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The Miss USA and Evolution contests

(Video) Josh Rosenau asks why scientists should be concerned about the opinion of the contestants of the Miss USA pageant and explains that this is a rare opportunity to understand what the American public thinks about evolution. The results are not encouraging

Alyssa Campanella, MISS USA 2011. From Wikipedia (CC license)
Alyssa Campanella, MISS USA 2011. From Wikipedia (CC license). One of the few contestants who expressed support for the study of evolution in schools and defined herself as a science geek

By Josh Rosenau, Scientific American

On the same subject:


Last month, the contestants who passed through the Miss USA parade were scared to death (as defined by the Fox News network). Why were they so frightened? They feared a failing wish in an interview conducted with them, including "Should evolution be taught in schools?".


After this parade in which they answered the questions one after the other, the viewers commented that the winner, a former Miss California, defined herself as a "huge science geek" and, of course, enthusiastically promoted evolution. The other contestants were not so enthusiastic, when Miss Tennessee took a softer approach and said: "Evolution should be taught in schools" but clarified: "I personally do not believe in that, but I think all ideas should be learned and the people should decide for themselves."

Why should scientists be concerned about what Miss USA pageant contestants think about evolution? Scientific research in the 150 years since Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species has confirmed again and again the power of the evolutionary explanation in biology and the human sciences, and the education and science education communities have declared that evolution is a fundamental factor in modern science and modern science education and that there is no scientific alternative to this theory.


Miss USA does not set policy in the field of education, but the winners in the various countries - especially the one who wears the Miss USA hat - have the most influence in homes that do not read Scientific American, but are members of school boards and put pressure on the children's teachers regarding the way evolution is covered. Knowing how those who are a personal example think about evolution is important only because these women were chosen to represent their countries and this is a rare example that can be seen across the entire US of how the non-scientific public views evolution. In fact, understanding the way the Miss USA contestants talk about evolution may help to better understand how politicians talk about evolution and how science education can be promoted.


While there are no scientific disagreements regarding evolution, there is undoubtedly a political debate when about a third of Americans reject evolution from the ground up, at least another third miss the points and the other third accepts the opinion of the scientific community. The candidates from all the countries and the district of Kolozbia, are trapped in the political landscape and it seems that they are not aware of the scientific landscape at all. Only nine of them used words such as "science" or "scientific" in their answers, and many of those nine did not understand science. A publicist who previously worked with the organizers complained to Fox News that pressure is being applied to the candidates for the season for the answers in ways that are contrary to the approach of political correctness and this constitutes discrimination against their opinions and beliefs."


From watching the video and reading the texts, it is clear that many of the contestants feel conflicted in their opinions, and only a very few revealed their unequivocal opinions. Instead of making the participants struggle with the issue, it should be said that most Americans go through a similar struggle when they are confronted with questions in the field of evolution by survey companies or when they go over their children's homework. Retired pollster George Bishop summed up the state of the public in polls on evolution: "The answer to the question of what Americans believe in regards to human origin can be manipulated in the way the question is asked. Public opinion on this issue seems much more disaffected than we previously thought." An example of such effects is whether the question contains religious alternatives, or hints regarding human evolution, or a specific reference to the timeline of evolution - all of these can affect the results of the scrub for the acceptance of evolution. This does not mean that Americans do not have an opinion about evolution until they receive the call, only that there are several sets of information and intuition that are driven by questions about evolution, and slight changes in circumstances can divert the views that dominate the respondent's mind at a given moment.


The questions given to the Miss USA contestants give a unique insight into the process, especially because the chances are so low (at least that they received a scientific education9 and due to the fact that they have to answer more than right or wrong, they explain themselves and when they do so they reveal the plight of Scientific education as well as mistaken intuitions cause difficulties when talking about evolution in America.


Even a simple assessment of each candidate's answer is a challenge. Some, like Miss Connecticut summed it up by saying: "I think evolution should be taught in schools" or Miss Alabama who said "Evolution, no, I don't believe in evolution. I don't think it should be taught in schools, I won't encourage it." easy to judge. Others started strong but evaporated in the middle like Miss Kentucky who opened: "Honestly I don't think there should be too much knowledge about any subject" but still felt "that evolution should not be taught in schools. I personally don't think it's a good subject to teach in schools at all." As for others, it seems that they did not understand the basic concept (like Miss Rhode Island: "I believe that evolution should be taught in schools because I think that children need to know the different points of view regarding the way the world was created." or others who tried to avoid the question (Miss Indiana: "I am not You know, I think it should be left to the government. I'm not sure, I think a lot of people would be angry if evolution was taught in schools, I think it should be left out of the equation."


Some clearly wanted the religious alternative to be taught in schools like Miss West Virginia: "Yes, I think evolution should be taught in schools, but I don't think religion should be excluded. If you don't believe in ovulation, that's fine, but you should at least know what it is. And if you don't believe in religion, that's fine too, but you need to know at least the basic information about it. Therefore, I personally feel that the two should be combined." Others brought the same idea of ​​balance, but did not necessarily think that religious views belong in schools, such as Miss Idaho: "I believe that evolution should be mentioned in schools. This is about the question of what you believe and you shouldn't push it to the students, but again, you need to know about it and I guess there are different opinions. Because I grew up in a family, you learn to live with the values ​​and morals and if you don't have other opinions to believe in what will you do for the rest of your life?"


Trying to find a consistent way to judge the responses was not easy. Instead of trying to judge myself, I decided to open the issue to scienceblog readers. I put up a poll, linked it to my blog and Twitter and quickly got 713 responses. Since most of the surfers who answered the survey came from Scienceblog, I assumed that they were laughing at the scientific opinion on evolution, but to test this, I included a short scientific questionnaire (including a question about the common origin of life, a central evolutionary concept).

I also asked to rate the 51 statements of the Miss USA contest participants on a scale between 1 and 10, where the score 10 represents the ideal opinion in the eyes of the respondent. To provide context to the answers, I added three statements from scientific societies and two from creationist societies. The statements were:

  • * The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), publisher of the journal Science: "The current theory of biological evolution is one of the most solid products of scientific inquiry. It is the basis for research in many fields of biology as well as an essential component of scientific education."
  • * The Interacademic Panel - an international body connecting over 100 science academies: in large parts of the world, where science lessons are taught in a public education system, the scientific evidence, the data, the testable theories about the origin and development of life on Earth are hidden, denied, or confused with theories which do not undergo scientific examination. We urge the decision makers, teachers and parents to educate all children about the scientific methods and approach and to encourage a scientific understanding of nature. Knowledge about the natural world in which we live increases people's ability to meet their needs and protect the planet."
  • * Association of amateur scientists: "Today, evolution is the unifying principle of biology. Nothing seems fair without it. True, it remains an open research field and many questions and refinements remain open and need to be answered. However, the fact that life has adapted and changed over time is as established a fact as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun.
  • * From the creationist point of view: The Young Earth Creationist Institute for Creation Studies: "School boards and teachers should pressure to teach the scientific evidence and arguments against evolution in their classrooms if they do not want to recognize them as arguments in favor of creationism."
  • * The Discovery Institute, which favors intelligent design (creativity in AB disguise): "The attempts to act to study intelligent design only cause the theory to be politicized and prevent an open and fair discussion about the value of the theory among educated people within the scientific community. Instead of mandating the study of the theory of intelligent design, the Discovery Institute is looking to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks. Evolution should be presented to the students and they should learn more about the theory of evolution, including unsolved issues. A curriculum that intends to provide students with an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of neo-Darwinism and the theory of chemical evolution (instead of teaching an alternative theory such as intelligent design) will provide a common basis for an approach that the entire population can agree on.

(To avoid confusion, I removed any identification tagging the source of the five organizations' statements, including replacing the organization's name with the first person and omitting parentheses, and arranged them in random order for the respondents.

The ratings given were quite consistent, indicating greater confidence in choosing winning or losing answers. Interestingly, statistical experiments show that the answers to the scientific questionnaire did not affect the ranking of the contestants' answers, as it did for a science-loving audience who were also asked to answer the survey (less than a third answered one question incorrectly).
The statements of the scientific communities gave context to the evaluation of the ranking of the Miss USA contestants. Encouragingly, the three statements from the science-supporting organizations received high ratings - nine (out of 10). And as we expected, the creationist statements were rated lower. The statement of the Institute for Creation Studies published in 1987 as a response to the decision of the US Supreme Court that the teaching of creationism in public schools is unconstitutional, received an average rating of slightly more than 2.
Surprisingly, the Discovery Institute's statement that was deliberately written to avoid legal challenges such as the 2005 court decision according to which intelligent design is an outgrowth of creationism and therefore also unconstitutional to teach in science classes in schools received an average score of 7.29, a score similar to that received by the science geek and winner - Miss California. Only the statement of two other contestants received a higher score than that of the Discovery Institute: Miss New Mexico (rating eight) and Miss Connecticut (8.4). The remaining 47 competitors were ranked worse than the Discovery Institute but only five received less than the Creation Research Institute's statement (Idiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia and Nebraska).

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8 תגובות

  1. For Michal,
    First of all, it's a shame that not everyone learns at least some basics in evolution - I think it's an important profession.
    Second, I definitely agree about Torah studies - there is no doubt that there is room to improve the content - I would not cancel it because if they are taught correctly, a very respectable set of values ​​that contribute to society and the individual can be passed on.
    By the way, it was very insulting to see the answers given there to questions about citizenship and the State of Israel on the beautiful and nerdy show.

  2. Biology studies:
    Not everyone studies evolution in high school.
    Only those who expand biology.
    The bluff of creation according to the Torah, on the other hand, is learned by every child - not as a myth but as "truth", and at a very sensitive age where critical thinking is almost non-existent.

  3. Let's not be "smart" I don't even want to think what would happen if the girls of the country were asked, what the answer would be then. suggestive vision (see the reality shows). I don't think it's any kind of sample - certainly not a representative sample. There are much more basic questions that we will be embarrassed to discover the answers to, so evolution in particular, is indeed a difficult subject. By the way, it is studied in high school.

  4. Miss Kentucky didn't say "I honestly don't think there should be too much knowledge on any subject" she actually started her words with I don't think there can be too much knowledge on any subject, meaning she supports imparting knowledge. Only then does she say that this knowledge should not include evolution. Problem with the translation of the article?

  5. You're exaggerating a bit, aren't you? The girls in the pageant are not a representative sample of anything other than the model population as they try not to answer an answer they know is controversial. Any question about which there is a dispute (let's say abortion) will cause them to answer in this general way...

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