Monday, April 25, 2011

Does More Education Lead to Less Religion?

Does More Education Lead to Less Religion?

Post by: Stephen J. Dubner
April 25, 2011 at 9:35 am

According to a new working paper (abstract; PDF) by Daniel M. Hungerman, an economist at Notre Dame who studies religion, the answer is yes. At least in his Canadian data set:

For over a century, social scientists have debated how educational attainment impacts religious belief.  In this paper, I use Canadian compulsory schooling laws to identify the relationship between completed schooling and later religiosity.  I find that higher levels of education lead to lower levels of religious participation later in life. An additional year of education leads to a 4-percentage-point decline in the likelihood that an individual identifies with any religious tradition; the estimates suggest that increases in schooling can explain most of the large rise in non-affiliation in Canada in recent decades.

A key paragraph:

The estimates suggest that, all else equal, one extra year of schooling leads to a 4 percentage-point increase in the likelihood that an individual reports having no religious affiliation at all; a reasonably large effect. Results broken down by religious tradition are somewhat imprecise, but suggest that most of the rise in non-affiliation is driven by a decline in Christian-but-not-Catholic participation. The effects of the laws are not driven by any particular Canadian province. The results suggest that gains in educational attainment can explain over half of the striking rise in non-affiliation seen in Canada during the past half century. These findings provide compelling evidence that education leads to secularization, a result that stands in contrast with most prior research.

Photo: iStockphoto

Among the other papers Hungerman has written or co-authored are “Does Church Attendance Cause People to Vote?” and “Does Religious Proscription Cause People to Act Differently?” It is good to see someone trying to answer important questions like these through empirical means rather than falling back on stereotypical explanations.


Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.


  1. James says:

    I’m thinking this a case of correlation not causation. Is there a correlation between wealth accumulation and affiliation. It seems that Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes shed light on possibly the motivations for pursuing education or wealth. Maybe the motivation leads to a disinterest.

  • Sridutt says:

    Yes it does. I guess thats because learning how the world works makes you think in terms of scientific proof, and also gives you a sens of your own worth. Religion, on the other hand, is a mode of thinking that needs faith more and proof less, and also is designed to make you stay within prescribed norms of behavior or thought or other related things.

  • Eric M. Jones says:

    Higher native smarts correlates with higher education which causes (or helps cause) lower religiosity. Well, Duh….

  • Sam says:

    Check out “Higher Education as Moral Community: Institutional Influences on Religious Participation During College” in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion by one of my sociology professors. He just presented his research to us for the Sociology Club at my school about a month ago and it appears that his research shows a similar result. It appears that there are more secularist at the most elite schools. This article also provides data on the religious practices of those who attend religiously-affiliated institutions. My professor got his PhD from Notre Dame, so perhaps the studies are related.

  • Scott Templeman says:

    May be overlooking that athiests, not having a faith-based belief structure to fall on, would be more inclined to study sciences and human studies in greater detail. I am also curious about the data set- he mentions Canada’s compulsory schooling laws in his abstract. Does the data include students who went to private (religious) schools? Does he segment by the type of religion (different religions are more science friendly than others)? He looks at athiesm and agnosticism as the symptoms of increased schooling, does he explore if this may be a product of the current conditions? If theologians and academics have been at each other’s throats for decades, if one was subsidized heavily would we not see an increase the kind of sentiments they would teach?

  • Andrew says:

    What does this say about divinity school Ph.D’s?

  • Dan says:

    As the son of two doctors who are both devout Catholics, I found this study to be untrue. While this is just a personal example, I think using Canadians instead of Americans makes a difference. Also, many of the professors in these elite colleges are atheist/agnostic, and they try to convince their students to be as well.

  • herman melvillain says:

    Isn’t that sort of like saying more alcohal leads to more intoxication?

  • Swintah says:

    Wait, more educated people are less likely to be superstitious and believe in fairy tales? Get out.

  • Leigh says:

    How about something as simple as 18-year-olds living away from the structure of home for schooling, extended travel or the military?

  • Greg says:

    I would be interested to see if this correlation holds across all religions; I have seen some evidence to suggest that more educated Mormons actually have higher levels of religious participation than non-educated Mormons. This of course may be attributed to the fact that a large proportion of Mormons received their education at Brigham Young University, a church school.

  • Chris says:

    So is the argument then that those who are religious are less intelligent? Or that the academic system stymies religion through it’s liberal bias?

    • KT says:

      What argument? Isn’t this a study of correlation rather than a debate put forth with a specific argument in mind?

      You’re going off half-cocked by being primed to suddenly jump to the defense of religion rather than examine the data and form new lines of rational inquiry.

  • Caleb B says:

    For me, more education led to an increase in religious faith (I attended a state school). Pascal’s Wager basically says that if God exists, it’s logical to bet that He does because if He exists and you DON’T believe, you lose infinitely to the downside (hell), but if you believe and He doesn’t exist, you only lose living an unholy life. Since most religions teach to treat your fellow human beings with fairness, you really don’t lose that much by living a holy lifestyle.

    I can’t prove that God exists, but I’d argue that it’s not illogical to guess that he does. I tell my atheist friends, if I’m wrong, I’ll never know it, but if you’re wrong, you get an eternity in hell to try prove that God doesn’t exist. I think I win either way.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      You really need to examine the philosophical literature around Pascal’s wager a bit more carefully. It is a pretty foolish gamble, and the modern academic literature is unambiguous on that point. I think you must not have attended a very good school if this was not discussed when Pascal’s Wager came up. It was discussed during the lecture and in the text at my state school.

      What about Tlaloc? Are you sacrificing children to him to hedge your bets against retribution from him as well as your bet hedging against retribution from the christian god?

      Does it strike you at all odd that your are behaving under the premise that some all-powerful being wants to punish you for not behaving in some way or other?

      Assuming you cared about and followed the affairs of ants, or of “The Sims” characters, would it make the slightest bit of psychological sense for you to assign deserts to them based on their actions? The idea is bizarre.

      • James says:

        Pascal’s Wager has always puzzled me: you’re supposed to pretend that you believe in hopes of a future reward. But since we’re talking about an omniscient deity, wouldn’t you suppose that He/She/It would know that your belief is only pretense, and so assign you to an even worse afterlife for trying to play silly buggers?

    • KT says:

      Your version of Pascal’s Wager, however canonical, is incomplete. You’re falling for the false dichotomy fallacy. The fully expanded wager would read something more like this:
      If there is a God who works the way you believe God works, you win; non or different believers go to Hell.
      If there is a God or are Gods who work ways other than the way you believe, you lose or gain as much as anybody depending on which specific God or Gods happen to turn out to exist.
      If there are no Gods at all, you lose whatever effort and time you spent on belief-based activities and gain nothing whatsoever for your belief. Different believers lose the same. Atheists lose nothing.

      Phrased this way the wager still favors belief but there’s really no guidance as to *which* belief. Empiricism wins by default for a rational person.

  • Daniel H. says:

    Not surprising, considering faith and education both often appeal to people through their ability to provide means for filling voids that these people perceive in their lives. These voids can take many different forms, with perhaps the most common being “how did we get here”, “why are we here”, and “what is truth”. Education takes over this role for many, as scholars attempt to fill these gaps with secular philosophies and scientific explanations. Because faith requires reliance on Something or Someone outside of ourselves, and involves being held to account for our actions by a Judge of some form, many people would naturally prefer to reject this in favor of self-reliance and self-accountability. This of course does not mean a religious person is necessarily less educated, just that those who are more educated have found extra alternatives to religion.

  • Joshua Northey says:

    Of course. Religion is a an obsolete mechanism to cope with ignorance of the natural world and the fear of its capriciousness.

    The main way it survives is through indoctrination of children with a set of beliefs no longer in coherence with the current understanding of the world. The more education outside of that indoctrination someone receives the more likely they are to drift away from it.

    Particularly harmful to religious belief is unbiased education about ALL the religious traditions of the world. When you can make the analogy between the sheer idiocy and ignorance of a rain dance (or worse yet, sacrifice) and the nearly indistinguishable activity of praying to some metaphysical father…well your behavior usually doesn’t persist.

  • This is a very interesting post and the original article requires a careful review. It probably confirms a belief that many of us have about the role of rational education that draws people out of the faith based system of religiosity. Then, maybe not.

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    A very interesting comment on the "literate sex ratio, 2011 census of India", Sepia Mutiny


    Came across a very interesting post comparing male vs female literacy across the different states of India based on the census data. Log conversion of the literacy rates between men and women shows a very interesting pattern where you see the states of Meghalaya and Rajasthan standing out. The author provides a very interesting explanation for the situation with Meghalaya that it is a matrilineal system and that may account for a higher position of the female (a very special position of the youngest daughter in the family, read the post, it's really interesting). I think by the same token one might explain what's going on in an extremely paternalistic social structure in Rajasthan (I do not know, is that true?)

    The other point is of course crowding at the high female literacy rate and fairly equitable educational attainment distribution (the lower right quadrant of the graph) of the tribal states in the country. I feel the curve could have been the other way round. That way the pattern would still remain the same, but the message would have been stronger. That, female literacy rates increase as education distribution becomes more equitable (ie, the ratio approaches 1.0). Oh well.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    On Japan and New Zealand earthquake and tsunami recovery operations, "wounds you cannot see take longest time to heal"


    One of the must-read posts for those who care about natural disasters and recovery from events such as Tsunami. Two take home lessons from this post are:
    1. "The wounds you cannot see take the longest time to heal." Taken directly from the blog, it narrates the story of people who worry about returning to cultivation, children returning to school to adjust, and how circumstances and life change as a result of a monstrous natural disaster.

    2. Centralizing services and management for these disasters work well. For example, recently in Japan and as well in Christchurch, a central government department is entrusted with the management of post-tsunami/earthquake operations (CERA - Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority). This speeds up work, irrespective of the structure of the government or work culture.

    Good lessons.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    [netrum] scientific fraud in writing - 2

    Vijay sir has posted a very interesting list of scientific fraud in writing in this forum. I'd like to pick up three of them -- selective reporting as scientific fraud, salami slicing of reports, and omission of others' original publications - and post my observations and feelings. I think each of the three is an example of academic dishonesty but there is a deeper societal and cultural systemic basis in each one. I also think using "fraud" to label them as such is too strong a term to use. The reason I think fraud is too strong a term for this set, is in the complexity around each of these, and how people are sometimes compelled under circumstances. 

    Take subgroup analysis for example (See Vijay sir's listing "Reporting only the findings that support the original hypothesis." as fraud. )
    I think there is a fine line between academic pragmatism, dishonesty, and fraud, let's leave at that. On the surface of it, reporting only those data that support the hypotheses seem like fraud (although I'd think it's too strong a word, I'd rather go for "dishonesty" or something similar expressive). I htink these issues merit discussion here. In particular when is selective reporting dishonesty versus when it is not.

    There are situations where the investigators have set out rival hypotheses, gone about data collection in as unbiased a manner as possible, and then have analyzed their data. In doing so, they realize that data in general support their hypotheses and while writing up their publication from the project, would deliberately highlight those points that support their hypotheses. That's straightforward, and most people would not count that as dishonest practices. 

    However, problems arise when people cut some slack on their data, or report justifiable claims of their hypothesis on the basis of subgroup analyses.  For a good discussion of the publication bias and other problems that arise (goes beyond moral obligations of the researcher or the author, and plagiarism charges), see Rifai et al,Reporting Bias in Diagnostic and Prognostic Studies: time for action, full text here (

    As you see, these are systemic problems inherent in the culture of academics that people have come to accept and grow on. These are problems that need to be addressed from a range of different perspectives, as educators, we need to remember that it is the study quality (rather than the precise results) that are important; that p-value does not really tell you anything other the probability of your findings under conditions of the null and that's that; that there is no such thing as "positive" or "negative" studies. There is also a need for registry for all kinds of studies for all countries, or a common database. 

    Similar situations arise when you consider salami slicing of your reports. By salami slicing is meant where you do repeated analysis of the same data, develop different messages out of them package them as publications and get credit for separate publications. In reality, you could have written up all of them in one paper and be done with. Is this dishonesty? Well, yes and no, depending on whose perspective you consider. From an academic knowldege management perspective, it borders on stacking up your plate whereas one paper would do; if you ask the investigator, he or she will justify that each message is vitally important in its own merit, and that any number of messages can be collapsed into one paper, but does that happen all the time? Plus, add to it, the system wants you be more productive and write more papers. Where are the data going to come from? One data, several different messages. The grantor organizations want you to be productive in that, buck for buck, you need to have as much productivity for one project, there is the "culture" of "publish or perish", and indeed, in an academic sense, who'd like to remove oneself from the academic gene pool of excellence and ladder climbing? Add to that the complexity of peer review process and it's no wonder that people would like to cut their data too thin to send to as many journals as possible and hope to get published. One side of the multiple comparison problem in academic data analysis. 

    Is there a way out? Once again, I think it's a systemic issue. There are now multiple channels of academic publishing (of course in biomedical sciences we are a little slow to adapt whereas physics and math people are way ahead with their prepublication archives like ArXiv and so on). There are channels such as blogs and wikis and each is a good way to express your papers. Can we not build an academic knowldege base around them? Must we have peer review processes? For a good discussion, search for Richard Smith [AU] and peer review. Here's a sharp criticism of some problems plaguing our culture of publications in science (perhaps from a biomedical perspective), here by Jet Akst "I hate your paper",
    It of course talks of the peer review system, but you get the idea. 

    The third thing is about lack of citing previous research perceived as academic fraud. And again, I do not know anymore if it is a fraud or if it is dishonesty, or if it is just pragmatism, or jealousy, or not wiling to issue the credit where it's due, or ego clash, or claims, or what it is. At the least, it's irritating. But most discerning readers do find out about these things anyway. Isn't it systemic? You bet. In an environment, where funds are tight, there is intense competition among rival groups working on the same project(s), it is not unusual to see people NOT citing one another and willing to give credit. Dishonesty? Yes, most certainly is. But I also think it's ingrained in our culture where we are hesitant to applaud others (not all are like that, but for many of us, openly applauding others for work that they have done does not come naturally; As Amzad Ali Khan, the famous saradiya, once lamented, he found his desi audience to be too miserly in clapping). Again, issues are ingrained in our culture, in our system, in our psyche. 

    My point here is that, whether it is selective reporting on the basis of subgroup analysis (or other strategies), whether it is salami slicing of data, or wilful resistance to cite other peer groups, each of these is a symptom of a deeper systemic issue ingrained in our culture, be it academic, be it otherwise a generic social issue. Of course, that is not to take away any blame from the reporter/student/researcher. My point is this, issuing a warning is not enough under the circumstances. There is now also a case to strengthen the structure and influence the mindset of the students/early career researchers/funders to alert them about the perils of moral crises. 

    # :-), my two cents

    # /Arin 


    Saturday, April 9, 2011

    MJ Akbar's "A fast unto life", a great post about Anna Hazare's fast

    MJ has a good point, I think where he writes about how many Anna Hazare's have been born among us and if it has aroused our conscience. It is not a question about his way of action, policy, if he is right or wrong, if he broke the law, and so on. It's about inspiration. Is he? I think so, at least I am inspired by his example.

    Byline by M J Akbar: A fast unto life

    Mahatma Gandhi flagellated himself with 17 fasts. They were not all fasts unto the death; they could be time-specific. This did not reduce the risk to his life, for 21 days without any nourishment or medical intervention could drag a frail man with an average weight of some 110 pounds to death’s door.

    Gandhi was a visionary, but not one ever trapped by illusion. He did not believe that a fast would persuade the British to pack up and leave the most lucrative part of their far-flung empire, the jewel of their crown, just because one obstinate, half-clad, toothless native had decided to stop drinking goat’s milk for a few days. The British establishment always treated Gandhi with contempt (exceptions like Lord Irwin apart); and as defeat loomed in the 1940s this evolved into unmitigated loathing, not least because an extraordinary arsenal of non-violence, moral momentum, and an unprecedented national awakening had driven history’s mightiest empire into limp impotence. When Gandhi started his liberation movement, the ranking Indian within the establishment, Lord Sinha, confidently averred that the British Raj would last for four hundred years. Thirty years later, the last Viceroy with any authority Lord Wavell [Mountbatten was a mere midwife, and left the motherland bleeding] had this to say in his diary on 26 September 1946: “The more I see of that old man [Gandhi] the more I regard him as an unscrupulous old hypocrite; he would shrink from no violence or bloodletting to achieve his ends…he is an exceeding to achieve his ends…he is an exceedingly shrewd, obstinate, domineering, double-tongued, single-minded politician”. You have to hate someone with unbelievable intensity to stitch together such a farrago of lies. Wavell wrote this just after his beloved British Raj had killed some four million Bengalis through another man-made famine.

    Paradoxically, many of the British on the second rung admired the man who had made it his life’s work to destroy their empire. They understood that if they had been born Indian they would have been with Gandhi. On 11 January 1924, the superintendent of Pune jail, where Gandhi was interned, rushed the Mahatma to Sassoon hospital for an emergency appendicitis operation. The electricity went off when Colonel Maddock, the surgeon-general, was operating on the night of 12 January, with the help of a British nurse; he completed his duty with torchlight. Gandhi thanked them for saving his life, and they were proud to do so.

    The British constituted only half the challenge before Gandhi; the other, and bitter, half were fellow Indians. Gandhi knew that unless he could exorcise, or at least contain, the evil of communal violence between Hindus and Muslims, even success could become ash in his mouth. He had no instrument of coercion to use against fellow Indians, but he had a secret weapon: moral blackmail. He could hold his own life hostage through a fast while Indians sorted out between themselves whether the ransom, Gandhi’s life, was worth paying. Over and over again, India paid up, for no Indian, Hindu or Muslim, wanted the sin of a Mahatma’s death on his head. It was in 1924, the same year as his appendicitis, that Gandhi went on a 21-day fast after the Kohat riots. Very deliberately, he chose to fast at the home of the great leader of the Khilafat movement, Maulana Mohammad Ali, in Delhi. By the time he sipped some orange juice on 8 October, the fever of violence had passed, at least for the moment.

    The instinctive reaction of governments to any such fast is cynicism. A government might be, in fact, as weak as a terminal patient in cancer ward, but will delude itself, till its dying breath, that to surrender before a man ready to sacrifice his life will make future governance impossible. The Congress, which had wept through Gandhi’s fasts, refused to compromise when a Gandhian went on a fast unto death to demand the creation of Andhra Pradesh in 1950. The Gandhian died, and Andhra was born. The Akali Sants put fasts to effective public use during their movement for a Sikh-majority Punjab. The Marxists laughed about Mamata Banerjee’s weight when she went on a fast in Calcutta to protest against their land policy; on 13 May, when the Assembly election results are out, Mamata will have the last laugh.

    A fast succeeds not because it bends a government to its will, but because it is the yeast that foments the rise of a populace. Anna Hazare’s fast in Delhi is not meant to bring down a government, its solitary purpose is, or should be, to resurrect an India that had become so supine that it slept indolently while the wealth of this nation was being looted by a handful of politicians and their acolytes. Anna Hazare is not waiting to see how many corrupt, hypocritical ministers come to his side; he wants to know how many Anna Hazares have emulated him on a street corner in front of their homes. He has asked just one question: do you, fellow Indians, have a conscience?

    If the answer is yes, then rise and save your nation from the death-grip of corruption. This is a fast for India’s life.

    An interesting blog entry on "The Orwellian Doublethink Syndrome" sweeping public life in India

    Earlier this year, a group of Indian citizens including the likes of prominent industrialists Anu Aga, Azim Premji and Keshub Mahindra and wrote an open letter to government leaders asking them to curb rampant corruption, and contain the “governance deficit” plaguing the country. Problems seem to be scaling much faster than the capacity of policy makers and government leaders to formulate and deliver solutions.

    Despite recent media attention, this governance deficit is more grave than is appreciated, and presents serious risks for global investors pouring capital into the world’s second fastest growing economy. In fact, the government’s actions over the last year or so could lead one to speculate that India in 2011 is increasingly becoming like the dystopia envisioned by George Orwell in his classic novel 1984.

    In the novel, Orwell defines the concept of doublethink as:

    “…the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies.” In 1984, the governing party maintains its rule by employing doublethink “to dislocate the sense of reality.”

    MJ Akbar, widely regarded as one of India’s finest political commentators, wrote last year that, paradoxically, it was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s weak and pliant character that allowed him to rise to the nation’s most powerful political post. Manmohan Singh has been able to assume the highest political office because he is very unassuming. Until now, his personal probity has been shielding the UPA government. A sampling of some of the decisions taken recently by the UPA seem to realize, sometimes in horrifying ways, George Orwell’s dystopian state from 1984.

    In September 2010, PJ Thomas, a bureaucrat with corruption cases pending against him, was picked by the UPA government as head of India’s constitutional anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Vigilance Commission, despite the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha registering her dissent at the time of the appointment. Eventually, it was only with the intervention of the Supreme Court that PJ Thomas’s appointment was struck down. In February this year, the government proposed amendments to India’s Information Technology Act that would give it sweeping powers to censor content on the Internet.

    Notably, in November 2010, the mass media decided to collectively black out the biggest exposé of the internecine and incestuous relationship between the government, prominent media personalities, corporate lobbyists and industrialists, while blogs and social media last year swung into action to help bring the scandal into the mainstream consciousness.

    Most recently, in the imbroglio surrounding the Jan Lok Pal Bill to reform and create mechanisms for checking corruption, a group of ministers chaired by Sharad Pawar and including the DMK’s MK Alagiri, both with suspect credentials, was formed to consider the appeals led by veteran social activist Anna Hazare. We’ll return to this issue shortly.

    On the economic front, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee re-classified social sector spending on schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) as capital expenditure in this year’s Budget, effectively under-stating the likely fiscal deficit. It is also notable that to artificially create employment under MGNREGS, the government bans the use of machinery. On principle, is this policy dramatically different from the Samajwadi Party’s regressive promise to ban the use of computers because computers were “destroying” jobs?

    When asked about second-generation economic reforms, Pranab Mukherjee  dismissed the charge of the Budget lacking bold reform steps and insisted it was already a very reformist Budget, calling demand for economic liberalization “adventurism”. Year after year, India’s chief economic policy makers take high growth for granted.

    India has a prime minister who holds a powerful office because he is weak, who is renowned for his personal probity but has presided over the most corrupt government in the nation’s history, who has the finest academic credentials as an economist and kick-started India’s liberalization in 1991 as finance minister, yet has failed to implement any economic reforms as head of the government since 2004 and instead foists upon an unsuspecting nation a regressive job creation program that bars the use of machinesdistorts labour markets, causes inflation and destroys productivity, going so far as to classify MGNREGS expenditure in ways that under-state the long-term fiscal damage caused by it.

    Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s record since 2004 is one of irreconcilable contradiction and deliberate divergence between his stated individual attributes and the policies pursued by his government – a case of textbook doublethink come to life, one that even George Orwell could not have scripted better.

    Indeed, one is impelled to question whether this a calculated political strategy by the Congress party to dislocate the sense of reality of Indian citizens and voters.

    Is this the kind of leadership and policy vision that will be able to do justice to India’s economic potential and drive its rise to economic superpower status? As Bob Dylan might have said, the answer is blowing in the wind.

    In the last few days, we have been led to believe by the mass media that Anna Hazare’s movement has been spreading across India. There’s tremendous public anger against the raft of scams and massive corruption that has come to light over the last six months.

    As the INI Acorn blog has analyzed expertly, neither the means nor the policies that Hazare and his followers are using and proposing to implement will actually result in eradicating or reducing corruption. All those thinking the Jan Lok Pal Bill will be a silver bullet against graft will be disappointed in the long run.

    That the movement should gain so much traction tells us that the public mind too has been entrapped by Orwellian doublethink. The current government has succeed in dislocating reality and confusing Indian citizens into thinking elections are pointless and democracy has no value.

    One would have expected the Opposition parties to have consolidated the groundswell of outrage against corruption, but gleefully for the Congress party strategists, the “Sab chor hain” logic seems to be winning and people are rejecting politicians en masse. Orwellian doublethink has succeeded in confounding the Indian masses.

    Egyptians and Libyans took to the streets to overthrow dictatorships, Indians are taking to the streets to overthrow our democracy by employing unconstitutional means to pursue unconstitutional ends.

    We should keep our Republic.

    I happened to read this today. I think it presents a great argument on the current state of life in India. The most disturbing aspect is an unquestionable acceptance of the doublethink in public life.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    I really liked Blekko for running complex searches and simplify

    Fb Login

    friends make search better!

    when you log into blekko through FB connect, your friends automatically become part of your searches. As you search, blekko shows you the results your friends have liked through Facebook. Also search only the pages you and your friends have liked and sort results by the number of likes

    How it works:

    1. Log in to blekko via Facebook Connect.
    2. After logging in, blekko automatically creates for you a slashtag called /likes. This slashtag includes sites you and your friends have "liked" through Facebook.
    3. From then on, the last line of every search result will show which of your friends liked each site.
    4. Also, you can:
      • search only sites you and your friends like by adding /likes to your search query. (i.e. music /likes)
      • sort results by the number of likes by clicking the sort icon to the right of /date at the top of the page
      • like any site directly from blekko by clicking the 'like' link under each search result title
      • search a specific friends likes by clicking their name in the search result.

    This morning I was running database searches on prevalence and incidence rates of different diseases for a project. The searches started with the usual google>>google scholar >> pubmed >> embase and so on, when at one point I tried out creating slashtags on blekko (, (see the attached snapshot). I think it's got a great potential to customize search to levels that we have not seen before. It streamlines searches and findings to unbelievable levels of sophistication. I'd be watching this space. I particularly liked the social aspect of the searches, and the powerful filtering capacities, as well as running and customizing "just what I need", not the millions of results to wade and filter through. It requires a little bit of plugging and understanding the process of using slashtags, but saves a lot of time in the end. Great stuff.

    Monday, April 4, 2011

    Richard Smith's advice to scrap peer review and wariness of “top journals

    Richard SmithThe neurologist and epidemiologist Cathie Sudlow has written a highly readable and important piece in the BMJ exposing Science magazine’s poor reporting of a paper on chronic fatigue syndrome, (1) but she reaches the wrong conclusions on how scientific publishing should change.

    For those of you who have missed the story, Science published a case control study in September that showed a strong link between chronic fatigue syndrome and xenotropic murine leukaemia virus-related virus (XMRV). (2) The study got wide publicity and was very encouraging to the many people who believe passionately that chronic fatigue syndrome has an infectious cause. Unfortunately, as Sudlow describes, the study lacked basic information on the selection of cases and controls, and, worse, Science has failed to publish E-letters from Sudlow and others asking for more information.

    In the meantime, three other studies have not found an association between chronic fatigue syndrome and XMRV. (3-5)

    To avoid such poor reporting in the future Sudlow urges strengthening the status quo—more and better prepublication peer review. Not only is she trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted she has also failed to recognise the possibilities of the new Web 2.0 world. The time has come to move from a world of “filter then publish” to one of “publish then filter”—and it’s happening.

    Prepublication peer review is faith based not evidence based, and Sudlow’s story shows how it failed badly at Science. Her anecdote joins a mountain of evidence of the failures of peer review: it is slow, expensive, largely a lottery, poor at detecting errors and fraud, anti-innovatory, biased, and prone to abuse. (6 7) As two Cochrane reviews have shown, the upside is hard to demonstrate. (8 9) Yet people like Sudlow who are devotees of evidence persist in belief in peer review. Why?

    The world also seems unaware that it is scientifically dangerous to read only the “top journals”. As Neal Young and others have argued, the “top journals” publish the sexy stuff. (10) The unglamorous is published elsewhere or not at all, and yet the evidence comprises both the glamorous and the unglamorous.

    The naïve concept that the “top journals” publish the important stuff and the lesser journals the unimportant is simply false. People who do systematic reviews know this well. Anybody reading only the “top journals” receives a distorted view of the world—as this Science story illustrates. Unfortunately many people, including most journalists, do pay most attention to the “top journals.”

    So rather than bolster traditional peer review at “top journals,” we should abandon prepublication review and paying excessive attention to “top journals.” Instead, let people publish and let the world decide. This is ultimately what happens anyway in that what is published is digested with some of it absorbed into “what we know” and much of it never being cited and simply disappearing.

    Such a process would have worked better with the story that Sudlow tells. The initial study would have appeared–perhaps to a fanfare of publicity (as happened) or perhaps not. Critics would have immediately asked the questions that Sudlow asks. Instead of hiding behind Science’s skirts as has happened, the authors would have been obliged to provide answers. If they couldn’t, then the wise would disregard their work. Then follow up studies could be published rapidly.

    Unfortunately, unlike physicists, astronomers, and mathematicians, all of whom have long published in this way, biomedical researchers seem reluctant to publish without traditional prepublication peer review. In reality this is probably because of innate conservatism and the grip of the “top journals” who insist on prepublication review, but biomedical researchers often say “But our stuff is different from that of physicists in that it may scare ordinary people. A false story, for example, “Porridge causes cancer” can create havoc.”

    My answer to this objection is that this happens now. Much of what is published in journals is scientifically poor—as the Science article shows. Then, many studies are presented at scientific meetings without peer review, and scientists and their employers are increasingly likely to report their results through the mass media.

    In a world of “publish then filter” we would at least have the full paper to dissect, whereas reports in the media even if derived from scientific meetings, include insufficient information for critical appraisal.

    So I urge Sudlow, a thinking woman, to reflect further and begin to argue for something radical and new rather than more of the same.

    1. Sudlow C. Science, chronic fatigue syndrome, and me. BMJ 2010;340:c1260

    2. Lombardi VC, Ruscetti FW, Das Gupta J, Pfost MA, Hagen KS, Peterson DL, et al. Detection of an infectious retrovirus, XMRV, in blood cells of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Science 2009;326:585-9.

    3. Van Kuppeveld FJM, de Jong AS, Lanke KH, Verhaegh GW, Melchers WJG, Swanink CMA, et al. Prevalence of xenotropic murine leukaemia virus-related virus in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome in the Netherlands: retrospective analysis of samples from an established cohort. BMJ 2010;340:c1018.

    4. Erlwein O, Kaye S, McClure MO, Weber J, Willis G, Collier D, et al. Failure to detect the novel retrovirus XMRV in chronic fatigue syndrome. PLoS One 2010;5:e8519.

    5. Groom HC, Boucherit VC, Makinson K, Randal E, Baptista S, Hagan S, et al. Absence of xenotropic murine leukaemia virus-related virus in UK patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Retrovirology 2010;7:10.

    6. Godlee F, Jefferson T. Peer Review in Health Sciences. 2nd ed. London: BMJ Books; 2003.

    7. Smith R. Peer review: A flawed process at the heart of science and journals. J R Soc Med 2006;99:178-182.

    8. Jefferson T, Rudin M, Brodney Folse S, Davidoff F. Editorial peer review for improving the quality of reports of biomedical studies. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 1. Art. No.: MR000016. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.MR000016.pub3 

    9. Demicheli V, Di Pietrantonj C. Peer review for improving the quality of grant applications. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 1. Art. No.: MR000003. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.MR000003.pub2 

    10.  Young NS, Ioannidis JPA, Al-Ubaydli O, 2008 Why Current Publication Practices May Distort Science. PLoS Med 5(10): e201. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050201

    Competing interest: RS is on the board of the Public Library of Science and an enthusiast for open access publishing, but he isn’t paid and doesn’t benefit financially from open access publishing.

    I got this from Ves Dimov's tweet this morning and read the blog entry. This has been debated for a long time in different circles about doing better than relying on pre publication peer review as a means of quality control. Ron LaPorte et al wrote in "Scientific Journals are ‘faith based’: is there science behind Peer review?" (see here that this was due to (I quote verbatim) because of the "almost non-existent use of the scientific method to question and test the publication process itself". This brings back the old debate of using scientific methods to question the process of science publication itself. A good post and worth reading and discussions.

    Carl Heneghan's selection of top ten most influential Epidemiological studies

    I’ve created a list of what I think are the top ten the most influential epidemiological studies – I’m looking for feedback to see what folk think.

    Therefore, if you believe there should be something different on the list then can you post a comment. Rules are it has to be a clinical study that involves people, which excludes basic sciences. In addition the study has to have subsequently influenced the field significantly.

    Doll Richard, Bradford Hilly A (June 26, 1954). "The mortality of doctors in relation to their smoking habits. A preliminary report". British Medical Journal 1 (4877): 1451–55. PMID 13160495

    Antiplatelet Trialists' Collaboration. Collaborative overview of randomised trials of antiplatelet therapy--I: Prevention of death, myocardial infarction, and stroke by prolonged antiplatelet therapy in various categories of patients BMJ. 1994 Jan 8;308(6921):81-106. PMID 8298418

    Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST) Investigators. Preliminary report: effect of encainide and flecainide on mortality in a randomized trial of arrhythmia suppression after myocardial infarction. N Engl J Med. 1989;321:406-412. PMID 2473403

    MRC Streptomycin in Tuberculosis Trials Committee. Streptomycin treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis. BMJ. 1948;ii:769–783. James Lind summary

    Thomas Francis, Robert Korn, et al. "An Evaluation of the the 1954 Poliomyelitis Vaccine Trials." American Journal of Public Health 45 (1955), 50 page supplement with a 63 page appendix. The salk vaccine trials

    Randomized trial of cholesterol lowering in 4444 patients with coronary heart disease: The Scandinavian Simvastatin Survival Study Lancet 1994; 344 1383-1389 PMID 7968073

    1998 (now retracted)
    The Editors Of The Lancet (February 2010). "Retraction--Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children". Lancet 375 (9713): 445. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)60175-4. PMID 20137807.

    Bonadonna G, Brusamolino E, Valagussa P, Veronesi U. Adjuvant study with combination chemotherapy in operable breast cancer. Proc Am Assoc Cancer Res Am Soc Clin Oncol 1975;16:254-and N Engl J Med. 1976 Feb 19;294(8):405-10. PMID 1246307

    Thomas R. Dawber, M.D., Gilcin F. Meadors, M.D., M.P.H., and Felix E. Moore, Jr., National Heart Institute, National Institutes of Health, Public Health Service, Federal Security Agensy, Washington, D. C., Epidemiological Approaches to Heart Disease: The Framingham Study Presented at a Joint Session of the Epidemiology, Health Officers, Medical Care, and Statistics Sections of the American Public Health Association, at the Seventy-eighth Annual Meeting in St. Louis, Mo., November 3, 1950.
    Framingham Heart Study

    On the Mode of Communication of Cholera by John Snow, M.D.
    London: John Churchill, New Burlington Street, England, 1855 On the Mode of communication of cholera

    Look forward to seeing what you think
    you can post it to me on twitter

    Cheers Carl

    Interestingly almost all the studies were either randomized trials or cohort studies (Framingham study).

    Sunday, April 3, 2011

    No genius plays only for himself

    An excellent commentary on the recent Indian world cup win from Akbar.

    Byline by M J Akbar: No genius plays only for himself .

    The difference between the Indian team that won the World Cup in 1983 and the one in 2011 is an uncomplicated one: the economy. The 1983 victory was a consequence of talent, extraordinary self-belief and some luck. In 2011 the Indian cricket team is by far the richest eleven in the game, sucking the oxygen out of other sports, a template for ambition in homes across the small cities that will become the Delhis and Mumbais of tomorrow, a magnet for middle class and rural India which understands that the distance from obscurity to superstardom is a game that bypasses the educational demands of conventional professional upward mobility, and fetches rewards quite outside the zone of merit and salary. Cricket has become a supreme totem pole of the Indian economy both on an individual as well as a collective level, a classic instance of the virtuous cycle in which money breeds success and success generates greater profits. India begins with a substantial advantage over the other cricket teams of South Asia. Victory and defeat are determined of course by the human element, otherwise sport would be too dull to bother about; but the institutional spread offers both a massive pool of talent as well as the motivation that only an exploding bank account can bring. Yusuf Pathan cannot find a place in the final eleven, but is nearly Rs 10 crores richer out of the IPL which will follow the World Cup. He was born in circumstances where such a figure was beyond imagination.

    How much better, therefore, would the brilliant players of Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been had they had the good fortune of such an economy to hone and add lustre to their superb capabilities? The tragedy of a negative environment is profound: when Pakistan players make a mistake (and they made too many in the semi finals against India to be forgiven) cruel whispers of match-fixing swirl around. The post-match talk is all about whether the Pak interior minister had been briefed by his intelligence agencies when he publicly warned the team about throwing the game away against India. The logic is mathematical, rather than moral. There is immediate and continuing monetary reward for an Indian player which makes the risk involved in a fix a stupid option. A crook might be able to continue playing cricket, but no crook is going to get paid to appear on an advertising billboard. But if a player is in the unenviable situation where cash from illegal betting is higher than legitimate earnings, temptation will always hover inside the dressing room. It hardly helps that some Pakistani players were recently caught making deals with bookies, despite high levels of vigilance imposed by ICC. In Mohali, the Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi won millions of Indian hearts when he accepted the adversity of defeat amid a cloud of inevitable suspicion, with the grace of a great champion: how much more would his genius have flowered if he had lived in a more stable age of Pakistan's history!

    The tortured internal conflicts within Muralitharan's soul can barely be imagined: a Tamil who got an impossible 800 Test match wickets playing for Sri Lanka during decades shredded by a civil war between a Sinhala-majority government and the Tamil Tigers. Did the ferocity in his eyes belong to inner demons? If they did, he is a man of great character, for he silenced them through a display of commitment to his team and flag that has made him a hero of his nation. No genius plays only for himself: talent might belong solely to the self, but withers when it becomes selfish. Murali, or Sachin Tendulkar have achieved much more than their ability warranted because they also surrendered their genius to a higher, national cause. Neither needed to be captain to prove they were superior; the responsibilities of captaincy diminished Sachin. Those of us who delight in cricket should consider ourselves blessed because we will see, on Saturday, the finest batsman in history compete with the greatest spinner ever born in a match of wits that could define which side will take the cup. This is obviously written before the result, but the result is only going to be a statistic. A statistic has no place in an epic. We shall see the last, dazzling burst of meteors that have enflamed our firmament.

    So far, Sri Lanka have been the best team in the tournament. They have been so good with the bat that we do not know how good, or indeed how fragile, they are down the line. The partisan within me admits this reluctantly, but the past is, in such an event, irrelevant to the present. Murali will bowl his last ball in a World Cup, and Sachin stroke his final off-drive through a motionless field. Those are memories that will mature into magic as we weave our own way to our last days.