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Arabic Numerals Quizster Also Trips Democrats with Catholic Creation Science Question

That online poll about Arabic numerals in Brookings Register showing the utter ignorance and likely bigotry of lots of respondents appears to be associated, alas, with a guy who calls himself a “serial entrepreneur“, a term that generally makes me turn the page. But survey trickster John Dick provides some data worth looking at. Not only did Dick’s group Civic Science put out a poll asking whether public schools should teach Arabic numerals; he also put out a poll asking, “Should schools in America teach the creation theory of Catholic priest George Lemaitre as part of their science curriculum?”

Dick found that, on Arabic numerals, the split came from party affiliation, not education:

Seventy-two per cent of Republican-supporting respondents said Arabic numerals should not be on the curriculum, compared 40 per cent of Democrats. This was despite there being no significant difference in education between the two groups.

“They answer differently even though they had equal knowledge of our numerical nomenclature,” Mr Dick said. “It means that the question is about knowledge or ignorance but [also] something else – prejudice” [Chris Baynes, “Most Americans Say ‘Arabic Numerals’ Should Not Be Taught in School, Finds Survey,” UK Independent, 2019.05.20].

The question about the originator of the Big Bang Theory produced a similar partisan split, with Democrats jumping to conclusions:

Seventy-three per cent of Democrats answered “no”, compared to 33 per cent of Republicans – with some respondents on either side presumably assuming Lemaitre’s theory was related to intelligence design.

In fact, the Belgian priest was also a physicist who first discovered the universe was expanding and proposed its origins lay in the explosion of a single particle – an idea that became known as the Big Bang theory.

“While Lemaitre is more obscure than Arabic numerals, the resulting effect is almost identical,” Mr Dick said. “Dems are biased against Western religion, if latently.

“This kind of blind prejudice can happen on both sides” [Baynes, 2019.05.20].

Folks who dismiss Lemaitre’s theoryDick’s attempt at bothsideism warrants some criticism. The Arabic numerals question—”Should schools in America teach Arabic Numerals as part of their curriculum?”—contained one potential error-triggering word: Arabic. The Lemaitre question—”Should schools in America teach the creation theory of Catholic priest George Lemaitre as part of their science curriculum?”—contained five: creation, Catholic, priest, Lemaitre, and science. Sure, folks who harbor a “bias against Western religion” could have bit on Catholic, but the other words invite other distinct causes of opposition: some people may be fine with Western religion but don’t like priests; some may hate French-sounding names, some may think a “creation theory” is fine for school but not in science class; and some may hear “creation” and be led to think, as Dick acknowledges, that the question refers to efforts to sneak religious origin myths into public education.

I will grant that Dick’s second question signals biases that kept the respondents from checking the facts. But the greater complexity of Dick’s question does not support concluding that tricked respondents hate Western religion. To truly support his bothsideist wisecrack, he would have to have designed his questions more rigorously identically. To match the Arabic numerals question, Dick would have had to ask something like, “Should schools in America teach creation theory as part of their curriculum?”

The fact that you can trick Democrats as well as Republicans into revealing some prejudice does not excuse maintaining your prejudices. We should all analyze claims rationally, check facts and evidence, and not apply rash judgments based on antipathy toward a particular religion or group.

Arabic numerals, the Big Bang theory, progressive taxes, and Medicaid expansion are all useful concepts. Dismissing them just because someone throws a distasteful sectarian or partisan label on them is substandard thinking. But so is suggesting that Democrats are as prejudiced as Republicans based on two mismatched questions that test different knowledge sets.


  1. happy camper 2019-05-20

    “We should all analyze claims rationally, check facts and evidence, and not apply rash judgments based on antipathy toward a particular religion or group.” Love it!!! But this means you have to take your own advice.

  2. Buckobear 2019-05-20

    Like John Wayne said : “Life is hard. It’s harder when you’re stupid.”

  3. Certain Inflatable Recreational Devices 2019-05-20

    I salivate in anticipation of Kurt Evans’ response.

  4. Debbo 2019-05-20

    CIRD, it should be entertaining and very, very long.

    I wouldn’t have known what the 2nd question was about. Maybe something like “a Catholic priest’s theory of creation via a big bang,” would have been more equal to the Arabic numeral question to suss out anti-Christian bias and a less overwhelming set up.

  5. Curt 2019-05-21

    I know what Arabic numerals are and thus could answer Question #1. I am not familiar with Fr. Lemaitre or his writings and thus would not answer Question #2 – even after Cory’s explanation.

  6. Kurt Evans 2019-05-21

    Bob Newland writes:

    I salivate in anticipation of Kurt Evans’ response.

    I support teaching kids about both Arabic numerals and Lemaitre’s theory, but the real scientific evidence fully aligns with the teachings of Jesus Christ, who publicly recognized the Hebrew Bible as true.

    Learn more here:

    The broader conclusion that our worldviews tend to influence our party affiliations is hardly unexpected.

  7. Clyde 2019-05-21

    I think the main revelation that should be gained by this exercise is just how bad press in this country has become. These biases have been at the very least nurtured by the press of today. I’m thinking of Fox but CNN is no better. There was a time that press tried and was somewhat forced to allow opposing opinion and debate. When a right wing class mate of mine was glowing over his satellite radio that allowed him to pick either right wing or left wing programming I figured the country was screwed. Of course all he was interested in was the right.

  8. o 2019-05-21

    One interesting element of this poll/thought experiment is taking it to the next step: give the same people who answered the full information on what is being discussed and see whose answers change. Would fewer Republicans still support “Creation” theory if it were presented as secular — presented as the “Big Big Theory?” The analysis looked at the Democrat anti-bias for this item, but what a bout the corresponding Republican pro-bias?

    This reminds me of years ago when the ACA was popular with the GOP respondents, but Obamacare was poison.

  9. Certain Inflatable Recreational Devices 2019-05-21

    I suppose it doesn’t hurt much to allow Kurt some happiness while Pastor Kristi breaks things in Pierre and Twitterpate45 fouls the bed in DC.

  10. o 2019-05-21

    Kurt: “The broader conclusion that our worldviews tend to influence our party affiliations is hardly unexpected.”

    More troubling is that the tail is wagging the dog: not that our belief system aligns to party affiliation, but that party affiliation changes our world view. Look to the “never Trump” faction of the GOP that came into line for the good of the party. Political parties have more and more become transformative propaganda machines rather than reflections of their members collective values.

  11. Kal Lis 2019-05-21

    I agree that “[w]e should all analyze claims rationally, check facts and evidence, and not apply rash judgments based on antipathy toward a particular religion or group.”

    I am not sure that it’s possible. This article offers some optimism. This one strikes me as more realistic in a Tommy Lee Jones sort of way.

  12. Donald Pay 2019-05-21

    I think it shows that if human are ignorant about a subject we don’t simply ask, “Could you tell me more about _____?” I suppose we default to what we think should be, not what is. But then most of us oldsters learned in school that Hubble did the work on and popularized the Big Bang theory. It turns out Lemaitre published first.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-05-21

    Bang—O makes a very good point about how to responsibly follow up on these two quickie poll questions and collect data allowing for more rigorous conclusions about the actual nature of the bias unearthed by the questions.

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-05-21

    And yes, Donald’s would be great baseline questions. Perhaps the poll should have started with, “Have you heard of Arabic numbers? Have you heard of LeMaitre’s creation theory? Please explain, to the best of your ability, each concept.”

  15. bearcreekbat 2019-05-21

    Kal, the links you posted were a great read, especially the New Yorker article – thanks! While, the first writer’s suggestions may not always work it doesn’t seem appear they would make matters any worse. Meanwhile, both articles, but especially the New Yorker piece, seem dead on point as reasonable explanations for many of the comment interchanges I have recently read and participated in here on DFP. But then again, the articles themselves would seem to require that I reflect whether my conclusions about their accuracy or significance result from my own flawed personal confirmation bias!

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-05-23

    Interesting to note from John’s article that a number of the Muslims we may have forcibly imported via slave trade came from their own theocracies back in Africa.

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