excuse me if I seem a little distracted

But I’m a bit concerned by the conclusions of this article.

The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional.

There are several problems with this study, at least at first glance.
The headline has confused correlation with causation. As I learned recently by my rabid reading of Freakonomics, these are two vastly different things. Correlation is when data or effects appear together, but it’s not obvious which is the cause, which is the effect, and which is unrelated. Causation is a known cause-and-effect sequence. For example, the fact that in 99.9% of car crashes there is gas in the tanks could be wrongly taken to mean that gas is the cause of car wrecks. While there is a correlation of data, it would be simple-minded to conclude that gas is the cause of wrecks. Driver error, vehicle malfunction, and impaired judgement, would seem to be much more probable causes in the minds of most reasonable people. The authors of the study do state that “higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.” (emphasis mine) The next sentence is signifigant, but easily skipped, “nited States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies….” (emphasis mine)
Why is there no comparison to theocracies? It would seem that those would be better examples of societies with “religous belief.” Only nations with a Judeo-Christian heritage are listed as part of the sample, and then not those who have been secularized longer. Where is Australia in this study? Arguably a “developing democracy,” it lays no claim to a religous heritage of any sort, as it was settled by criminals, and would seem to be an ideal secular nation to include.
How were the qualifications for “religious society” decided? Why is the emphasis solely on belief in creation and/or intelligent design? Wouldn’t there be more acurate indicators of religion saturation, such as frequency of participation in some sort of religous observance?
What regression analysis was performed? What variables were controlled?
I don’t think there is enough information in this article for me to draw any conclusions. There are just too many gaps in the information, probably caused by the fact that this is an article about a study, instead of the study itself. I want to read all the information before I can decide wether conclusions I have reached based on faith are supported or disclaimed by scientific analysis.


~ by wildeyedwonder on October 1, 2005.

One Response to “excuse me if I seem a little distracted”

  1. Far too many articles and studies are about pushing an agenda rather than finding a truth. Far too few reporters are smart enough to know the difference.–>

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