloi.

Dog that’s depressing.

Someone needs to teach these women what a theory is.

@ Mike Elzinga, I take it you are referring to The Time Machine.

wildcat48 said:

@ Mike Elzinga, I take it you are referring to The Time Machine.

Yup. :-)

I think the positive impact is being underestimated here.

It is perfectly legal and honest to appear in one of these pageants, but the contestants are highly, highly biased to give answers that they think are the most inoffensive, slanting to the conservative and religious side. For many religious viewers, the contest is already shocking and sinful in some ways, and that this is partly done to compensate for that issue.

Although the career payoff is pretty low, the women who go for these contests take them very seriously.

The bad news is that a number of contestants thought that smug creationism was the “right answer”, but the very, very good news is that the contestant who gave the reasonable answer went on to win the contest. If anyone thought that arrogant, facile creationism was a key to victory, they turned out to be wrong.

Not many eighteen year olds could give the fantasy answer from above, nor would giving an answer that long or complex necessarily be the choice of a canny contestant who actually could, if she wanted to win.

The US public is not majority science-denying YEC by any stretch of the imagination, but they don’t like to “contradict religion” either. Virtually all polls the mention evolution are heavily, heavily biased, dealing only with human evolution and presenting the strongest evolution choice as “contradicting religion”. This type of poll biasing is not restricted to this subject.

Unfortunately, some science supporters seem to be biased to accept such polls at face value. A particularly silly way to interpret such polls would be “I am very superior to half of Americans, how wonderful”. And a silly way to express that sentiment would be to constantly express exaggerated “concern” about biased US poll results. But in the first place, the polls are biased, and in the second place, the US is a major world influence and will continue to be even if the economy declines. All rational people should hope for strong science education in the US.

I once saw a poll that asked whether plants and bacteria had evolved, and it had something like a 70% “yes” rate. I have searched for that poll many times since, and it seems to have disappeared. This is not so surprising; there are literally innumerable polls taken in the US for many reasons; in may cases the results aren’t even publicly released.

I’d love to see some polls that asked about evolution in a non-biased way.

Personally, I’m more interested in presidential candidates answers to this question than I am in Miss Ohio. Maybe we will see this type of question in the next round of presidential debates. Unfortunately for the candidates, a definite answer is a sure way to lose votes, which to me would be the hallmark of a good candidate.

Mike Elzinga said:

wildcat48 said:

@ Mike Elzinga, I take it you are referring to The Time Machine.

Yup. :-)

Q. Which is the odd one out: HG Wells, Jonathan Wells or Tunbridge Wells?

Harold makes a valid point - although it is depressing that 49 of 51 contestants said something about creationism being ok to be taught in schools - we don’t know if they really believe this or if this is the answer they (or thier coaches) believe to be what the judges want to hear - Ms. California also was asked a question about legalization of marijuana- she took the stance that marijuana as ‘medicine’ should be legal but implied that abuse was a danger (recreational use?)

it is a sad statement that 49/51 either held the view that creationism is legitimate in science curiculum or were willing to publicly advocate that view

I have to wonder WHY Miss America bimbos…err, contestants were asked about evolution vs. creationism. Inasmuch as creationism is at root a religious belief, they were being asked about their religion. Is that a germane question for women whose strongest talent is parading in bikinis and spike heels? Is it even legal? The women are essentially applying for a job–can job applicants be asked about their religious beliefs?

Maybe what the organizers had in mind was avoiding another fundagelical nutcase like Carrie Prejean getting the crown.

Just Bob said: Maybe what the organizers had in mind was avoiding another fundagelical nutcase like Carrie Prejean getting the crown.

It’s either that or maybe the organizers were reacting to the publicity over Louisiana high school senior Zack Kopplin’s effort to repeal the misnamed Louisiana Science Education Act.

Just Bob said:

I have to wonder WHY Miss America bimbos…err, contestants were asked about evolution vs. creationism. Inasmuch as creationism is at root a religious belief, they were being asked about their religion. Is that a germane question for women whose strongest talent is parading in bikinis and spike heels? Is it even legal? The women are essentially applying for a job–can job applicants be asked about their religious beliefs?

Maybe what the organizers had in mind was avoiding another fundagelical nutcase like Carrie Prejean getting the crown.

they are contestants not applicants so (IANAL) I think the organizers CAN ask about religion if they want to- no one said the contest has to be ‘fair’ in order to be legal

I listened to the lot of them. I should have taken notes. A majority ended up with “teach the controversy” bullshit.

If anyone thinks that any of them are making any sense with their “both sides” nonsense, just ask yourself if it would make sense if the question concerned teaching about a round earth.

Notice that the question that was asked concerned only evolution. Nothing was mentioned about “both sides” or any religious positions. If the contestants wanted to interject comments about their own personal religious beliefs, that doesn’t mean that the question was in any way improper.

Mike Elzinga said:

The only thing that came to mind while watchng this was, Eloi.

Spoken like a true Morloch!

All my favorite blogs (or websites) have posted this. The Sensuous Curmudgeon was first–http://sensuouscurmudgeon.wordpress[…]t-evolution/. I just got done with a response on Greg Laden’s blog where he has some interesting insights: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2[…]s_a.php#more Here’s my response to his post, I tend to agree more with you on this one Nick:

I don’t think the answers given show much of a science victory. Only a couple of these women said that evolution should be taught because it’s good science, Miss New Mexico did it best. Miss South Carolina was close, but added “only if parents agreed to it”. Miss Vermont was pretty good too but still put it in religious context. Miss Washington said that “facts, not theories” should be taught, implying that evolution is a theory–at least I think that’s what she meant.

Most of them described or implied that evolution is a sort of belief system. Some used the word perspective, some used theory (read hypothesis the way they said it) others used opinions or options. I also heard point of view, perspective and philosophy.

One contestent said “credited theories” should be taught and included creationism as one of those.

I think these women display a typical USian response to the question. Religion wasn’t even mentioned in the question, yet nearly all these women mentioned it in their response. What needs to be done is to remove any comparision to religion when discussing evolution. That would be real progress.

Besides I wanted to try this new commenting! I’m glad my favorite things didn’t change (the “new comments” and link and preview.

OK, I didn’t actually use preview that time. My parenthetical statement should read: (the “new comments” link and preview).

I did a little statistics and tried to be on the save side if the statements were ambiguous.

First concerning if the misses belief in evolution:

Just 1 has unambiguously said that she beliefs in evolution (California) while 4 have stated that they don’t (Alabama, Alaska, North Carolina, Tennessee).

Second concerning the question whether evolution should be taught in school:

It should not be taught: 2 (Alabama, Kentucky)

It should be up to the government / individual school: 2 (Arkansas, Indiana)

Total in favor of teaching: 47

Endorsements for teaching more or less without qualification / stressing the importance: 4 (Illinois, New Mexico, South Dakota, Vermont)

Should be taught so students get a different perspective in contrast to what they learn at home: 2 (Delaware, Idaho)

Should be taught (no reason given): 4 (California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Utah)

Should be an elective / parents should decide: 4 (Delaware, Iowa, South Carolina, Texas)

“Fact” of evolution should be taught not “theory”: 3 (Mississippi, Virginia, Washington)

Should be taught but the misses didn’t understand what evolution is: 3 (Alaska, Forida, Nevada)

Should be taught but along every perspective / both sides / religion: 22

The rest mostly has not explicitly stated that alternatives should be taught but has mentioned that students should at least be exposed to evolution to make up their mind.

More disturbing than the women’s lack of basic science knowledge was how almost all of them deliberately appeared stupid while answering it. It was necessary for them to appear to be unknowledgable - dumbed down. They wanted viewers to know that not only did they not know much about the subject, but they thought it was funny that they be asked about something related to science. The urge to give an answer that they thought wouldn’t upset anyone was secondary. The first consideration was that they not appear to be a “geek”. Only California and Vermont bucked the dumbing down programming. This is, of course, an old phenomena in our culture. Girls are the smartest kids in the class, until they become teenagers and are taught that they’re more attractive if they’re dumb.

Mike

lynnwilhelm said:

All my favorite blogs (or websites) have posted this. The Sensuous Curmudgeon was first–http://sensuouscurmudgeon.wordpress[…]t-evolution/.

Yes, that was my finest hour.

I don’t really consider this news worth screaming about. I couldn’t care less who wins a beauty pageant.

Somewhat OT (unless you consider the presidential race a beauty contest), but while you’re checking the Curmudgeon’s blog, check his thread on Michele Bachmann. IIUC, the treasurer of her PAC is an occasional commenter on PT. Hint, unlike Generalissimo Franco and me he’s not “still dead.”

The question that was asked was “Should evolution be taught in schools?” However judging from the responses, the majority of contestants heard it as “Should creationism be taught in schools?”

By itself, the question “Should evolution be taught in schools?” is rather ridiculous. Sort of like asking “Should reading be taught in schools?” and then hearing contestants respond by saying “No, I don’t believe in it” or “We should teach TV-watching skills alongside reading so we present both sides to students.”

Shocking and disheartening, to say the least. But then in a nation where polls show about 90 percent of the populace “believes” in tooth fairies or other omnipotent deities in the sky, and where two-thirds say creationism should be taught in school, this video is pretty much what I’d expect. Sad times for science.

Biomusicologist Wrote:

Shocking and disheartening, to say the least. But then in a nation where polls show about 90 percent of the populace “believes” in tooth fairies or other omnipotent deities in the sky, and where two-thirds say creationism should be taught in school, this video is pretty much what I’d expect.

While definitely disheartening, it should not be shocking. As Harold notes above, “The US public is not majority science-denying YEC by any stretch of the imagination.” Not sure if it’s what he means, but the polls you usually see show a consistent 40-45% over 30 years choosing the answer “humans were created in their present form in the last 10,000 years. But when the question is more strongly whether the Earth is that onld, only ~20% answer yes. Which suggests that the 40-45% includes OECs, and possibly many theistic evolutionists who are “thinking souls, not cells.” Most importantly, it shows that most people simply don’t think it through before answering.

When it comes to what ought to be taught, it gets even worse, as you note. That 2/3 (I have read as much as 3/4) must include many who accept evolution. I admit being in that group briefly in the ’90s - as a mid career chemist who had accepted evolution for 30 years. I realized my error fast (it was a classic “D’Oh! moment), but only because I understood the nature of science and was interested in evolution and the “debate.”

Also, that ~90% believe some pseudoscience/superstition should also warn us that that most of the 50-60% that accept evolution accept it for the wrong reason.

Put a bit more simply: most people don’t care about science. I would rather than they did, but personally it seems a bit condescending to make too much of it: “You bumpkins aren’t meeting up to the standards of us science geeks.”

Not much to be done but to sell science as best as possible and trust that some people will get into it. And I’ve put a fair amount of effort into that.

trnsplnt said: (snip) Girls are the smartest kids in the class, until they become teenagers and are taught that they’re more attractive if they’re dumb.

Mike

Xander: “Smart women are so hot!”

Willow: “Why didn’t you know that in 10th grade?”

Gary_Hurd said:

I listened to the lot of them. I should have taken notes. A majority ended up with “teach the controversy” bullshit.

I am with you there, most answers came with the “teach both sides” ..what the hell..which other “scientific” side… Also just 2-3 times I listened to the word “fact” ..very sad.

mrg Wrote:

Not much to be done but to sell science as best as possible and trust that some people will get into it. And I’ve put a fair amount of effort into that.

True, but I hate the word “sell,” because if one has to “sell” something it must not be good enough to “sell itself.”

Nevertheless we all must do something to make science more interesting and less threatening to the public. I’m not sure what and how, but I’m positive that 99% of the conversation needs to be outside of science class, or else it will be soon forgotten by the great majority. I’m also quite aware of difficulty of avoiding being perceived as condescending. So nothing will be easy, or fast. We do not have 1% of the luxuries that pseudoscience peddlers have. We have to counter many misconceptions, wrong definitions of terms, etc., before we even get to “what works.”

Frank J. -

Not sure if it’s what he means, but the polls you usually see show a consistent 40-45% over 30 years choosing the answer “humans were created in their present form in the last 10,000 years. But when the question is more strongly whether the Earth is that onld, only ~20% answer yes.

I actually did deal with that.

Virtually all polls the mention evolution are heavily, heavily biased, dealing only with human evolution and presenting the strongest evolution choice as “contradicting religion”. This type of poll biasing is not restricted to this subject

The polls are simply biased. Very biased.

Which suggests that the 40-45% includes OECs,

I really do think that actual honest-to-goodness “OECs” are rare birds, Frank.

OEC was a transitional form between naive, sincere, traditional non-political creationism and full acceptance of the theory of evolution.

You seem to have stumbled across a few, but if I happen to spot a Giant Condor a couple of times on a camping trip, that may give me the impression that they are quite common, but they aren’t.

and possibly many theistic evolutionists who are “thinking souls, not cells.”

Yes. The typical American doesn’t display much religion, but doesn’t want to “contradict” religion.

(My personal explanation, at a simplified level, is that two trends account for this. 1) The US was trending secular, but some churches got a shot of prestige as “voices of conscience” by being involved in the civil rights movement. 2) The “religious right” arose as a backlash against this, to “make sure that liberals could never use religion against us again”; it was grounded in pre-existing marginal fundamentalist sects in the south and few other rural areas, but is now a dominant part of the right wing alliance, and must be exaggeratedly kowtowed to by everyone who drinks Fox News koolaid.)

At any rate, whatever the explanation, you can bias scientific poll questions by presenting the science as at odds with “God” or “religion”.

And why would you want to do that? Either 1) you’re a lazy little prick who copies the questions from prior polls or 2) your organization participates in the general mainstream media propaganda push of claiming falsely that “America is a center right country” or 3) both. (As for “2)”, just to clarify, it’s false because what those who use it define as “center right” doesn’t fit American political attitudes (it does fit American politicians’ actions). Polls show that Americans want universal health care, legal gay marriage, reduced military spending, higher taxes on the wealthy, armed forces used for defense not aggression, strong public education, etc. One could pointlessly argue that all of those things fit into the “center right” by world standards, but they’re at odds with what Karl Rove meant when he initiated the use of the term. While it’s true that I am getting my information here from polls, there is also a media tendency to use biased polls, or not report polls with the undesirable results, and that tendency is predominantly such that things are distorted in a rightward direction.)

Most importantly, it shows that most people simply don’t think it through before answering.

True.

When it comes to what ought to be taught, it gets even worse, as you note. That 2/3 (I have read as much as 3/4) must include many who accept evolution. I admit being in that group briefly in the ’90s - as a mid career chemist who had accepted evolution for 30 years.

Because this would be the logical default correct answer if there actually were a “controversy”.

We used to teach that Christopher Columbus nobly brought Christian civilization to the primitive savages. Now there’s a legitimate controversy about teaching that one-sided interpretation, a controversy that can be understood at the relevant grade levels, so a more balanced view is better.

This is why the most powerful propaganda is the lie that “there is a controversy”.

This is how they do it with AGW denial and a number of other things. This leads, in turn, to the apparent conclusion that “both sides should compromise and meet half way”. This in turn allows the wrong-headed reality-denying extremist to release propaganda that is even more extreme that what he really believes, declare a “controversy”, and demand to be “met half way” - precisely at where he wanted to be in the first place.

The best strategy is to hammer on the fact that ID/creationism is worthless BS and is also illegal to teach in taxpayer funded public schools.

Atheistoclast said:

Frank J said:

Nice try, but they do allow critical evaluation of evolution in schools across America. Even taxpayer-funded schools. And even in science class. What they don’t allow is the laundry list of misrepresentations that always censor “equal time” for refutation of those misrepresentations. But you are free to regurgitate them here. And even tell us some details about your “theory” and support it on its own merits.

Read the peer-reviewed literature, pal. There are plenty of good articles that the NCSE goons would rather students did not know anything about.

Well if they are in the real peer reviewed literature, how could they possibly stop them from reading them?

Now stop trying to derail threads with off topic nonsense. Go to the bathroom wall if you want to discuss your conspriacy theories.

DS Wrote:

Well if they are in the real peer reviewed literature, how could they possibly stop them from reading them?

While the real anti-evolution activists much more subtle about it than a dime-a-dozen troll, they make the same audacious claim that somehow we “censor” information, while knowing quite well that if anyone is censoring anything, is is they. While the information is available to all, it is usually too technical to be fully appreciated by high school students. So while people who value both science and “thou shalt not bear false witness” do their best with minimal time (another complaint for another time) to teach it at grade-appropriate levels, anti-evolution activists would cherry pick evidence, define terms to suit the argument, bait-and-switch concepts (e.g. evolution vs. abiogenesis) and quote mine, specifically to promote unreasonable doubt of evolution. All to a captive audience of high school stutents, at taxpayer expense. The chutzpah ought to make irony meters everywhere explode.

Another thing that ought to make irony meters explode is that, when the activist-wannabes and trolls on these boards pretend that we “censor” them, and I give them the opportunity to elaborate on their own “theory” and support it on its own merits, they always - and I mean literally always - censor themselves!

The Institute for Creation “Research,” in its response to this, has its usual take that evolution is a “belief.”

Jealous sectarians.

Most of the contestants seemed to be assuming that the default position was that creationism would be taught, and that the question was whether evolution would be allowed to be taught too.

Good for Miss Vermont. I was very disappointed with the answer from the contestant from my own state, New Hampshire.

lynnwilhelm said:

Miss New Mexico

Oops, I meant to say her, not Miss Vermont. Miss New Mexico was awesome; her answer was as close to “Well, duh” as was possible under the circumstances.

There comments on Math were even more revealing. Obviously they are critical thinking independents who look at all sides of an issue.

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