Public Opinion Research / Deep Sea Exploration / Newton's Laws of Motion
Welcome to Science in the News in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty. And I'm Sarah Long. This week: a research vehicle that will carry people to ninety-nine percent of the ocean floor and we answer a listener's question about the famous English scientist, Isaac Newton.
But first, we have a look at the science of public opinion studies.
Americans are electing a President Tuesday. We hope to learn the name of the winner soon. However, public opinion studies have been attempting to identify the winner for several months now. Every few days another study claims to know which candidate has the most support.
What exactly are these studies? How and where do they get their numbers? And, how trustworthy are the findings?
Some of the best-known opinion research companies are the Gallup Organization, Zogby International and the Pew Research Center. These companies often work for news organizations during an election campaign. This is why a study will often have several names connected with it.
For example, you might read about a C.N.N./U.S.A. Today/Gallup study. A Gallup official says this means that Cable News Network and the newspaper U.S.A. Today requested and paid for the study. And, they have the right to report results of the study first. But, the official says news organizations normally have no control over how the study is carried out or its results.
In the United States, opinion research companies often question about one-thousand people for a study. Mathematical evidence suggests that this is enough people for a general understanding of the country's one-hundred-million possible voters. If two-thousand people are questioned, the results do not change very much. Experts say the science of questioning people is similar to the science of testing blood. A small amount can closely represent the whole.
Many research companies have equipment that can create telephone numbers from all the areas of the United States. A telephone connected to a computer then calls a number at random. This means each number has the same chance of being called. The process is meant to guarantee that people across the country are represented in the study.
Some companies use numbers of people who are listed with political parties. This is a more direct way to reach likely voters. However, it may not be as representative. This method may not include new voters. It also may miss people who keep their telephone number private or use only wireless phones. And, most calling is done at night. So people who work nights are likely to be missed.
Opinion research companies question adult members of homes. They seek people of different racial and socio-economic groups and parties. And they want to balance representation in the study with representation in the general population. But, it is not likely that any one study group will be perfectly representative.
So, researchers commonly use a method called "weighting" in an effort to balance the study. In simple terms, they will increase the influence of groups that are not fairly represented in the study. They give more weight to answers provided by members of such groups.
Political opinion studies always weight likely voters. There are several methods they use to judge if someone is likely to vote. The Gallup Organization has a list of questions to measure a person's interest in the election. Research companies also consider how a person voted in earlier elections.
No opinion study is perfect. All such studies come with what is called a margin of error. A study of one-thousand randomly chosen people will produce results with a three percent margin of error. In other words, ninety-five percent of the time another study will produce similar results, within three percentage points.
Most researchers would say they want their studies to be as scientific as possible. But, it is hard to create completely neutral questions. And, even if questions are neutral, the order that they are asked may affect the results.
American scientists have announced plans for a new deep-sea diving research vehicle. It will be able to carry people to ninety-nine percent of the ocean floor. The planned vehicle will replace Alvin, a submarine that has been operating for forty years. Alvin has helped researchers study deep-sea creatures, the movement of continents and even the wreck of the passenger ship Titanic.
The new vehicle will be ready in four years. It is expected to cost more than twenty-one million dollars. Most of the money will come from an independent federal agency, the National Science Foundation. The foundation supports research projects and education in all areas of science and engineering.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will operate the new vehicle as it now operates Alvin. Woods Hole is a private research organization in Falmouth, Massachusetts.
The planned vehicle will be able to dive six thousand five hundred meters below the surface of the ocean. Alvin dives to four thousand five hundred meters.
Scientists say the new vehicle will be able to explore areas of the ocean that have not been explored before. The new vehicle is expected to dive faster and move forward more quickly than Alvin. It also will carry more scientific equipment and have better information collection and communication systems.
The National Science Foundation says the replacement for Alvin will require no major changes to its support ship, the Atlantis. And, the operating costs of the underwater vehicles are expected to be similar. Alvin is the only deep-diving human-occupied vehicle in the United States. There are four other such vehicles in the world.
The submarine has completed more than four thousand dives. It also has transported more than twelve thousand people to the deep-sea floor. Alvin has spent more than twenty-seven thousand hours underwater since nineteen sixty-four.
Our listener question this week comes from Saudi Arabia. Mohd Nafisah asks about the great scientist Isaac Newton.
Newton was born in sixteen-forty-two in Woolsthorpe, England. During his lifetime, he made discoveries in astronomy, mathematics, optics, and physics. They helped change the direction of scientific discovery for centuries.
Newton received his education at Trinity College in Cambridge, England. He invented the theory of integral calculus in the sixteen-sixties. Calculus is the area of mathematics that deals with changing amounts, or quantities. A German mathematician, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, developed differential calculus independently.
Newton discovered how the universe is held together. He called this theory, the "Law of Universal Gravitation." He explained his ideas in a book commonly called "Principia." It is considered by experts to be one of the greatest scientific books ever written. It includes Newton's three laws of motion.
His first law of motion states that an object in motion will continue moving unless it is affected by a foreign, or outside, force. His second law says the speed of an object depends on two things -- the force acting on the object and the object's mass. His third law states that, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Newton showed that white light was made up of colors mixed together. He discovered this through a series of experiments with a prism of cut glass. He used his discoveries to build a reflecting telescope. It used a flat surface to show images of objects in the sky.
Isaac Newton died in seventeen twenty-seven. He was buried at Westminster Abbey in London. Today, he is considered one of the greatest scientists who ever lived. His laws and theories influenced religion and culture for years after his death.
To learn more about Newton's influence on our world, computer users should visit the New York City Public Library Internet website at www.nypl.org. The Library currently has a show about Sir Isaac Newton and his life. It can be seen at one of New York's Public Libraries through February fifth of next year.
This program was written by Caty Weaver, George Grow and Jill Moss. Cynthia Kirk was our producer. And, our engineer was Dwayne Collins. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for Science in the News in VOA Special English.