…And This Is Why You Shouldn’t Place Your Trust In Internet Polls (Example #9280 – Alt Med In Australian Universities)

When I announced the release of the most recent Token Skeptic podcast interview (here it is again: Episode One Hundred And Six – On Friends Of Science In Medicine – Interview With Dr Rob Morrison), I posted a picture of an internet poll that had about six or so hours to go before it closed. I didn’t urge anyone to vote on it, mind – just an observation that it was clearly tending towards a “No“.

It clearly says: These polls are not scientific and reflect the opinion only of visitors who have chosen to participate.

Most readers would know (or at least I hope you’d know) that the internet is NOT the best place to get fair voting on various matters, particularly competitions or big issues like (say) education. I’ve seen more than enough examples of “ballot-stuffing” for certain causes, both good and bad – mind, I tend more towards seeing it as “bad”, because ultimately it isn’t fair to have polls or competitions that can be so easily manipulated.

Mind, I did snorf somewhat at it being called Dark Arts by the Sydney Morning Herald - isn’t that an Info Tech/Media high-school class that Harry Potter attended?:

The number of votes in the poll was about eight times more than the number of online readers of the story, a clear indicator that the poll had been gamed. Fairfax technical staff said the poll logs all but confirmed that the voting had been manipulated.

All Fairfax polls state that they are ”not scientific” but on controversial issues such as alternative medicine and internet censorship, they are held up by interest groups as a rock-solid gauge of public opinion.

In email messages seen by smh.com.au, supporters of alternative medicine, including Blackmores and the Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia, contacted their mailing lists urging them to vote ”yes” in the poll. Alas, the ”no” vote won by a landslide.

If they’re really held up by “interest groups as a rock-solid gauge“, then I sincerely hope that they take the matter seriously enough to ask students and the community at large about the issue and get an informed perspective on alt-med courses appearing in colleges.

And please note, oh skeptics-of-the-skeptically-minded:

Professor Dwyer said Friends of Science in Medicine members had nothing to do with the poll being rigged.

I’m glad to hear this and hope that an honest reflection of the public opinion about these courses will emerge – sooner rather than later, considering that the University year will be starting at the end of this month.

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • ashleybone

    Internet polls are so inherently ridiculous that I think anything done to wreck them is a public service.

    Of course, I once voted eight million times for my school’s sports mascot in an online popularity contest, so my viewpoint may not be mainstream.

  • Graham

    It would hardly be the first time a newspoll with a clear connection to “friends of science” and “australian skeptics” has been rigged. Whether or not it was Dwyer or not is hardly the point.

    I quite like the skeptic position but the someone in the ranks knows how to destroy the groups credibility.

  • Graham

    There is a random “the” in my previous post. My bad. The.


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