According to an Ifop poll published Thursday and much covered in the media, young people are more and more inclined to believe scientific, historical or current untruths.
Since its publication, however, the poll has received numerous criticisms, particularly on its methodology and the resulting alarmist message.
Marie Peltier, historian specializing in conspiracy, history teacher and author of
Obsessions, behind the scenes of the conspiracy story
, answers questions from
on this controversial poll.
A lot of noise for nothing ?
An Ifop poll for the Jean-Jaurès foundation and the Reboot foundation published Thursday warns about the relationship of young people to science and certain conspiracy theories.
The finding is alarming.
According to this document, six out of ten young people think it possible that the Earth is flat, more than one in four believe in creationism and almost one in two think that astrology is a science.
Ifop even speaks of a “knock-knock generation”.
While these results were widely reported in the press, on social networks, many criticisms of the methodology and the very objective of the survey appeared pointing to data that was ultimately not so scientific.
What exactly does this study say?
Why is she criticized?
For Marie Peltier, historian specializing in conspiracy, history teacher and author of
Obsessions, behind the scenes of the conspiracy story
this survey "is a tool to support the thesis that young people are more and more contaminated by conspiracy » while « all [his] experience [him] shows the opposite ».
What does the poll say?
The results are therefore
alarming if not dramatic.
The survey of young people aged 11 and 24 asks various questions relating to science, history or current events and tends to show that there has been a worsening of young people's confidence in science since 2017 .
Thus, several statements are proposed, to which respondents answered “agree” or “disagree”.
Among them, we find: “human beings are not the result of a long evolution from other species like monkeys but were created by a spiritual force” (27% agree);
“in ancient times, the Egyptian pyramids were built by extraterrestrials” (19%);
“Americans have never been to the moon” (20%);
“it is possible that the Earth is flat and not round as we have been told since school” (16%);
“in Ukraine, the massacre of civilians in Boutcha was staged by the Ukrainian authorities” (26%).
So-called “parascientific” theories are also discussed, such as witchcraft, clairvoyance, astrology or fortune-telling.
But also spirits, ghosts,
In addition, of the 2,003 people questioned, the survey highlights differences in the age group chosen, particularly highlighting the 18-24 year olds (942 people questioned).
Panels of religious, political affiliation or users of different social networks, with TikTok in the front line, are also highlighted.
Muslims appear, according to the results, particularly sensitive to non-scientific claims.
They would be 71% to think that “human beings are not the fruit of a long evolution”, far behind Catholics, Protestants and atheists.
Why is the method so criticized?
If it is not directly obvious, there is a first problem with this shocking poll.
The sample of people interviewed is small, and especially the one on which the authors emphasize: 942 young people aged 18-24 interviewed.
It was one of the first reviews that started pouring in following its publication and coverage in the media.
According to Marie Peltier, it is first of all the intention of this questionnaire which however poses a difficulty: "Upstream of the method, there is a problem of vision and objective, because this extremely oriented study is a tool for support the thesis that young people are increasingly contaminated by conspiracy, in addition to having an Islamophobic bias.
There would then be behind this poll a political ambition and a “pretext to serve an ideological vision,
Between witchcraft, platism, extraterrestrials, several questions in the survey indeed revolve around the most extravagant conspiracy theories and thus play on this idea that “the conspirators are all morons”, saddens the historian.
But he also plays on clichés linked to young people, in particular that of a youth who would be in distress, in a logic of separatism, all because of social networks and in particular TikTok.
"It's a stigmatizing and very reactionary caricature of young people", Marie Peltier annoys.
And on the method, there too, the historian has things to say: the sample questioned, the binary answers, the age group chosen whereas between 11 and 24 years old, “we evolve a lot”.
Finally, the survey does not respond to “a scientific attitude because the social sciences are not black or white”.
“I have nothing against polls, but you have to produce analysis, put it in context, not just scare the population,” she still gets carried away.
A counter-productive survey?
Showing a desire to fight against conspiracy, isn't this survey ultimately counterproductive?
While young people won't necessarily come across it or pay particular attention to it, it contributes "to the stigmatization of youth, and that's the worst thing to do, especially since all my experience shows me that it's is the opposite, young people are more and more aware,” emphasizes Marie Peltier, also a professor at the Haute École Galilée in Brussels.
our dossier on conspiracy theories
Rather than pointing fingers, she recommends “recreating the link, listening, respect” instead of “reinforcing divisions.
"You have to remain humble, it's very complicated to assess the degree of confidence in science" but "alas, there is no miracle recipe" to fight against misinformation.
This is the mission endorsed by educators at large, by teachers who "have done a monstrous job of educating young people about information", and for the historian specializing in conspiracies, "enormous progress has been made for ten years and we must be aware of our progress”.
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