Rosa Brooks consistently writes the weakest and most poorly reasoned columns in the L.A. Times — quite a feat, to be sure. She does not disappoint this week with her laughable piece titled The dark side of faith:
IT’S OFFICIAL: Too much religion may be a dangerous thing.
This is the implication of a study reported in the current issue of the Journal of Religion and Society, a publication of Creighton University’s Center for the Study of Religion. The study, by evolutionary scientist Gregory S. Paul, looks at the correlation between levels of “popular religiosity” and various “quantifiable societal health” indicators in 18 prosperous democracies, including the United States.
It’s official: Rosa Brooks does not know what she is talking about. The study says nothing whatsoever about whether “[t]oo much religion may be a dangerous thing.” Here is a quote from the study itself (my emphasis):
This is not an attempt to present a definitive study that establishes cause versus effect between religiosity, secularism and societal health.
That’s because correlation is not causation. This is a concept I have flogged on this site so many times that my readers are no doubt sick of it by now, but no matter how many times I repeat it, some people don’t seem to get it. I’ll say it again: correlation is not causation! Not even a little bit!
The funny part is that Ms. Brooks actually mouths those words — but then makes it abundantly clear that she doesn’t have a clue what they mean:
Although correlation is not causation, Paul’s study offers much food for thought. At a minimum, his findings suggest that contrary to popular belief, lack of religiosity does societies no particular harm.
Wrong, wrong, and wrong! Brooks is just statistically illiterate.
According to Brooks, correlation may not be causation, but it certainly suggests the absence of an inverse causative effect. In other words, she admits that the fact that we have more of X and more of Y may not show that X causes Y. But (she says) it certainly suggests — at a minimum! — that less of X will not have any effect on the number of Y.
That is just flatly false.
Let’s take an example to make this less abstract. As population increases, you will see more doctors. As population increases, you will also see more sickness, because there will be more people — sick people and well people. In other words, you will see a positive correlation between the number of doctors and the number of sick people.
Does that mean that reducing the number of doctors will have no effect on how much sickness there is in the world? Not at all — and in fact, common sense tells you that quite the opposite would be true. But if you substitute “doctors” for “religious sentiment” and “sickness” for “societal problems,” you could easily see Brooks writing the following:
IT’S OFFICIAL: Too many doctors may increase sickness.
This is the implication of a study showing a correlation between numbers of medical doctors and numbers of sick people in 18 prosperous democracies, including the United States.
Although correlation is not causation, the study offers much food for thought. At a minimum, the findings suggest that contrary to popular belief, eliminating doctors will not cause there to be more sickness.
Why does this woman have a weekly column?