Academic Hypotheses Versus Religion & Easily Dismissed Conclusions

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The National Bureau of Economic Research set out to determine whether religiosity corresponds with a lack of innovation, as measured by the issuance of patents.  As the economists surely expected when they set out to publish such a paper, the answer at which they arrive is: “yes.”

Even the summary published in the Wall Street Journal gives hints of where argument with the methodology could begin, and purchasing the study itself would no doubt allow for a fleshing out of objections.  But it doesn’t seem necessary to go to such lengths.  Just a look at the headline chart gives reason to think the study’s conclusions aren’t worth exploring in detail.

Reporter Jeffrey Sparshott writes that the negative “relationship is apparent when plotting the percent of the population that describes itself as religious against a population-controlled measure of patent applications filed by a country’s residents.”  The distribution actually shows something more like the opposite.

Sure, the most patent-heavy countries, Japan and South Korea, are not religious, but they’re also from a certain culture.  Another East Asian country, the most unreligious, is China, and its innovation is in the middle of the spread.  Vietnam is nearly as unreligious as South Korea, and it’s the fourth-least-innovate country on the chart.  (North Korea isn’t included, by the way.)

Moving out of the orient continues the point.  The chart is broken into a five-by-five grid, and of the five non-oriental countries in the top quintile for innovation, three are more than 50% religious.  Expand the view to the top two quintiles for innovation, and it isn’t even close.  Only seven of nearly 30 countries in this space have less than 50% religiosity.  Moving the threshold to 60% of residents self-describing as “religious” only picks up two more countries.

From the chart, it’s pretty clear that the reasons there appears to be a correlation between the two variables is that (1) the great majority of countries are substantially religious, (2) Japan and South Korea are innovative outliers, and (3) a number of relatively poor countries (heavily weighted toward Islam) are very religious.

“We’re not making strong claims as to what is causing what,” says one of the study’s authors, but that’s obviously not true.  Even the abstract makes much of a presumption of religious opposition to science.



  • Mike678

    Start with a conclusion and then cherry-pick ‘facts’ to support it. Progressive “science” at it’s best…

    • Not a Bagger

      Sure, just like the climate change deniers.

  • ShannonEntropy

    (3) a number of relatively poor countries (heavily weighted toward Islam) are very religious. …. Even the abstract makes much of a presumption of religious opposition to science.

    A subject I have been fascinated with for years … Islam early on produced some of the world’s greatest math, astronomy, architecture, you name it. Now, these nations can’t even produce their own food and clothes, let alone the weapons & technology they use to attack The West

    What went wrong ?? …. http://tinyurl.com/pexmuor

  • Guest

    With results this inconclusive you can pretty much read into it whatever you want. I take from it the religious extremists may not be the most open to new and innovative ideas. We can see that here in the US with some of the far-right fundamentalists and their denial of much of science.

  • ShannonEntropy

    We can see that here in the US with some of the far-right fundamentalists and their denial of much of science.

    Arguably, the closest the USA ever got to a “far-right fundamentalist” take·over of the government was during the Reagan years

    And the economy flourished then …

    http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/its-reagan-economy-stupid

    • Guest
      • Justin Katz

        There are some interesting reasons for that, but in the past few decades, it’s becoming clear that the Democrats are the party of Wall Street. Reagan’s recovery actually benefitted people below the 1%.

        • Guest

          And Clinton’s did not?

          BTW, ask Wall St. if they want to see Liz Warren elected President.

          • Justin Katz

            Clinton’s an interesting case. His administration set Wall Street loose to create all sorts of imaginary money. That gave him space to stop funding the economy with national debt for a bit. Of course, it only took about a decade to result in the Great Recession, though, which Obama has exacerbated by using new government fake money to refill the accounts of Wall Street without really benefiting anybody else.
            It’s gonna be bad when this bubble pops.

          • Guest

            You don’t expect to be taken seriously by ignoring the role of W’s administration in limiting regulation of non-depository financial institutions and its cause of the Great Recession, do you?

          • Justin Katz

            That was Clinton. Anonymity doesn’t absolve you of the need to look at the history. President Bush should have tried to correct the mistake, although he did try to reign in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the Democrats prevented.

          • ShannonEntropy

            most everything [Clinton] did regarding financial services regulation has come back to haunt us.

            http://www.marketwatch.com/story/bill-clintons-legacy-is-our-financial-disaster

          • Mike678

            Yes–more specifically Barney Frank and his ilk. President Bush raised concerns about Fanny and Freddie that were ignored by Barney and his cronies currently in power. Then came the crash….

            But you don’t expect the ideologically biased–who thinks everyone else but himself is biased–to be factual, do you?

          • Tommy Cranston

            No they want the Clinton’s, who you will vote for. Guess you’re a Wall Street Tool?

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