Depressing but not surprising: religious areas lead to less scientific thought

At least, fewer ideas and inventions patented.:

in a recent paper, Princeton economist Roland Bénabou and two colleagues unveiled a surprising finding that would at least appear to bolster the “conflict” camp: Both across countries and also across US states, higher levels of religiosity are related to lower levels of scientific innovation.

“Places with higher levels of religiosity have lower rates of scientific and technical innovation, as measured by patents per capita,” comments Bénabou. He adds that the pattern persists “when controlling for differences in income per capita, population, and rates of higher education.”

I don’t find that surprising at all.

Japan and China clearly stand out as highly secular, highly innovative countries. At the other extreme, meanwhile, we find nations like Portugal, Morocco, and Iran.

The United States isn’t very from Iran on the first graph provided but the writers clarify that the US does have a lot of patents.

While Chinese residents filed more total patent applications (560,681) in 2012 than citizens of any other country including the United States (460,276), the US still filed more patents per capita, since its population is less than a third of China’s.

Then the researchers focused on the States in general comparing religiously leaning states against others and found similar splits in terms of religious level vs scientific research.

It is important to keep in mind that these findings are correlational in nature; the authors explain that they do not allow for “definite causal inferences to be drawn.” Their own view is that causation probably “goes both ways”: Religiosity stifles innovation, but at the same time, innovation and science weaken religiosity. Or as they put it: “In both international and cross-state U.S. data, there is a significant negative relationship between religiosity and innovativeness (patents per capita), even after controlling for the standard empirical determinants of the latter.”

They also note politics having a lot to do with whether or not a state or country will be avidly pursuing scientific research.

Canada wasn’t mentioned anywhere in this but I’ve been reminded of Canada’s government while reading and an issue between journalists and climate scientists here. I’m not sure how religious Prime Minister Stephen Harper is but the government overall hasn’t been too open about letting scientists speak to the media about environmental issues.

Currently, a google search of “censorship of canadian scientists” gives more than 12 000 000 hits. While the articles and news stories about the muzzling of scientists in Canada are more than abundant, there has been no discernible public outrage or widespread demonstration of support. Perhaps the apolitical nature of the scientific community is to blame, or perhaps the widespread apathy is a tacit agreement with the current government’s opinion that science and politics shouldn’t mix. Whatever the cause, allowing science-based policy to fall by the wayside is shameful for a country that considers itself an example of well-balanced democracy.

A bit more about this from a weather viewpoint, and even more:

In a report called Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy, the UVic researchers present some chilling findings: Scientists are either told not to speak to journalists or to spout a chewed-over party line, rubber-stamped by their PR masters; the restrictions are particularly tight when a journalist is seeking information about research relating to climate change or the tar sands; Environment Canada scientists require approval from the Privy Council Office before speaking publicly on sensitive topics “such as climate change or protection of polar bear and caribou.”

You wouldn’t want the average citizen to learn too much about caribou, now. Who knows how crazy he could get with that kind of information?

It’s worrisome, definitely. I don’t know how much of Canada’s issue comes from religion specifically and how much from Harper and company just being anti-science. That’s a question for someone else to answer.

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