Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Feta cheese

Tonight's dinner table discussion (while eating a greek dish): Does feta cheese come from the milk of sheep, goats, or chickens.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the fear

As I sat at my office this afternoon, enjoying the serene view of summer out my window, what should I hear today but an air raid siren. Of course, what else would you hear in rural Connecticut this time of year?

It turns out that they were testing the air raid sirens to see if even worked and, if so, could they be heard throughout campus? The answer, I can assure you, is "yes" and "yes".

They haven't used these sirens for many, many years, and so I imagine they had to call somebody who retired long ago to even find out where the darn things are.

Why would they care about the sirens? Well, whereas in the 1950s, we feared be bombed by the Russians (and post-Coldwar documents have shown Storrs to be a priority in the communists bombing plans), now we worry about Virginia Tech type shootings. You see, these sirens are to alert people of when (certainly not just "if") such shootings will happen.

A friend who is in campus administration (and still remarkably sensible) told me that after the VT massacre, UConn officials were asked by various parties what they were going to do to prevent such an event here. At the time, there wasn't any obvious solution... students are already prohibited from having guns on campus. I suppose that somebody had to do something, so now we have air raid sirens to listen for.

What better way to deter this type of crime than blaring a loud siren... maybe students who flip out with guns also gain sensitivity to loud noises. "I would start ranting and shoot you all, but... oh, my ears."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

No parsimony in the classroom

Sometimes I come away from teaching pumped up about teaching college students. So much potential with these young minds.

Other times I'm rather discouraged, and now is one of those times. I just taught the first class of summer school, and as I was lecturing I used a word that produced a few quizzical looks. So, I stopped and explained it, and still... Finally, I asked how many student had known what the word meant? Out of 21 students, only one did, and she's attends a private college (and is just picking up an extra class over the summer).

That esoteric word: parsimony.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Code orange

When I flew out to SoCal last week, I heard a strange thing over the loudspeakers at the airports. A serious voice announced that the Homeland Security people had put out an orange alert. Now, according to their website, an orange alert means "high" risk of terrorist attack.


First off, I'm not a huge fan of flying to begin with, so this extra "you may die" information isn't that helpful.

Second, what am I supposed to do with this knowledge? Why are they telling us it? There are five color alerts (I had to look that up, but I figured at the time that orange wasn't good). Maybe Homeland Security people should give us instructions on how to react to each color. Here are some ideas:

Green: Make all the bomb jokes you want. We'll laugh.

Blue: Glare at fellow passengers.

Yellow: Eat a good meal, it might be your last.

Orange: Run to the nearest airport kiosk and start dumping out water bottles.

Red: Initiate immediate racial and ethnic profiling.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Christians and pornography

(Post 6 in a series)

In this series, I am going through various sexual behaviors and examining rates of Christians' participation in them versus those of people of other religions and no religions. Today's topic is pornography.

Before getting to the data, let me point readers to These guys do a *great* job in helping the Church deal with the issue of pornography. They also made an hilarious and interesting documentary about their getting going, called Missionary Positions. (Watch it here).

The General Social Survey asks respondents if they have watched X-rated movies in the previous year. Taking data from the last 20 years, here are rates by religion and attendance to religious services. I define active as attending on about a weekly basis.

37%, No religious affliation
33%, Non-active Black Protestants
33%, Non-Active Catholics
32%, Non-active other religions
28%, Non-active Evangelicals
26%, Jews
25%, Total sample
24%, Non-active Mainline Protestants
20%, Active Black Protestants
15%, Active Catholics
14%, Active in other religions
10%, Active Mainline Protestants
9%, Active Evangelicals

Sample size = 17,711

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Back to respectability

Well, in SoCal, I had several long talks with my brother. In one of them, I told him various things about our lives and family and typical brother stuff.... In return, he said something along the lines of "dude, get a haircut." When even your brother tells you to do it, it's time. So I did: Just about all of it. I went from shoulder length hair to trimmed sides and looking just like everyone else. Sigh... At least I don't have to act respectable.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Christians and promuscious sexual behavior

(Post 5 in a series)

In the last several posts, I looked at pretty standard measures of sexual behavior--premarital and extramarital sex. Here I look at a measure that perhaps gets at promiscuity. The General Social Survey asks respondents how many sexual partners they have had in the previous year, and below are the percentage of respondents who reported that they had 3 or more sexual partners. I chose the number three because with two it could be someone getting a divorce and remarrying. Three implies something more.

% of respondents with three or more sexual partners in the past year:

13%, No religious affiliation (n=2,369)
12%, Non-active Black Protestants (580)
9%, Non-Active, other religions (740)
9%, Non-Active Catholics (3,166)
8%, Jewish (406)
6%, Non-active Mainline Protestants (2,695)
6%, Active Black Protestants (580)
6%, Non-active Evangelicals (2,795)
3%, Active, other religions (454)
2%, Active Evangelicals (2,361)
2%, Active Catholics (3,166)
1%, Active Mainline Protestants (1,070)

Caveats: I am not controlling for age... maybe it's just that young people sleep around more and young people are also less religious. I'm also not controlling for marriage. Maybe religious people are more likely to be married and married people are less likely to have multiple sexual partners.

GSS data, 1985-2004.
Next in series: Christians and pornography

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

John Wright, man of action

Here's a picture of my brother launching a couple of days ago. I believe that he was sipping a martini when the call came in from a government official that they needed his help.

BTW, the canyon he's launching over is about 2,000 feet down. Yikes!
John very kindly hosted me to a great time, including daily trips to the hang gliding site, eating at great restaurants, and fun play time with his daughter.

Monday, May 21, 2007

We're #1

U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A
I'm doing my part to keep the USA #1! I've been pounding In-N-Out and Mexican food all week. Those bloggers who do push-ups in bowling alleys and who run marathons are holding us back. With effort and concentration, I'm sure we can break through the 1/3 mark... You've got to want it!


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Religion and infidelity in Kenya

Here's an article sent to me by Ben in Nairobi. (Thanks Ben). It demonstrates how issues of religion and sex vary widely across cultures...

Smitten by the witches of Meru
Last Updated on May 14, 2007, 12:00 am
By Peter Thatiah

Good advice for married men: Next time you lose your national identity card, the first place to look for it is at the local witchdoctor’s den.

Not only are witchdoctors in love with other men’s identity cards but also, it seems it is the latest weapon of combating husbands with roving eyes on the eastern slopes of Mount Kenya.

Armed with wallets stuffed with miraa money, men from this region are some of the most liquid in the country. The season of the second lump payment for tea produce, also known as tea bonus in the area, is even merrier.

Husbands are known to vanish from their homes for weeks after the ‘bonus’ only to reappear after the money has been depleted — never mind that they are hardly ever involved in the tea-picking itself.

This has driven many women to devise drastic ways of taming their wayward husbands.

The recent death of a famed witchcraft master in the Akirang’ondu area of Meru North District has left many men with frayed nerves.

Fame for containing wayward husbands

For the rest of the article:

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Dispatch from SoCal

Well, somehow I've ended up at an all-inclusive resort... my brother is doing/has everything. We went for a bicycle ride along the coast this morning, and we're eating out most meals. It's been ages since we've gotten to hang out like this, and I'm really enjoying it.

Yesterdays hang gliding was, well, nerve-wracking. The air was really bumpy--like a plane going through turbulence--and it had been six months since I had flown. Still, I launched from 2,200 feet and landed in once piece. I belly-flopped the landing, not very hard, but unfortunately, my brother got it on video.

SoCal moments:
- My brother blogging while I was driving us home yesterday. His laptop has a wireless plug-in or something like that.
- An amazing number of expensive cars... very few 10-year-old Honda station wagons
- Outstanding Mexican food (though we eat it after, not before, flying).

Friday, May 18, 2007

Christians and rates of premarital sex

(Post 4 in a series)
Having looked at extramarital sex in the past few posts, I now turn to its younger sibling, premarital sex. Now, this is actually a somewhat more complicated thing to make sense of, because it encompasses several different processes--if people get married, at what age they get married, and what they do before they get married. So, if religious people have premarital sex less often it could be because they get married more often or at a younger age, not necessarily because they are more chaste before marriage (net of marital age).

Given this caveat, here are some data from the National Survey of Family Growth based one a question of whether respondents have ever had premarital sex.

- 65%, All Protestants
- 74%, Non-active Protestants
- 49%, Active Protestants

Black Protestant
- 83%, All Black Protestants
- 89%, Non-Active Black Protestants
- 76%, Active Black Protestants

- 63%, All Catholics
- 71%, Non-Active Catholics
- 48%, Active Catholics

Other Religion
- 58%, All Other Religion
- 68%, Non-Active Other religion
- 45%, Active Other Religion

No Religious Affiliation
- 80%, No Religious Affiliation

All Respondents
: 68%

Note: The categories are coded a little differently here than in posts using GSS data. Evangelicals and mainline Protestants are combined. Black Protestant here means black and protestant rather than attending a black protestant denomination, as in the GSS data. Again "active" indicates weekly service attendance.

Again, there seems to be a religious effect, with religious people tending to be less likely to have premarital sex than those professing no religion. Also, those who attend more services are less likely to have premarital sex.
Nontheless, rates are above half for just about everyone.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gone hang gliding

Today I am flying to Southern California to spend four days hang gliding with my brother. He is flying me out with his frequent flyer miles, driving us around, and putting me up at his house. Wow! What a brother!

I've worked out a rigorous schedule for the four days:

- Wake up
- Walk to the beach (yes, he lives that close)and splash around
- Go hang gliding
- Eat Mexican food
- Play with my uber-adorable 1-year-old niece

Repeat four times

Nice, huh?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Extramarital sex by religion and gender

(Post #3 in a series)
Here are data from the General Social Survey regarding extramarital sex by religious affliation.

Again, the question is: "have you ever had with sex someone other than your husband or wife while you were married."

The first number is the ery rate for women, the second number for men, and the third number is the ratio between the two. I.e., the % men divided by % women. I list them in ascending order of gender ratios.

(Women, Men, gender difference (male%/female%)
23.1%, 28.6%, 1.2 No religious affiliation
9.8%, 13.1%, 1.3 Evangelical, active
18.9%, 27.6%, 1.5 Other religions, non-active
15.3%, 23.0%, 1.5 Catholic, non-active
14.9%, 25.8%, 1.7 Evangelical, non-active
11.6%, 19.6%, 1.7 Jewish (predominately infrequent attenders)
21.0%, 37.0%, 1.8 Black Protestant, non-active
12.2%, 22.0%, 1.8 All Christians
8.0%, 14.0%, 1.8 Mainline Protestant, active
12.4%, 23.5%, 1.9 Mainline Protestant, non-active
14.8%, 30.5%, 2.1 Black Protestant, active
7.4%, 21.1%, 2.9 Other religions, active
6.0%, 18.3%, 3.1 Catholic, active

There is quite a gender difference across religious affiliations--something I didn't expect at all.

I have some off-the-cuff explanations for the patterns observed above, but let me ask it as a question. What patterns do you see in the data? Why do actively religious men and women act so differently compared to non-religious men and women?
n = 13,098

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Christians' rates of extramarital sex

(Post 2 in a series)

Let's start with a important distinction: Extramarital sex is very different than extra marital sex ;-). One is a great idea, the other isn't.

As I have done in previous series published here, I will compare Christian denominations vs. other religions vs. people of no religion. I will also separate religious people by the frequency of their attendance, with the idea being that more frequent attendance represents greater commitment and involvement.

Also, as discussed in previous posts, these are cross-sectional data that simply answer if Christians are different. Why they are different is a much more difficult question to answer. Perhaps Christianity makes people act differently; perhaps people who act differently join Christianity; perhaps Christians answer sensitive survey questions differently.

With these qualifications in mind, let's go to the numbers. These are statistics drawn from the General Social Survey, one of the most frequently used data sets in the social sciences. I used data from 1990 - 2004, encompassing over 20,000 respondents.

The GSS asks "Have you ever had sex with someone other than your husband or wife while you were married." As such, these data do not include people who were never married.

Rates of extramarital sex by religion/ attendance levels are as follows:

27.7%, Black Protestant, non-active
26.1%, No religious affiliation
22.8%, Other religions, non-active
19.6%, Evangelical, non-active
19.3%, Black Protestant, active
18.8%, Catholic, non-active
17.1%, Mainline Protestant, non-active
16.1% All Christians
15.1%, Jewish (predominately infrequent attenders)
13.2%, Other religions, active
11.0%, Evangelical, active
10.3%, Catholic, active
9.9%, Mainline Protestant, active

What do these data tell us? There seems to be a big religion effect, in that people who are involved in any religion have lower rates of adultery than those with no religious affiliation. There is also a big attendance effect--people who attend religious services weekly are much less likely to have extramarital sex. Finally, there's a moderate Christian effect in that compared to other religions, Christians have relatively low rates of extramarital sex.

It is possible, however, that what looks like a religion effect is really a gender effect. Maybe more women are both more likely to be religious and less likely to have affairs, so the measures of religion here are simply proxies for gender. I'll address this issue tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Christianity, extramarital sex, and gender


Monday, May 14, 2007

Sex and Christianity: Prevailing Beliefs

(Post #1 in a series)

Here is my philosophy on sex and Christianity (paraphrasing an old commercial for Reese's cups):
They are two great things that go great together.

Frankly, I should probably stop writing now because that's probably the best thing I'll have to say about the topics, but I will write on anyway.

An an introduction to this series, I would like to review prevailing beliefs about the sexual behavior of Christians. As far as I can tell, it's almost all bad news out there. Here are some data presented in Ron Sider's award winning book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. According to Sider (pp. 22-24):
* Josh McDowell says that Evangelical youth are only 10% less likely to engage in premarital sex than non-Evangelical.
* True Love Waits states that only 12% of the young Christians taking their pledge actually keep them.
* George Barna finds that evangelicals are only a little less likely to live together outside of marriage than others.
* Steve Gallagher writes that Christian men are as likely to be involved in pornography as the unsaved.

Is this true? Are Christians little different than others when it comes to sex?

In this series, I will be looking various sexual behaviors and their rates for Christians versus others. Using data from several studies, I will examine behaviors usually spoken against (e.g., extramarital and premarital sex), behaviors debated (e.g., being gay), and behaviors encouraged (e.g., martial sex).

Next in the series: Christian rates of adultery.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Quotation about love

From a recent sermon by Ben Dubow:

"Love God, love others, and everything else is just the details."

Cool, huh? Puts things in to proper focus.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A new incentive for surveys?

A chronic problems in surveys is people declining to participate in them. In a recent church survey that I conducted, I ask what can be done to improve the survey for next time. Here's the most compelling answer, and it might be something researchers could use to bump up response rates, at least for religion surveys.

"There should be some sort of incentive [for taking the survey]... perhaps a 10% discount off one month's tithe or God answering your next prayer for your favorite football team."

Hm-m-m-m, I'll see what we can do for next time.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Confessions of an empiricist III

My empirical streak runs to religion too, for some of the major turning points in my life toward God have come as personal experiences.

Foremost among them, after high school I spent five months bumming around Europe. I spent most of the time by myself, but at one point, about four months in, I perceived God to be present. Wow, was I surprised. I certainly was not looking for Him, nor was I particularly thinking about Him. Have you ever heard noises in the background that don't come fully to your attention and then, in a flash, realize that someone is making those noises? That's what happened to me here, and at some level that has never left.

I've had other, inexplicable things happen regarding religion that maybe some day I'll post about, but, ultimately, my of how I understand God is based on experience rather than philosophy. I don't assume that this is a particularly good way to know God, or would I use it as proof to others that God exists. Still, the reality of it forms a foundation of how I function spiritually.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sex and Christianity: The Series

On Monday I start a new series on Sex and Christianity. Rather than give practical advice (on either), I will present data from various sources on Christians sexual behavior. Do Christians have more extra-marital affairs? Look at more pornography? How often do married Christians have sex with their spouse?

Yeah baby... what a topic.

Confessions of an empiricist II

Here I apply my empirical nature to sociology.

I really like sociology for the tools it gives for counting, measuring, watching, and otherwise analyzing human behavior. Over the years, however, I have noticed that I have become increasingly ambivalent about using some of the more sophisticated statistical methods.

Here's why: The more complex the statistical analysis, the more assumptions it makes about the data. These assumptions are not observable, and thus, strictly speaking maybe not empirical.

Ironically, high-end social statistical analysis starts to resemble philosophy--based on what's assumed, not observed. Not that there is anything wrong with either, they are just not my preference.

Of course... this may all just be my reaction to having been introduced to LISREL my first week of graduate school. ;-)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Confessions of an empiricist I

I was reflecting this morning on what I see as one of my basic orientations toward life: empiricism. It's probably a good thing that I got into the business I'm in because I have always wanted to collect data to test assumptions.

In eighth grade we learned about something called the normal probability distribution and read various descriptions and proofs of it in our math book. Me being me, I was interested by far from convinced. So, what did I do? Went home and got 10 pennies. I put them in a cup, shook them, dumped them on the table. I then counted how many heads were showing. I figured that if this normal distribution really held, I'd see something like a bell-curve in terms of the number of heads. Most = 5, then 4-6, and so on.

I did this one thousand times and plotted the results. (In case you're wondering, the normal distribution really works... at least with pennies. I didn't try any other coins).

In two future posts I'll write about how this empirical orientation fits with sociology and religion.

By the way, I have learned that in the midst of a marital disagreement, the statement "well, it's an empirical issue", though often correct, is never, never helpful.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Stray deconversion comments

I was working on the methods section of our deconversion paper this morning, and I came across some funny comments made by people who had previously been Christians but had left the faith.

One questions ask the respondents how they label themselves now. They usually say "atheist" or "agnostic" or something cool-sounding like "freethinker" or "humanist." One guy, however, just wrote: " -off."

Another question asks people to summarize in a sentence why they left Christianity. The answers here vary widely, but one repondent wrote: "I realized it was all a load of crap."

Monday, May 07, 2007

Graduation ceremony

I spent yesterday afternoon at the undergrad graduation ceremony here at UConn. As a faculty member, this entails renting a cap & gown, standing in line, walking in a line, sitting, standing, sitting, standing, walking out as a line, returning the cap & gown. It's not entirely clear if we add anything to the day, but, hey, it's kind of fun. This year was actually much shorter than previous years, only 1 hour, 37 minutes! And the commencement speaker, British author Fay Weldon, was great.

During the brief 97 minutes I had sitting there, with nothing to do, I noticed a few things.

1) Money. Who was about the first person to talk to the students? The head of the Alumni Foundation. The message: Keep in touch and give us money. I suppose that graduation, like some many other things, involves getting money.

2) Happy. All the students were happy, even the ones who I knew usually didn't look happy (at least in my classes. Of course, there could be other explanations for that...).

3) Cynical. Every graduation I have attended, including my own, have started with me in a mood of dismissive cynicism--what a bunch of pointless ceremony--and ended with me feeling maudlin. (I should probably sign up to go more often).

4) Cap & gown. Every two years I drop $40-$50 bucks to rent a $300 outfit for a couple of hours use. Let's see, if I buy one myself, I break even in about six years... beyond my time horizon for financial wisdom. (I may stop thinking rationally about decisions more than about a week away).

5) Peaking. Little do the students know, but in many ways this day is the peak of many good things for them. Personal autonomy, number of friends, physical health, and, discretionary time (and maybe income). When I made this comment to a friend, sitting next to me, he added: and sex.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Adventures in cluelessness

This last week, my wife asked me to drop off our six-year-old son, Floyd, and his friend, to a birthday party. I drove down the street to a neighbors party for their eight-year-old, complete with inflatable jumpy things, and dropped off the boys.

About an hour later, my wife told me that the birthday child's mother called and said that Floyd and friend had never arrived. Why? I took them to the wrong party. I had seen the neighbor's party earlier and just figured that was it. So, the boys had fun for an hour at somebody else's party then when to the right one.


(At least I didn't drop them off at an undergrad drinking party).

Friday, May 04, 2007

Does prayer work?

Strictly speaking, whether prayer works is an empirical question. Pray for some, not others, see who gets better. Now, I realize there are possible theological implications to this kind of study, but various researchers have done it.

Recently David Hodges, of Arizona State, did a meta-analysis of 17 empirical studies "the effect of intercessory prayer among people with psychological or medical problems," and he found an overall positive effect.

His conclusion: "prayer is effective." Cool!

Thanks to Gary Sweeten for point out this article.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

When pharmacy students go bad

I assigned an extra-credit assignment in my criminology class and got back a wonderful study. A pre-pharmacy student went to class, and noticed that very few students were attending. (Apparently the students viewed the class as not too informative, above and beyond the readings).

In a self-described "mischievous mood", the student faked an attendance sheet and sent it around, as if it were from the professor. At the end of class, the student picked it up from the last student who filled it out, and the professor never knew about it.

Seventy students signed the sheet, which is fine except that there were only 42 students in the room. Apparently many of them signed up the names of their friends. The student, who knew pretty much everyone in the class, observed that no one helped out the branch-campus students, who have to commute, and that in all romantic couples with one of the partners missing, the other partner signed them up.

At least these students won't be doing essential tasks for society in a couple years, such as creating and distributing medication.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

What's your favorite color?

On of the many fun things about teaching college students is their sense of humor. Not only are many of them wicked funny, but they take the time to express their irreverant humor. (I.e., haven't been beaten down by life... yet).

In preparation for the final, I gave them 100 study questions. The last one was "what's your favorite color"--in tribute to Monty Python. Here's the discussion board posts about it, with about twenty students chiming in. (A couple told me afterwards that they were rather loopy studying for finals.)

- Purple!
- Wrong.
- WHAT?!!!
- violet?
- Because the real answer is RED!!
- funny how this post has more replies than pretty much all the others... and purple is wrong
- I can't find the answer to this one!!!!!! I looked in the notes, read the textbook cover to cover....hoping this one is on there... haha
- Green because it is the color of money :)
- hahah well some1's favorite color is ognna b missing.. there can only b 5 multiple choices.. lol... maybe u can actually get this one wrong!
- I say orange. And I’m sticking to it.
- its clearly hot pink danielle...:)....everyone knows the world should be colo pinkkkkk!!!
- Look, I'm having some difficuly with this question. I don't appreciate all the sarcasm people have been showing. I go through different phases of favorite colors and I don't know what phase I'm in right now, but it's somewhere between green and blue. I'm hoping this isn't on the exam tomorrow
- teal
- Grassy Knoll Green
- all of u r wrong. the best color is Jay-Z blue
- haha i think everyone has lost it!!!!
- yeah we are having wayyy to much fun with this one......
- midnight blue...obviously
- its yellow everyone...this info has been confirmed by a reliable source!
- reveal the name of this supposed reliable source... and its midnight blue too, the color of the uniforms of the majority of our police forces in the U.S.
- so whats the final answer, i wanna know soon since the exam is in 3 hours....
periwinkle blue

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

How to make church more exciting

I'm working with several colleagues on a project studying deconversion--why some Christians leave the faith. We're writing it up now, and the interviews that we're studying are interesting in many ways and sometimes very funny. Here's what one former Christian said about he would change the church service.

"Church is extremely boring--like an hour long sleeping pill--and the communion crackers are like cardboard. If they gave out Oreos or something like that instead, maybe I would have stayed."

A church growth idea? ;-)