Saturday, March 6, 2010

The RWA Scale – Investigating “public opinion concerning a variety of social issues”

A friend (thanks D.C.) brought an interesting book to my attention the other day, the cornerstone of which is a survey known as the “RWA Scale” developed by Bob Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba. The survey describes itself as “an investigation of general public opinion concerning a variety of social issues,” and saying anything more would probably be a mistake. Anyway, because the book and survey looked interesting, computing one’s survey score struck me as a bit tedious, and it gave me an opportunity to use Javascript (ugh) in a way that I hadn't used it before, I decided to automate the survey. Some quick googling turned-up one pre-existing online version of the survey, but only available to Facebook users, among whom I am not counted. However, given that the book from which the survey was taken was published in 2006, and the survey was in use for quite some time before then, there must be other online versions (perhaps you've already encountered lots of them), but I wanted to try my hand at automating it, and so I have.

I’d go into more detail about the book and the survey here, but it’s probably best to take the survey knowing as little as possible about it. So, if you’re still curious, take the survey.

Note that your score is computed entirely on your own computer – none of the data is transmitted or recorded anywhere, so nobody will ever see it but you. On the one hand, this seems like a bit of a shortcoming, because it’d be interesting to know how other people score, but, on the other hand, surveys whose participants are self-selecting are meaningless. Add to that the fact that an anonymous Internet survey has no reliable way of excluding trolls, or preventing people from submitting their preferred answers repeatedly to try to shift the results in whatever direction they like, and Internet surveys go past “meaningless” to end-up somewhere around “outright misleading.” So, let’s not even play that damn fool game.

I’ll just tell you that my score ranges from 27 to 33 depending on how I interpret some of the questions, while the author’s introductory psychology students average around 75, and their parents around 90. A 2005 survey of 1,000 Americans reportedly also showed an average score of 90. That’s all discussed after the survey, where you will also find a link to the entire book (available free online) from which the survey and associated text were taken. Admittedly, including that information on the same page as the survey might introduce some bias into the results, but I thought that anyone who’d just gone to the trouble to take the survey deserved some explanation and context.

It’s all just food for thought. Happy thinking.


  1. This is interesting. I am glad you played around with the survey, as I am also a shunner of Facebook. Privacy is an issue and resistance to advertisment, of which I get quite enough. I will be so bold as to post the link to your PPV entry on the AML (Mensa) website, so some of our members may also take a shot at the survey.

  2. Well, I tried to take the survey, but my computer will not open your link (this also happened to some folks over at AML). In order to take the survey I would have to buy some new software - too bad. One person did get to the survey - said he got a 20 on it.

  3. Sorry to hear about the problem. However, the problem is client-side. The survey markup is fully-compliant XHTML 1.0 Strict, a standard that was set by the World Wide Web (W3C) consortium in the year 2000. If you still have a browser that actually can't handle that standard, let me suggest an upgrade. The current versions of Firefox, Safari and Chrome can all handle it fine. Even rather old versions of them probably handle it fine.

    Microsoft's Internet Explorer is the only major browser I'm aware of that has been ignoring established standards (the old joke about the phone company springs to mind: "we don't care; we don't have to") for the last decade or more, and so I would guess that most or all of the people encountering problems are using it. That said, Microsoft took major strides in standards compliance with IE 8 - they still fail to support decade old W3C standards like Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), but they did improve. So IE 8 ought to be able to handle the page correctly, too, but who knows. (Not me, in any case; MS stopped making a Mac version of IE many years ago, so, as a Mac user, I can test Safari, Firefox and Chrome, but not IE.)

    So, what versions of what browsers were being used by the people who couldn't use the the survey?