Here’s a Misleading Picture of Religion Around the World

Here’s an interesting example of misleading with statistics. At least, I think so. Here’s the original chart from Pew Research:

Sure enough, there’s a strong trendline showing that people who say religion is very important also believe that religion has been growing more important since 2000.

But wait. It’s pretty obvious that the test countries are broken cleanly into two different groups, and the slope of the trendline is almost entirely driven by the second group being higher than the first on both measures. But what if you look at the two groups separately?

These trendlines are just eyeball efforts on my part, so don’t take them too seriously. Still, I don’t see much of a trend within either group, and the dots are scattered pretty widely around the trendlines.

So my tentative conclusion is that there’s no correlation at all between religion being personally important and believing that it plays a more important role than it used to. The whole effect is driven by the difference between these two groups, which, roughly speaking, is the difference between high-income countries and low-income countries. That might be an interesting topic, but it’s quite different from what Pew says about this.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.