Nancy Malik shows us how NOT to conduct a poll on homeopathy

For those not aware “Dr” Nancy Malik is one of the more prevalent Internet homeopaths, happily promoting the anti-science quackery we know as homeopathy. She attracted the attention of skeptics with a very long (and now defunct) Google Knol which supposedly contained hundreds of peer reviewed articles which provided evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy. Despite pretty much every link being scrutinized and rubbished by the wonderful Xtal Dave, Malik has moved the list to her new blog, amusingly entitled “Science-based Homeopathy” (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one).

Malik has come up with a poll about medicine, presumably in an attempt to gather evidence on the popularity of homeopathy. However, as I type this it’s not looking too good for homeopathy.

As you can see, conventional medicine is currently surging way ahead of all the alternatives to medicine. Ironically, if Malik wanted to set this poll up to get the result she wanted, she’s done pretty much the opposite of what she should have done in all cases. Let’s have a look at some ways to knobble a poll, and where she’s gone wrong.

1. Ask a leading question to point the responder towards the answer you want them to give

Malik asks “Which medicine you prefer when fall ill”. Apart from the embarrassingly bad use of English, it doesn’t steer people towards homeopathy. For example, a lot of quacks say things along the lines of “if you’ve tried everything else, why not try homeopathy?”, so why doesn’t Malik’s question attempt to represent that?

2. Place the answer you want people to give at the top

The answer presented first will obviously be the one that the respondent looks at first, so if you want a certain answer to come out on top, put it before all the others! Malik fails here by putting ‘conventional’ first, the answer that she presumably does not want people to pick.

3. Present the options you do not want people to pick in an unfavourable light

As mentioned above, Malik uses the term ‘conventional’ medicine. Alternatively, you could term it “evidence based” or “science based” medicine (which both sound good), but if you were a devious homeopath set out to discredit it you could call it something else. Homeopaths often like to call conventional medicine “allopathic” (treating like with non-like), as if it was some sort of polar opposite to homeopathy. You can also confuse people who don’t know what ‘allopathic’ is by doing this, something that Malik fails to do.

4. Split the vote of the options that you don’t want people to pick

A simple tactic, splitting the vote involves presenting more options than necessary for those that you don’t like. For example, say that you were out with friends and you wanted to get a cup of coffee, whereas your friends fancied a pint of beer. If you were to vote on where to go, you could present one coffee house and six or seven pubs. That way, everyone who wants a beer will vote for different pubs, but those who want a coffee will all vote for the same coffee shop, increasing the proportion of the ‘coffee’ votes.

So, for Malik’s poll, she could have quite easily presented all the non-evidence based practices as one option, perhaps calling it “alternative and complementary therapies”, and split up ‘conventional’ into several options, but once again this was not done. Another fail!

Taking all that into consideration, here is how I would have presented Malik’s poll if I was looking for a result that favours homeopathy:

“Which form of medicine would you prefer to use?”

  • Complementary and alternative therapies
  • Allopathy
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • High street drugs

With this poll, I’ve tried to apply the rules mentioned above to get a result in favour of homeopathy. For a start, I’ve rephrased the question to ask people what they would prefer to use, rather than what they actually do use. Who wouldn’t prefer to use lovely natural plants and gentle sugar pills? Second, I’ve placed the CAM option at the top to give it the most prevalence. I’ve also avoided using the term ‘homeopathy’ altogether, instead lumping all the alt med guff into “Complementary and alternative therapies”. That sounds nice doesn’t it? On the other hand, for conventional medicine I’ve tried to split the vote by using the terms “allopathy” (hoping that people won’t know what it is and therefore not check it), pharmaceuticals (scary big pharma) and “high street drugs” (no one likes the sound of “drugs”, especially when in close proximity to the word “street”).

Perhaps Nancy could use this for her second poll?

Anyway, I suggest you vote in Nancy’s poll before she takes it down!


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