Sunday, September 27, 2009

The 100 Million Person Minority

A friend sent me a link to a recent survey that I missed seeing from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. It is pretty interesting.

The results are fascinating.

“Animal Testing.”

Among the public, there is a striking gender gap in opinions about using laboratory animals in scientific research. Most men (62%) favor the use of animals in research while just over half of women (52%) oppose this. There also are sizable age, education and partisan differences in the public’s views of using animals in research. A majority of those younger than 30 (58%) oppose the use of animals for research while majorities in older age groups favor using animals in research. College graduates (59%) are more likely than those with some college (49%) or no more than a high school education (49%) to favor using animals in research. And while 62% of Republicans favor this, smaller shares of independents (51%) and Democrats (48%) agree.

As the high level of support among scientists would suggest (93% favor), there is very little variation in opinion among different types of scientists about the use of animals in research. There also is very little difference among men and women scientists: 94% of men and 89% of women favor using animals in scientific research.
What other controversial issue has 52% of women opposing it, and yet, is essentially ignored by media and politicians?

Running out the approximate numbers (and I make no claim concerning the accuracy of such hypotheticals), and basing the estimates on a population of 230,000,000 persons 18 and older, we can put a number on the totals behind the percentages.

“Most men (62%) favor the use of animals in research while just over half of women (52%) oppose this.”

The US population is approximately 51% female. So, there are about 117,300,000 women and 112,700,000 men altogether. This then means that 69,874,000 men and 56,304,000 women, or 126,178,000 people altogether, support vivisection, while 103,822,000 oppose it.

College graduates (59%) and scientists (93% favor) support vivisection. At first blush, one might think that this is related to education, but I wonder whether that’s true. Looking at only college graduates, education doesn’t make too much sense when you stop to think about what they studied in college.

According to one source, in 2006-2007, the most common undergraduate degrees were Business (327,531) Social Sciences and History (164,183), and Education (105,641), none of which are likely to have provided a significant science component, and certainly not a serious evaluation of the use of animals in research.

Likewise, the most common master’s level degrees were in Education (176,572; 30%) and Business (150,211; 25%). Only when we come to the much smaller number of doctoral degrees awarded is there a large-ish percentage of degrees awarded in areas of study that presumably provide more exposure to the use of animals in research: Health and clinical sciences (8,355; 14%) and Biology and biomedical sciences (6,354; 10%). And still, that's less than a quarter of all the doctoral level degrees conferred.

It looks to me that education per se doesn’t explain the 59% support reported for college graduates. I suspect that what is demonstrated by these figures is actually an expression of the phenomena explained by Social Identity Theory.

This would explain as well the overwhelming support of vivisection by scientists. It is unlikely that astronomers, geologists, climatologists, physicists, etc., scientists working in fields removed from animal experimentation, are very well informed. Much more likely, the 93% reflects strong in-group bias, the same emotional phenomena that motivates appeals to academic freedom (see my reply to Robert Sreiffer for my thoughts on academic freedom.)

Apparently, according to the results of this poll, the people least likely to be biased by a social group affiliation or perceived group identity are the same people most likely to be opposed to animal research.

100 million adults in the U.S. oppose vivisection.

That’s good news.

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