A non-pointless poll?

You know how I feel about the uselessness of internet polls, so you can guess how my feelings are mixed by this one. It’s a good cause: grants are being given for preservation of historic places in Boston. But they’re allocating funds on the basis of votes in an internet poll! This isn’t even a proper popularity contest, because polls are so easily skewed.

Anyway, go vote. I went for the New England Aquarium for obvious reasons, but there are several worthy sites: a museum of African American history, for instance, or a ballet theatre. There are even churches (lots of churches) on the list, and despite my biases there, I wouldn’t even count those out, if they are of historical value. The Old North Church is there — that’s worth keeping around.

Still, what a weird way to distribute funds. Wouldn’t it be better to do this with an informed committee, that could actually look at need and value objectively? Maybe the New England Aquarium is flush with money, while the Salem Old Town Hall is crumbling into disrepair…I don’t know! And they’re asking me to determine who gets a grant?

Maybe it’s not a pointless poll. It’s just a misdirected poll.


  1. MadScientist says

    Aquarium! I looove the fishies, aquatic mammals, sessile and mobile animals of all sorts, worms, plants, microbes, starfish, sea urchins and gazillions of other creatures.

    I’m ambivalent about churches though; sure some old ones are masterpieces of art and engineering (like St Peter’s basilica in Rome), but they’re also a reminder of the obscenity and oppression of many religions.

  2. MadScientist says

    Mmm… I forgot the “leafy seadragon” – have they got ’em? I used to stare at the leafy seadragons for hours – I like ’em even more than the cuttlefish and blue-ringed octopus.

  3. says

    Kellog’s Frosted Flakes is contributing money to high schools via an Internet poll, although its poll has rules about voting only once a day. Still, I wonder how secure it is from robo-voting.

    One contender is an old high school I know in Sacramento, Hiram Johnson High School, named after the Progressive Party governor. You can vote for Hiram Johnson here. (This is funny. I’m trying to help a high school fix their sports field, a place I’d never pay attention to on my own, but friends who send their kids there will appreciate the effort.) Please click on it today.

  4. mus says

    Let’s look at the future and not the past. The Aquarium should receive the funds because it educates people and makes them better people (people who like and care about the environment and such), plus a good aquarium can help in captive breeding programs and such.

    The aquarium is the only choice I saw which has the potential to improve life not just for people but for other organisms, instead of just preserving some piece of history.

  5. Jeff Satterley says

    They have adverts for this posted all over the T in Boston. They are also not clear about whether the top vote getter will get more money, or if its just to get an idea from people about the places they would like to see improved/preserved.

  6. Douchey France says

    Partners in Preservation has been around for a couple years, and it has done a good job in raising both money and awareness for cultural preservation projects.

    Relax, PZ: They do employ “an informed committee, that could actually look at need and value objectively.” That’s how the list of candidates is derived in the first place.

    The more popular projects eventually get prominence on their website and via other media, and will get guaranteed funding, but that doesn’t mean that the least popular will get bumped. The internet polling is more for raising awareness than allocating funds.

  7. Chris Davis says

    I big de partment, but isn’t this a situation where the might of the Pharyngulite Hordes would be best if focussed?

    Couldn’t we have a poll of our own to decide the worthiest cause – in the group’s estimation – to be voted for? This would not be binding, of course, but it would allow those of us with no particular knowledge or favourite to add our quanta to a cause, knowing it was a good one.

    …little thing I call coercive democracy.

  8. CalGeorge says

    This one focused on affordable apartments looks very worthy also:

    St. Joseph’s High School, Coalition for a Better Acre

    “St. Joseph’s High School has long been at the center of the culturally and ethnically diverse Acre neighborhood in Lowell. Although closed in 1991, the school’s cupola remains a skyline landmark in the surrounding neighborhood. A grant would help to renovate the school building into 22 permanently affordable apartments, allowing for the building to actively serve its community once again.”

  9. strangebrew says

    On Blighty TV they had a series that showed six or so ruins…or near enough… and after a month or so asked the viewers to vote on which one to save…

    Money was provided by the National trust…
    All the displayed buildings had some feature which made it quite a difficult decision…either the history or the function…and quite a few already had funds or organisations working to preserve what was left or restore!

    Just find it a rather sad state of affairs that such decisions…mostly with vast amounts of cash…being decided by a television audience…distinctly odd…if not voyeuristic in some strange unfathomable way

  10. Physicalist says

    Vote for United First Parish Church!

    Yes, I know it goes against the grain of Pharyngula to vote for a church, but they were a leader in the fight to get gay marriage legalized in Massachusetts, and they’re a church that welcomes atheists.

  11. NewEnglandBob says

    There are too many worthy choices for me to be able to pick. I have visited most of those on the list and they are worthy. There are a few I would skip, but reluctantly.

  12. Love F says

    I just love it when americans speak of “old” buildnings. My university still uses a building that is some 600ish years old.

  13. daveau says

    I don’t like that it is alphabetical, either. That skews results. Old Ship Meeting House. Cultural events.

    It’s like trial by Internet poll.

  14. Watchman says

    Ugh. This is awful. No, wait. It’s good – but stupid! Some worthy recipients will get the shaft simply because they are not well known to the general public. I’ve been living in the greater Boston area for most of the past 34 years, and I haven’t heard of most of those places.

    Everyone gets one vote per day? Ok, then. Unless some compelling information comes my way, I think I’ll vote for each place once – a tactic that may be mindless, but not as mindless as an ill-informed popularity contest.

  15. Anonymous says

    It’s just that the winner is guaranteed part of the kitty. They don’t get all of the money. They will use the rest of the votes into consideration when distributing money. Most of them seem to be deserving. I voted for Orchard House. Not only was it the home of Louisa May Alcott but most of the most famous critical thinkers of our country have spent time in that house.

  16. rob says

    i voted for the aquarium. i like the fishies.

    i really wish they had a choice for a creationist museum though. i want the world to know how the earth was created by Him: Trees and Mountains and Midgits.

    ziti al dente.

  17. JayDenver says

    Detroit’s Belle Isle aquarium closed recently. I assume it’s pretty much gone forever. All part of the “pageant of history,” I suppose.

  18. strange gods before me says

    This one focused on affordable apartments looks very worthy also:

    St. Joseph’s High School, Coalition for a Better Acre

    “St. Joseph’s High School has long been at the center of the culturally and ethnically diverse Acre neighborhood in Lowell. Although closed in 1991, the school’s cupola remains a skyline landmark in the surrounding neighborhood. A grant would help to renovate the school building into 22 permanently affordable apartments, allowing for the building to actively serve its community once again.”

    That does sound like a good idea. And it’s down at only 2%, right alongside the Museum of African American History.

    About the Museum of African American History

    Abiel Smith School, part of the Museum of African American History, was the first building in America built for the sole purpose of serving as a public school for black children. The school was also a gathering place for abolitionists and other community organizations. Today, Abiel Smith School continues a long legacy of service to the community as part of the Museum of African American History. A grant is needed to waterproof the foundation, preserving the building and its history for future generations.

    Submitted by Alexandra, North Shore

    I am astounded by the current place of the Museum in this contest. I cannot wrap my head around why everyone is not voting for this inspirational and exceptional Museum we are lucky to have in Boston. I have been surrounded by the museum’s stories and cultural variety for most of my life and I know that I would not be the same person I am today if it was not in my life. As a biracial teen living in a predominately white suburb it is sometimes difficult to connect to half of my ancestor’s history. The Museum of African American History has made that possible for me. It has also taught me that it does not hold just the history of African Americans but the history of all Americans.

    There’s a carousel winning the poll right now at 15%. I’m sure it’s a nice carousel.

  19. Dahan says

    How about a little backing for the Boston Center for the Arts? Science and Art, two things that have few off each other for millennium and, at least now days, tend to piss off the Right Wing idiots.

  20. Spyderkl says

    I was honestly torn between the cemetery and the Paragon Carousel (yes, really). The Mt. Auburn Cemetery won.

  21. SaraJ says

    I voted for Paul Revere House. I’m a big fan of history and historical places like that.

  22. blueelm says

    What a strange way to decide. I live in Texas and all those things look very nice, but I don’t know much about them. I was torn between the cemetery, the ballet theatre, and the center for the arts. I chose the center for the arts because the site stated that the money would be used to build a wheelchair ramp. Those things are really helpful to disabled people, although the pretty windows would look nice in that theatre.

    Ah well… we don’t have so many historic sites down here. We tear our architecture down when we’re done with it :(

  23. McBrolloks says

    Thanks for mentioning the Salem Old Town Hall PZ.

    Salem’s history is a reminder of what happens when fundies take over.

  24. JustaTech says

    I went with the Old North Church, mostly for it’s historical significance, the fact that the steeple isn’t actually attached to the building, but simply rests on the roof, was the cause of a Boston law that says you may not just off the steeple with leather wings (happened three times) and they have some folks from MIT come and do mathematical bell ringing.

    It’s a nice spot.

  25. EJ says

    All it says is that the winner is guaranteed to get a grant. They don’t get all of the money, or even necessarily the largest piece. I presume some informed committee figures that stuff out.

    This is just an entertaining way to raise public awareness – it sounds like it has very little to do with how the money is actually allocated.

  26. says

    The New England Aquarium is pretty awesome–especially that central grand tank. They take a census of the tank EVERY day, and have to account for about 700 animals in there. (I think it was 700ish. Some are big like the sea turtles, and some are tiny tiny.) I miss the aquarium a lot actually. We got a membership to the one here in Seattle, but I think the New England one beats it hollow. Everytime visitors would come to town, we’d go through the Aquarium.

  27. ThatOtherGuy says

    The New England Aquarium WAS hurting for money, pretty badly I might add. They were in serious danger of tanking for a while (har har har), but I think things MUST have gotten better, because they’re remodeling the entire back section of the place currently.

  28. DrNathaniel says

    The NE Aquarium is close to my heart of several reasons.

    Foremost, it was where my wife and I were married – or at least, where we had our reception. (I tend to think of the big party as being the wedding, not the ceremony.) Anyway, it was a wonderful place to do it, and the staff were very kind to us. A year and a half later, when my wife was pregnant, we temporarily named the fetus “Turtle” after our Myrtle, one of the big sea turtles there.

    Second, it’s simply a good, fun place. Big spiral concrete tank.

    Third, I’ve read that it is one of the few (only?) remaining aquariums that survives largely on public funds. Most others are either privately owned, or recieve large portions of their operating budgets from large corporations… like Shell and Exxon who are attempting to ‘green’ up their public image. This puts the aquariums in a tough spot for when it comes to environmental education.

  29. 'Tis Himself says

    I voted for Lowell’s Boat Shop because I’m a sailor. The Boat Shop teaches boat building and sailing. Some people I know built a 21 foot sloop there for less than $4,000. So these folks, who otherwise couldn’t afford a boat, have one.

  30. Donovan says

    I voted for the New England Aquarium. It is small, especially compared to Conn.’s Mystic Aquarium. The historical landmarks will receive funds for preservation, but science too often falls by the wayside. Investment in science is an investment in the future and our ability to preserve the old and better the new. By the way, PZ. You should come to Boston more often. It’s a great city. Go Sox!

  31. Aunt Benjy says

    Thanks for pointing this out. I used to volunteer at the New England aquarium back when I was living in Boston without a work visa.

    Haven’t seen it since they expanded, but would love to go back one day.

  32. says

    I knew of this poll a last week and voted for the Paragon Carousel, but only because I grew up in the town where it is located (Hull, or as I referred to it growing up, Hell) and yes, it is very special. It’s one of only a few of its kind in the country, has survived many floods and blizzards – particularly the Blizzard of ’78 – and has a lot of memories for me. It also means a lot to a rinky-dink seaside town.

    I still don’t think it’s a good way to allocate funds, but I looked at it as a way to raise some awareness of these types of places in and around Boston.

  33. says

    Thanks to everyone supporting the Aquarium!
    The comments do a good job of explaining the Partners in Preservation process, so yes… the winner is guaranteed to get their grant but all the sites will be considered for grants and the voting is primarily to raise awareness and attention to preservation issues.

    However the inclusion of a science facility like the Aquarium on this list has brightened our days around here :) It’s nice to know that the Aquarium is considred a cherished cultural heritage landmark as well as a reliable family outing!

    Also… remember to vote EVERY DAY Aquarium fans! We need your support to stay in the top ten!