Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An social sanction that hurts (pic)

There's a substantial literature about the use of shaming in deterring crime.  This picture gives an example of it, and, at least to me, it seems like it would be particularly effective.

Monday, February 22, 2010

UConn hits the bigtime!

From today's comics (wrong colors, though)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bad statistics assignment

For my intro to sociology class, I gave an assignment for the students to find the worst social statistic that they could find (and I would give a prize for the worst one).  I figured that this would be a good way to get them to evaluate critically a wide range of social statistics.  Instead, they all just googled "bad statistics."  What they brought in was entertaining, and they had to explain why the statistic was bad, but it wasn't quite the learning experience that I was looking for.  I guess that if I were younger, I would have anticipated what happened.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sociologists get religion

Here's an article from Inside Higher Ed that describes how sociologists are not only studying religion more often, but they're becoming more likely to use it as an independent variable.  In other words, they look at how religion changes people and groups, not just how social things change religion.

A quotation: "As a new study has found, there has been a significant increase over the last 25 or so years not only in the quantity of work done by sociologists on religion, but also in how religion is treated in those studies. No longer is it assumed to be only a reflection of some other socioeconomic trend, but increasingly it is treated as the factor that may be central to understanding a given group of people."


Thanks Patti!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A good sign (pic)

It's wonderful to see people use their businesses to help the poor.  Wonder what I could do as a sociologist?  Maybe teach regression at homeless shelters?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Wealth and religion across nations

The Pew Foundation published a report that had this very interesting table in it.  It displays the relationship between the wealth of nations and how religious they are.  It demonstrates how unique the US is, in that we're fairly religious for our level of wealth.

Again, as per last week's post on the ecological fallacy, this doesn't mean that there is a negative correlation between religion and wealth between individuals, but still it's an interesting pattern.

Any thoughts as to why?

Thank you Carson!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Friday, February 12, 2010

What? Christianity leading another person to do good...

I came across an article about Jim McCloskey of Centurion Ministries.  He works to free prisoners who were falsely convicted.  I love these kinds of innocence projects (the best-known ones involving DNA analysis), for they help the neediest and correct injustice.

As described on his website: 

"The primary mission of Centurion Ministries is to vindicate and free from prison those who are completely innocent of the crimes for which they have been unjustly convicted and imprisoned for life or death. We also assist our clients, once they are freed, with reintegration into society on a self-reliant basis."

Without any formal training as a private investigator, why would he devote his life to doing this?  "He started attending church again. The lessons McCloskey heard in the sermons “compelled one to serve others, and the only person I had been serving was myself.”"

He quit a lucrative job, went to seminary, and one thing led to another and now he's doing this.  

Well done!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ecological fallacies and studies of religion

I've recently seen several studies that look at correlates of religiousness and various social maladies in different population areas (e.g., countries, states).

The chart below, for example, looks at levels of religiousness an poverty, crime, divorce, and health.  Lo and behold, the more religious states are the worst off on most these measures.  A naive interpretation of these might hold that religion creates social maladies.

This brings us to the concept of an ecological fallacy.  Basically, population-level correlations do not need to hold at the individual-level.  From Wikipedia:  "The term comes from a 1950 paper by William S. Robinson.[4] For each of the 48 states in the US as of the 1930 census, he computed the literacy rate and the proportion of the population born outside the US. He showed that these two figures were associated with a positive correlation of 0.53 — in other words, the greater the proportion of immigrants in a state, the higher its average literacy. However, when individuals are considered, the correlation was −0.11 — immigrants were on average less literate than native citizens. Robinson showed that the positive correlation at the level of state populations was because immigrants tended to settle in states where the native population was more literate. He cautioned against deducing conclusions about individuals on the basis of population-level, or "ecological" data."

As such, the chart below does find correlations between religiousness and various maladies, but that is not necessarily evidence that a person who becomes religious than experiences more of these maladies.  For example, the best available individual-level evidence shows us that:

There is certainly nothing wrong at looking at population-level correlations, we just need to realize what we can, and can not, learn from them.

Thank you Carson!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

It's hard to be a rebel in mom's minivan (pic)

I love this "demotivational" poster....  I don't know how, yet, but I'm going to work it into an intro sociology lecture.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Smackdown Christianity

An article in the New York Times last week described a group of Christian ministries based on mixed martial arts.  One of these ministries has the motto: “Where Feet, Fist and Faith Collide.”  This type of ministry, according to the article, "is part of a larger and more longstanding effort on the part of some ministers who fear that their churches have become too feminized, promoting kindness and compassion at the expense of strength and responsibility."

I can see that it has a place in the church, as long as MMA are legal and has fans, but it doesn't particularly appeal to me, though that's probably because I'm too old.  Maybe I need a ministry based on mixed photographic arts?

Thanks David!

Friday, February 05, 2010

(Not) measuring religion on the U.S. Census

The U.S. Census, which is coming up this year, does not measure people's religion, but it turns out that wasn't always the case.  In the 1800s, it included some interviews of clergy about their flocks, and this provides a statistical portrait of U.S. religion at that time, and this type of information was collected through the middle of last century. (Rodney Stark and Roger Finke have made good use of these data in various publications.)

I have periodically wondered about the history of religion and the census, and so I was interested to find this summary in a Pew Foundation report.

A bright side of not having Census data about religion is that Pew and the American Religious Identification Survey have stepped in and collected regular, large-scale surveys about American's religious affiliation and beliefs, and they collect richer data (albeit from a sample) than the Census would have.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

In praise of clergy

As a follow up to Monday's post, I have long thought that clergy members are consistently among the most moral, loving people that I know. I had a conversation a few weeks ago that reminded me of this.

A local church as quite a bit of woods on its property, and it's not far from the high school. I was talking to the pastor, and he told me of going out into the woods and finding some high school kids smoking dope in a clearing. What did he do? Call the cops, yell at them, tell them to get out? No, he went to strike up a conversation to start "building a relationship" with them. His goal was to be a positive influence in their lives.


Monday, February 01, 2010

Breaking news: Priest does something wrong!

What makes a news story interesting? One thing is if it is unexpected (e.g., man bites dog rather than dog bites man.) When it comes to religion and crime, this means that its very "interesting" when people who we don't expect to do wrong actually do so.

Here's a fine example. I read in the paper recently about a Catholic priest in Illinois who shoplifted butter and a sofa cover at Walmart. He also switched pricetags on a pricier item.

According to this site, there is over 30 billion dollars of retail loss every year, probably a lot from shoplifting. So why in the world would a newspaper in Connecticut publish information about a minor shoplifting case in Illinois?

The media's proclivity for highlighting religion-crime stories skews people's perspective on the matter. In fact, studies have found that religion is associated with less criminal behavior, and I would venture that priests shoplift less than most segments of society. Still, from the media, we can incorrectly conclude that religion is associated with high rates of crime.