Questionable Motives

July 22, 2011

Does economic inequality foster religious faith?

It appears so. There is a growing body of evidence (here and here and here) that the degree of religosity is directly and positively correlated to adverse social conditions. What this means is that the influence of religion can best be reduced by eliminating those adverse social conditions that promotes it.

So how do we know if economic inequality is an important and significant factor?

In a new paper Economic Inequality, Relative Power, and Religiosity, the authors have collected data from 76 countries using 12 different measures for strength of faith where we see this very strong correlation:

Across the bottom is the income inequality per country compared to the left column as a frequency of occurrence of whatever the stated question asks. As we can see, the lower the inequality, the lower the frequency, the higher the inequality, the higher the frequency. This is statistically significant and helps to explain that even in developed countries, the impetus for religiosity is based on social conditions that promote economic inequality and not on the truth value of the religious claims themselves.

So is religiosity growing or declining in the United States?

Interesting, eh? This is good evidence that the assumption made by accommodationists – that we need to be less, and not more, critical of religious interference in order to promote science – seems to be misguided. Equitable economic factors seems to be primary.

For a more in-depth look at this study and some of the important questions it raises, check out Jerry Coyne’s assessment and many excellent comments at Why Evolution is True.

November 21, 2009

Christian Science therapies: the conspiracy behind paying for prayer revealed

Backed by some of the most powerful members of the Senate, a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.

Senator Harkin, says

“It is time to end the discrimination against alternative health care practices.”

“This is about giving people the pragmatic alternatives they want, while ending discrimination against practitioners of scientifically based alternative health care. It is about improving health care outcomes. And, yes, it is about reducing health care costs. Generally speaking, alternative therapies are less expensive and less intrusive – and we need to take advantage of that.”

Why would the government want to make sure prayer could be reimbursed as form of medical intervention? Surely our elected representative would not pander to their constituents? That would be beyond the pale.  There must be a deeper, more sinister, reason.  And I remember: dead people cost no money.

The application of Christian Scientology, er, no, it must be Christian Scientist therapies has well documented effects upon the Christian Science population. And those effects are not beneficial to anyone who is not a mortician.

For example, in 1989 JAMA published a cohort study (Yes, I know from the last post that cohort studies prove nothing nothing nothing, but I am uncertain how one would apply Christian Science in a randomized, placebo controled, double blinded manner).

They looked at outcomes in 5,500 Christian Scientists and compared them to a group of almost 30,000 controls using conventional medicine.

For each age group from 1934 to 1983, there was a greater death rate in the Christian Scientists when compared to the control population, a difference made more remarkable as Christian Scientists neither smoke nor drink.

So the real conspiracy (how’s that for an oxymoron) is that the US government wants to save health care dollars by recognizing and legitimizing complimentary and alternative medical procedures and therapies. Why? To kill you! Now there’s a death panel!

The complete article can be read here.

November 4, 2009

Predictive Science: why all the hype?

Filed under: Criticism,economics,Science — tildeb @ 2:06 pm

science fundingAs physicist Niels Bohr once jokingly put it, “predictions can be very difficult—especially about the future.”

All joking aside, there are very serious consequences to predictive science. So why do scientists make such predictions?

An article here at The Scientist by Stuart Blackman explores this issue.

It’s a changing role for science that finds formal expression in the scientific funding process, says Brian Wynne, professor of science studies at Lancaster University, UK. “Every research proposal these days, whichever field you’re in, has got to include a statement on the impact your research is going to have. And that isn’t just intellectual impact; it’s also economic impact. And that is basically requiring scientists to make promises, and to exaggerate those promises.”

Central too is the desperate competition to get funded and published, which forces scientists to emphasize the potential impact of their work, introducing further temptation to exaggerate. Last year, 8% of papers submitted to Nature were accepted for publication (down from nearly 11% in 1997). In recent years, fewer than 1 in 10 applications for new R01s from the US National Institutes of Health have been successful.

On the one hand, many scientific predictions have been wrong – some spectacularly so. This failure understandably costs science some of its reputation for reliability. On the other hand, scientific fraud – like the results that supposedly supported Hwang Woo-Suk therapeutic cloning – can be revealed for the fraud it is, which attests to the virtue of scientific peer review and testability to expose exactly this kind of problem.

We need to understand what drives such shaky predictions to be made in the first place and not attribute it to some fundamental weakness in the scientific method. The hype factor for prediction in science has nothing to do with the actual science and everything to do with receiving grants, continuing to receive ongoing funding, and the selling of related products. We need to keep that firmly in mind next time we read, see, or hear about some marvelous new science that somewhere, someday, will change the world.

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