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.