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Scientific Study vs. Poll

The other day I was having a discussion with a Christian and I cited a scientific study. In return, the Christian cited an opinion poll. Then she said that since we both have resources that support our point of view, it must be a wash. It seems to me that many Christians don’t understand the difference between a scientific study and an opinion poll.

Scientific studies are done under control conditions and take statistical random sampling into account. They try to eliminate biases and have an open methodology so that the study can be replicated by others.

An opinion poll generally just invites people to state their opinion. No control conditions, no random sampling, no methodology, etc. For example, if the poll is on a website it is only representative of those who visit the website. A CNN poll will be biased toward CNN viewers. A Fox poll will be biased toward Fox viewers, and an MSNBC poll will be biased toward MSNBC viewers.

When I point this out, sometimes the religious person will bring in anecdotal evidence to counter the scientific study. This too is laughably poor. Just because something seemed to work for one person doesn’t mean that it actually worked for that one person. There was no control involved and so we don’t really know if what seemed to work was actually the thing that did work.

Scientific studies are designed to take these things into account but they are not perfect and so sometimes we find out later that there is a flaw in a study and so someone makes a new study to factor the previously discovered flaw into account. As time goes on, studies are perfected and become more accurate. So even if two studies show conflicting results, that doesn’t make it a wash. We can look at the methodology of the studies and see which one has the better methodology and might yield more accurate results.

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