Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

When you really care, say it with decent writing

By this point there shouldn't be anyone reading this blog who isn't at least somewhat familiar with the notion of internet dating. This is not because the only people who read this blog are desperate and/or single but, rather, because we're all pretty experienced with ye olde intertubes. One such dating site, OKCupid, runs a blog that reports on the research they perform using their members. And no, they don't hunt down the users and inject them with weird substances but, rather, analyze the sorts of things users include in their profiles. Recently they reported on some analyses they performed on users' essays to see what terms appeared most often for each sex and ethnic group. I'll let you look those results up yourselves if you're interested, but I'm not. Instead, what I find more interesting are the results when they look at the reading level of users' essays by the religious affiliation, and religiosity (i.e. degree of religious commitment), of the user. Specifically, I find the pattern of results quite interesting:

And, to explain this chart, let's turn to the report itself:

Note that for each of the faith-based belief systems I've listed, the people who are the least serious about them write at the highest level. On the other hand, the people who are most serious about not having faith (i.e. the "very serious" agnostics and atheists) score higher than any religious groups.

So, in other words, if we look at religious groups overall without attending to religiosity, atheists appear to write essays with the highest reading level. However, if we break each group down into low, medium, and high levels of religiosity, we see a striking pattern. While atheists in general remain at the top (though they are surpassed by the least serious Buddhists), it's the most committed atheists who exhibit the highest reading levels. The same appears to be the case for agnostics- it is the most committed of the agnostics who write the best. In contrast, among the faith-based belief systems, the least committed appear to write the best. I am, as you might guess, reminded of the other recent finding that atheists know more about religion than most theists. In combination, these results seem to say some interesting things about the sort of people who become atheists or agnostics and the sort of people who don't.

Now, should we trust these results? Well, yes and no. On the down side, the OKCupid results are based on a very, very non-representative slice of the population- only those people who have accounts on OKCupid. On the upside, though, you can't fault their attempts to do as well with these data as possible:

We selected 526,000 OkCupid users at random and divided them into groups by their (self-stated) race. We then took all these people's profile essays (280 million words in total!) and isolated the words and phrases that made each racial group's essays statistically distinct from the others'.

So, at least it's a helluva lot of data drawn from a random sample of users. That's helpful, at least. More importantly, however, I think we should not take these findings to suggest that atheists and agnostics are better educated or smarter than theists. Certainly Satoshi Kanazawa would make this argument, and he might even be right, but the results from OKCupid don't say that. Likewise, previous research suggests that the mean education differences between various religious groups are pretty small. No, what I think OKCupid's results suggest is that when atheists want to appear attractive to others, they attempt to show off their intelligence and education, whereas when the very religious want to appear attractive, they do the opposite. What this means depends at least a little on your perspective- either that atheists arrogantly try to play up how smart they are, or that theists shamefully try to hide the same trait- but nevertheless the pattern of results is quite interesting.

I just wish we had data on scientologists.

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OpenID sassafrasjunction said...

My award-winning MA thesis on Christian anxiety over the Ottoman empire, as seen through plays of the Renaissance, concurs with this study.


Thursday, October 21, 2010 6:08:00 AM  

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