Category Archives: politics

The Religiosity-Racism Link

Admitting that there are “so many, many positive aspects and benefits to religiosity”, the authors of a meta-analysis on the subject have shown a positive correlation between religious affiliation and racism.

Organized religion […], by its very nature, encourages people to accept one fundamental belief system as superior to all others. The required value judgment creates a kind of us-versus-them conflict, in which members of a religious group develop ethnocentric attitudes toward anyone perceived as different. […]

Studies have shown that religious adherents are more likely than agnostics and atheists to rate conservative “life values” as the most important principles underlying their belief systems.

Those specific values — social conformity and respect for tradition — also most closely correlate with racism. In short, people are attracted to organized religion for the same reason some people are inclined toward racist thinking: a belief in the sanctity of established divisions in society.

Of course there are numerous caveats. The most important of which is that the correlation is strongest with religious fundamentalists and is “unclear” with those who are attracted to religion as a spiritual pursuit (as opposed to those who attend church as an obligation).

The researchers also note that the link is particularly strong with highly educated seminary students, that the correlation seems to have been decreasing in recent decades, and that there is no link between “intrinsic religiosity” and racist attitudes (although there is also no link between this “intrinsic religiosity” and racial tolerance).

via Intelligent Life

The Relationship Between Police and Crime

Does an increased police presence decrease crime? That’s the seemingly simple and obvious question that Mark Easton poses on his BBC blog before explaining the difficulty in attempting to discern if a greater number of police helps to reduce crime.

To set the scene, Easton quotes from a Steven Levitt study (pdf) that attempted to answer this question by analysing crime fluctuations around electoral cycles (because, equally interestingly, the number of police increases around elections).

One of the most surprising empirical results in this literature is the repeated failure to uncover evidence that an increase in the number of police reduces the crime rate. Of the 22 studies surveyed by Samuel Cameron (1988) that attempt to estimate a direct relationship between police and crime using variation across cities, 18 find either no relationship or a positive (ie incorrectly signed) relationship between the two.

Easton does conclude, however, by saying that it “would be almost perverse to argue that more police has no effect on crime. But we don’t know how much impact they have or how long that impact lasts”.

via @vaughanbell

Happy Citizens are Good Citizens

By fostering happiness in our cities, towns and villages we are simultaneously cultivating inhabitants that will give more blood, donate more to charity, and generally be better citizens.

That’s the conclusion from a study looking at how happy people become better citizens as a result of being happy.

Happier people trust others more, and importantly, help create more social capital. Specifically, they have a higher desire to vote, perform more volunteer work, and more frequently participate in public activities [i.e. community activities, religious events, cultural events and social gatherings]. They also have a higher respect for law and order, hold more association memberships, are more attached to their neighborhood, and extend more help to others.

No doubt, there’s a positive feedback loop here (e.g. happiness increases participation in social gatherings, social gatherings vastly increase one’s happiness).

The researchers go to great lengths to show causality from happiness to social capital and trust but I’m still not completely won over. Check the paper and see what you think.

via Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Why There’s No Good News

Discussing briefly a key tenet from his latest book, The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley looks at how and why pressure groups limit the amount of good news reaching the general public and those in decision-making positions:

There are huge vested interests trying to prevent good news reaching the public. That is to say, in the ruthless free-market struggle that goes on between pressure groups for media attention and funds, nobody likes to have it said that ‘their’ problem is not urgent and getting worse. […]

This is wrong on all sorts of levels. First, because it shows a staggering arrogance among pressure groups about who should be allowed to know the facts — almost amounting to attempted fraud. Second, because the way to encourage people to fund projects is to show evidence that they work, not that they are futile and ineffective.

Ridley also puts blame on the journalists for their unquestioning belief of claims of urgency and deterioration: “the two things that get editors’ attention”.

Bonus Cultures and Ideal Banks, Schools, Hospitals

In light of the ongoing debate with regards to the financial sector’s so-called ‘bonus culture’, economist John Kay looks briefly at the history of the bonus and why the idea of a ‘bonus culture’ is a “poor joke” (using the example of teacher and doctor bonuses).

At one time, the offer and receipt of a gratuity was a statement of social and economic superiority on the part of the giver, its acceptance a statement of social and economic inferiority on the part of the recipient. To be salaried – to be trusted to do the job for which you had been contracted and paid – was a mark of status. Contractually agreed performance-related pay – commissions and piece work – was widespread in shops and factories, but has now largely been abandoned.

The common outcome was that employees came to care more about the quantity of the product than its quality. The system polarised the conflict between the interests of the organisation and of those who worked in it. […]

Teachers and doctors strongly resist the introduction of a bonus culture: not just because they resent measurement of performance and accountability for their activities […] but because they oppose importing the culture of assembly lines. They fear an environment in which they would be encouraged to focus on narrowly quantifiable objectives at the expense of the underlying needs of clients.

Even if many teachers and doctors are incompetent and lazy, many others are seriously committed to the organisations for which they work, the subjects and specialisations to which they are devoted, and to a broader sense of professional ethics: and it is only people like these who establish the kinds of schools and hospitals we want as parents or patients.