The Urban Dictionary defines the verb “Pharyngulate” as
To crash an online poll by publishing its link so that large numbers of blog readers will make their opinions known there, often shifting the results dramatically.
The term comes from the name of P. Z. Myers’ popular blog Pharyngula.
As someone interested both professionally and personally in the relationship between religion and rationality in general, and the state of popular opinion on matters related to subjects such as religion and science education in particular, I try to keep informed about efforts to survey public opinion and gather data on these questions. And so the possibility that online polls may be thoroughly meaningless is worth being aware of.
Pharyngulation is itself a puzzling phenomenon. On the one hand, it seems on the surface like it might significantly skew data gathered using internet surveys. On the other hand, it would seems that in theory it shouldn’t be possible to pharyngulate an online poll unless either the view of the pharyngulators also reflects a majority viewpoint, or there simply aren’t as many interested readers of a web site as there are readers of Pharyngula, or the vast majority of readers of Pharyngula have enough time on their hands to spend large amounts of time answering a poll over and over again (in those cases when that is even possible).
So is Pharyngulation real or a myth? How does it impact attempts to gather data about public opinion? It strikes me that this blog may be ideally poised to try to answer that question, given the range of readers who represent a wide spectrum and variety of atheist, Christian, and other viewpoints.
And so I thought I would try to do an experiment – to my knowledge, the first of its kind – to gauge the reality and effects of pharyngulation. And so I am setting up a “poll,” which follows below. Rather than use an embedded poll, since most will not work on non self-hosted WordPress blogs, and limit the maximum number of responses, not to mention that sometimes the data gets corrupted, I am trying a simpler variation. I am posting two comments, “Yes” and “No,” and am asking you to vote by leaving a REPLY comment on one or the other. Since Disqus counts replies to comments and lets you hide them, this will give an easy tally of the number of comments, and thus the number of votes on each.
What I need you to do is to vote, and more importantly, spread the word. If you have a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, or any other way of getting a message out, please spread the word about this poll. Feel free to encourage your readers to vote a certain way. I’m hopeful that maybe we’ll even have the honor of P. Z. Myers telling his many readers to participate. What I’m curious to find out is whether a concerted effort by many bloggers will result in a balanced outcome, or whether the experiment will in fact confirm the reality – and the power – of pharyngulation.
Enough introduction. Let’s get started.
Is pharyngulation a real phenomenon that significantly affects poll outcomes?
Please vote by leaving a reply comment on either my “YES” or “NO” comment below. Thanks!