Dan Kahan sends in this horror story:
A new study finds that atheists are among society’s most distrusted group, comparable even to rapists in certain circumstances.
Psychologists at the University of British Columbia and the University of Oregon say that their study demonstrates that anti-atheist prejudice stems from moral distrust, not dislike, of nonbelievers.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” said Azim Shariff, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and a co-author of the study, which appears in the current issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The study, conducted among 350 Americans adults and 420 Canadian college students, asked participants to decide if a fictional driver damaged a parked car and left the scene, then found a wallet and took the money, was the driver more likely to be a teacher, an atheist teacher, or a rapist teacher?
The participants, who were from religious and nonreligious backgrounds, most often chose the atheist teacher.
Ummmm . . . given that there are lots of atheists out there and not many rapists, I think it’s pretty clear that the bad guy described in the vignette was indeed more likely to be an atheist than a rapist. What’s really disturbing about the study is that many people thought it was “more probable” that the dude is a rapist than that he is a Christian! Talk about the base-rate fallacy. If some dude scratched my car, I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to the conclusion that he’s a rapist.
As Kahan says, it’s hard to say who is more confused—the study subjects or the researcher.
I conclude from the published results that the participants in this study do not have a sound understanding of probability. There’s gotta be a way to study this in a more reasonable way. I’m no experimenter, though. I’d be interested in what the experts think on this. My intuition is that it would be better to study representativeness directly rather than through this bank-shot analysis of a statistical fallacy.
P.S. The author of the news article is Kimberly Winston from the “Religion News Service” which sounds like it might be some kind of joke, but it appeared in the Washington Post. Hey, wait a minute . . .