Belief in the moon landing: An experiment

A science teacher posting on the Bad Astronomy forum describes an experiment in which he polled his students to find out how many of them believed humans had walked on the surface of the moon -- before and after watching the Fox TV documentary "Did We Land on the Moon?"

I began by asking my students (9-12th graders taking earth/space honors) the simple question, "Do you believe that humans have walked on the surface of the Moon?". Initial results were 81.0% "Yes", 7.6% "No" and 11.4% "Not sure" (sample size 105 students).
Then I showed them a DVD I have made of the infamous FOX show (thanks to Jim Oberg who helped me land a copy of the video tape when my own was "mysteriously" partially taped over). I converted to DVD so I could knock out the 18 minutes (!) of advertisements and break the segments up into easily accessible chapters. I showed the video completely through without comment and asked the same question. This year, the "after video" results were 50.8% "Yes", 21.3% "No" and 27.9% "Not sure" (sample size 122 students).

So belief in the moon landing dropped by 30% after watching the Fox documentary. Thankfully, he didn't leave his students in a state of disbelief. The next day he showed them a powerpoint presentation rebutting every point made in the show:

I made sure to cover every single topic and then I asked the question a final time. The final results this year were 92.9% "Yes", 2.0% "No" and 5.1% "Not sure" (sample size 99).

It's no wonder so many people believe in bizarre conspiracy theories and the paranormal. They watch all these shows on TV and never hear a reasoned rebuttal from someone who knows what they're talking about.

Conspiracy Theories

Posted on Fri Jun 06, 2008


I guess we know why this guy is working in a high school and not in a lab. No self respecting scientist would consider any experiment done with such a small sample size to be accurate, also they would not compare the percentages of two experiments using different sample sizes. Not to mention that the experiments where done on different days so there are boundless external factors that could have taken place to hinder the results.
Posted by Tim  on  Fri Jun 06, 2008  at  11:17 PM
We watched "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Moon" in our class, not the Fox special. I actually thought that was pretty convincing. It showed some "behind the scenes" footage, where it showed the astronauts putting a cut out over the camera so it looked like the earth was further from their spaceship than it really was. (In other words, they put a round black ring around the camera, so the earth looked smaller when they showed it.) I don't really believe it, but it was an interesting video.
Posted by Sakano  on  Sat Jun 07, 2008  at  09:40 AM
Tim, nobody's claiming this is a definitive proof of any hypothesis. One suspects the teacher will repeat the experiment with new classes over several years to eliminate the factors you mention.
Posted by Nitpicking  on  Sun Jun 08, 2008  at  07:57 PM
As a controlled experiment this would suck; as a classroom experience it's brilliant. Hopefully those kids will walk away from this with some awareness of how readily they can be manipulated through the restriction of evidence, and of how critical it is to do follow-up research and reading.
Posted by outeast  on  Mon Jun 09, 2008  at  01:51 AM
I don't think the point is 'was this a legitimate experiment', the point is at least one teacher is teaching his students to look at facts, and the sources and to question what they're told, not blindly accept everything. And judging by the political choices made in a few countries over the past few years, this sort of thing should be top of the syllabus, not left to an inventive teacher.
Posted by Nona  on  Mon Jun 09, 2008  at  05:38 AM
It bums me out that the History channel devotes so much time to UFOs, ghosts, mythic creatures, questionable pseudo-history, and, worst of all, prophecies. I feel like only a decade or so ago there was an awful lot more history on the History channel, but then again I also recall joking that the H in the corner stood for Hitler because it was nothing but WWII programming-- so perhaps it's always been limited in one way or another. Of course, I'd still rather watch the umpteenth show about Midway than claptrap about Yeti's making crop circles or the like.
Posted by capital L  on  Mon Jun 09, 2008  at  09:14 PM
Woah! Yetis are responsible for crop circles! Interesting...
Posted by I Believe!  on  Tue Jun 10, 2008  at  02:59 PM
Your final point is absolutely spot on. So many people make "documentaries" where they rant about theories that are completely unfounded with distorted facts and people buy into them because they trust television.
Posted by Dave  on  Tue Jun 17, 2008  at  07:14 AM
Just wondering if anyone has gotten past this whole moon landing conspiracy and is onto looking into what we found when we went to the moon and what happened to the apollo tapes that were filmed in HD?? Yes they filmed the mission in HQ film. What about the alien objects found? Why is everyone still talking about whether or not we landed on the moon and not what we found out there and the unedited film and audio??

Posted by nuffsaid420  on  Wed Jun 18, 2008  at  02:58 PM
Where are these HD cameras? All the video cameras I can find for the Apollo missions seem decidedly low-def.
Posted by Charybdis  on  Thu Jun 19, 2008  at  02:50 PM
Woah! Yetis are responsible for crop circles! Interesting...
Posted by dantel  on  Tue Sep 01, 2009  at  05:16 PM
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