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Evolved Thinking?

[from Calamities of Nature. You can also buy this as a poster.]

© Tony Piro

This graph definitely supports American Exceptionalism!

See Piro’s proof of evolution. He also has an interesting graph plotting Google searches for “god” against “free gay porn”.



  1. Morrius wrote:

    That’s a very euro-centric chart. How about India, China, or Canada? Are they outliers too?

    Does this trend follow if you include the middle east, southeast Asia, Africa, or South America? Be careful about people who cherry pick their data points!

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink
  2. Dan wrote:

    He plotted all the data available in the cited paper. He’s not cherry-picking.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink
  3. Michael wrote:

    I saw this a while ago, and I still have trouble pulling some grand insight from it. Yes, it implies that the U.S. is somehow different, but what are the long-term implications? Is he somehow suggesting that, eventually, the anti-science zealots will take over and impoverish our nation? I find that unlikely, given the fact that we have so many ultra-rich (which keep the GDP/capita high).

    Personally, I would kind of like to see the U.S. data broken down according to income blocks. E.g., plot the 0-25%, 26-50%, 51-75% and 76-100% incomes and show their ratio of belief in evolution. My prediction is that the extremes (0-25% and 75-100%) would match the statistical norm more, while the middle segments would be the source of the anomaly. It’s easier to hold a fringe religious belief (on paper, anyways) when it doesn’t really impact your way of life.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink
  4. ThatGuy wrote:

    You’ll also find that places like India, China, and much of Africa, have pretty low GDP/capita. The middle east would be all over the place (if we assume evolution is uniformly unpopular there) because countries like the UAE have impressive GDP/capita, while places like Iraq do not. Iran is also relatively low and Saudi Arabia has about half the GDP/capita as the US.

    In short, yes, if we added all the other countries to the list, there would be outliers, such is the nature of statistics. But, some of the big economic powerhouses like China, I think, would be more likely to support the graph above.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  5. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Well then Dan, perhaps the paper cherry picked its data and he just agreed and advertised it. Just saying…

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  6. ThatGuy wrote:

    I don’t think there’s any question that most of the paper focused on Europe. But it does a good job of involving developed nations. Also as I said before, the other economic powerhouses like India, China and Brazil are still in many ways, developing nations, with pretty low GDP/capita. It’s more likely, in my view, that the author of the paper made Europe the center of the study because it has a pretty good range of countries from developed through developing.

    Having said that, if anyone who disagrees would like to point out more outliers, please do so. The UAE is already one potential exception to put next to the US, and actually above it on GDP/capita.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  7. Dan wrote:

    The original paper is not only five years old, but also does not include GDP/capita among its regressors, so I don’t think this is an agreement to make ‘advertising’ of any form.

    A reading of the paper reveals that obtaining reliable data for China, India, etc, would not at all be trivial.

    And like any good paper, it tries to answer a few reasonably well formed questions, rather than everything.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink
  8. starluna wrote:

    I gather from skimming the citation where the data on belief in evolution came from that the authors were primarily concerned about the influence of Christian ideology on scientific understanding. I assume that they included the other countries in order to begin to test this hypothesis and because they had the data.

    While I think the chart is interesting, I would point out that with this kind of work you must be careful of the potential for ecological fallacy. The chart shows us that there is a potential relationship between agreement with the concept of evolution and per capita GDP, but it doesn’t really tell us why. More importantly, it doesn’t tell us why so few “believe” in evolution in these places. I can come up with a few mechanisms for a lower % of those who answered “true” to the survey question:

    1) Blind adherence to fundamentalist religious views about the origins of human beings (which could also include animist religions as well as the Abrahamic ones).
    2) Very poor science education systems.
    3) The combination of #1 and #2.
    4) Something else that I haven’t thought of or are not aware of.

    In order to correctly interpret the meaning behind this chart, and why the USA would be an outlier, we must understand why people hold whatever beliefs they do. Nevertheless, the chart is interesting because it should prompt us to think about what might be behind the numbers we see here.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink
  9. starluna wrote:

    And to clarify, I do assume that the belief that evolution is not scientifically valid is the “deviant” belief, and therefore is the thing that requires explaining in this chart.

    You could argue that we need to explain why so many people in certain places do believe in evolution. That is also a scientifically valid question, but it is not one that is consistent with my belief system, so I would not ask that.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Permalink
  10. Herr Schmitz wrote:

    There’s something wrong in your chart. It should read “Knowledge of Evolution”.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 5:30 am | Permalink
  11. Dan wrote:

    It’s interesting that there is such a strong dislike of the use of the word “belief”. The technical use of the word “belief” is just a state of mind that allows one to behave as if the given statement were true. This could be based on evidence or faith.

    It seems that religion has appropriated the word “belief”, where they really should be using the word “faith” more often.

    Perhaps “knowledge” is better word in this sense, because it is belief, as one definition goes, that is “justified”. However, it also can mean “familiarity”, in the sense of “Yeah, I know about Evolution, and I don’t believe it”. Further, there might be, for instance Eastern, religions, that use “knowledge” in a way that is similar to “faith”.

    Maybe the important thing is believing for the right reasons, which suggests that the person has belief and (at least rudimentary, presumably) “understanding”.

    So there are many options for the right word. “Belief” remains technically correct, although for political reasons we might recoil at its use.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 6:01 am | Permalink
  12. starluna wrote:

    Dan – I’ve had many an animated conversation with both social and physical/natural scientists about the relative merits of the use of the terms “belief” versus “knowledge” or “understanding.” It does boil down to exactly what you said: people have it in their heads that belief is the domain of religion/spirituality and has no place in science. This is particularly the case among trained scientists, as well as those who are anti-religion.

    I believe 🙂 that this is simply hogwash. Actually, it really is BS. In order to do any science, you must start with assumptions and premises. There are varying degrees of empirical support for assumptions and premises but you must believe that the assumption or premise is relevant to the study in order to justify its utility as an assumption or premise. Many trained scientists are uncomfortable with this way of thinking about what we do, particularly of they are wedded to quantitative styles of research.

    In this case, if you look at the question that was asked, “belief” is the more appropriate term, although “acceptance” would also apply equally well. It was a true/false statement, the answer of which indicated that the respondent accepted the idea that modern human beings are the product of evolution. They could have come to this acceptance via science education, which is predicated on some level of faith that science is a valid way of understanding the world. It could also simply be blind faith that what scientists say must be true. It could also be based on having been convinced by actually engaging in empirical study of the fossil record, again predicated on faith in science. Either way, belief is a necessary condition for science to both work and be accepted.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink
  13. Iron Knee wrote:

    Bertrand Russell spent an enormous amount of time trying to prove that 1+1=2, without making any assumptions. He failed.

    For years, physicists believed in Newtonian mechanics, but then Relativity came along and proved that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.

    Starluna is totally correct — in order to do any science, you must start with some assumptions and premises. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as long as you are aware of your assumptions. Science is mostly about statements like “if A is true, then B must be true” where A is an assumption. But we must always be willing to question our assumptions. That way we can always determine later that A is not true and find a new theory about B, just like we did with Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.

    And yes, I believe that the word “belief” is being co-opted.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink
  14. russell wrote:

    Morrius is dead right.

    Besides excluding the half of the *largest* 20 economies in the world, including #1 and #2, then normalizing the abscissa to per capita income and the ordinate to percent of a population (Estonia gets the same pull as Germany?), it’s not even a competent curve fit.

    Glad this stuff makes y’all happy, but that graph is inumerate to anybody with a decent education.

    Oh yeah, you are promoting “science”. Riiiiiight.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Permalink
  15. Dan wrote:


    Like making unfounded claims much?

    Since this is not a scientific graph, Piro does not publish his methods. Therefore, your assertions are pure speculation.

    It’s not clear what you mean by “decent education”, because scaling the error (what distribution? scale how?) by population is emphatically *not* the only way to proceed.

    What’s your agenda?

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 5:37 am | Permalink
  16. PatriotSGT wrote:

    I think what Russell is trying to say is the graph and its contents are hogwash. Thats plain country speak for creating data to emphasize the beliefs of that data’s creator and excluding data that doesn’t enhance the creators point of view.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink
  17. Iron Knee wrote:

    Oh come on guys, as people have already pointed out the graph creator did not exclude any data from the report. And aren’t you presuming the creator’s point of view? As far as I can see, the graph creator did not espouse any overt point of view at all. Are you playing the victim and protesting a bit too much?

    I posted this graph because I thought it was interesting that the US did not fit the curve that fits most Western democracies (and a few non-Western countries as well). As Starluna already said, this should lead to an interesting discussion, not a dismissal of the data.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  18. russell wrote:

    “Therefore, your assertions are pure speculation.”

    As is my new claim that you can’t read an atlas.

    IK – Yes, the US is more religious than most western democracies. The virtue of that fact may be worthy of debate, but the graph itself is deceptive.

    If the thing were done right, we will not find nearly as much correlation between income and belief systems as proximity to oil (and tax shelters).

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink
  19. Dan wrote:

    Graphs are always made to get a point across (if they are any good). The idea that the “data speak for themselves” is hogwash, not the graph itself.

    Interesting to see that you aren’t even trying to back up why you think “it’s not even a competent curve fit”. Presumably because you don’t know.

    By all means create an alternative graph (a competent one, if you wish) to make whatever point you would like to get across. It will be genuinely valuable and interesting to see another dimension; one that you think is worth thinking about.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Permalink
  20. russell wrote:

    Dan, I live to peak your interest.

    The best curve fit with that much scatter would probably be a line (y = mx +b) using least squares. To be exhaustive you could also ennumerate 2nd and 3rd order polynomials and see which has the best correlation cofficient. But with that much scatter, correlation ain’t gonna be very high with any fit.

    I appreciate your presumption. Fair and balanced.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink
  21. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    Personally, the main thing I draw from this picture is comparing it to a mental graph in my head of “Belief in the Theory of Gravity vs National Wealth.”

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Permalink
  22. Iron Knee wrote:

    While not an expert, I’ve done my share of curve fitting in my time. And I don’t get this discussion about the curve fit. The curve doesn’t matter. Just look at the data — the USA is clearly an outlier.

    And *any* reasonable curve fit is going to show some correlation between belief in evolution and GDP. Why this is is a completely separate question (correlation does not imply causality).

    So why are people arguing about the curve fit?

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink