Marketing Surveys and the Moon

On Thursday 2nd August, ITV’s This Morning held a debate between cosmologist Dr Sarah Bosman and a man who believed the Moon Landing was faked.

Their website claimed that:

[A] survey found that staggering 52% of Brits think the Moon landings from 1969–72 were faked.

A poll conducted by YouGov estimated, in April 2015, 9% of GB adults believe the 1969 Moon Landings were probably or definitely faked.

With a different question wording, 23% of respondents to an Ipsos MORI survey in 2015 said it was probably or definitely true that the landings ‘never happened and were staged’.

In short

‘A survey found that…’: Checking the survey itself, it was a 2016 marketing survey where the spokesperson advertised smartphones with powerful cameras.

Internet panel polling estimates 9%: A YouGov survey in April 2015 found 9% of their sample believe the Moon Landings were probably or definitely faked.

A random probability survey estimates 23%: With a different question wording, a random probability sample surveyed by Ipsos MORI implies 23% believe it is definitely or probably true the landings were ‘staged’.

Marketing Surveys

Whilst this survey instigated a debate on national television, checking the survey itself finds questionable practices.

The Daily Mirror reports that the 2016 survey was commissioned by online mobile retailer e2save, and conducted by Atomik Research.

Abby Francis, an e2save spokesperson, explicitly references new smartphones in her commentary:

With the Xperia smartphones you can capture the world in incredible high-resolution 4K, and we wanted to put the technology to the test by uncovering the truth behind top conspiracies, all with a tongue and cheek approach.

Yes, we should doubt this.

What does scientific polling say

YouGov have recently asked people about their beliefs in the Moon Landing and other conspiracy theories. YouGov is a member of the British Polling Council, and abides by their rules.

In April 2015, YouGov surveyed 2,078 GB adults through their internet panel. The poll was commissioned by political scientist Phil Cowley.

The question was:

Some people believe that humans first landed on the moon in 1969; other people believe that the landings were faked as part of a conspiracy to protect the pride of the USA. What is your view?

The survey estimates that 6% believe the 1969 Moon Landing was ‘probably faked’, and 3% think it ‘definitely’ was. 14% said they did not know.

Another survey by YouGov in March 2016 found limited support for other conspiracy theories, with 9% saying that ‘the idea of man-made global warming is a hoax that was invented to deceive people’ is true. The poll was conducted on behalf of the YouGov-Cambridge centre.

The Wellcome Trust Monitor is a random probability sample conducted through face-to-face interviews. In 2015, the third wave of this monitor was conducted by Ipsos MORI. Ipsos MORI is also a member of the British Polling Council.

The question wording is different, asking if the respondent believes the statement is true or false:

The Apollo moon landings in 1969 never happened and were staged.

12% of the sample said that statement is definitely true, and 11% replied it was probably true. A further 11% said they did not know.

Journalists need to take better care to distinguish between marketing and scientific polling.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

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