Journal Retracts Erroneous Article Claiming Religious Children Are Less Generous Than Non-religious Children

A scholarly article that claimed children raised in religious households were less generous than children raised in nonreligious households has now been retracted. 

The journal article, titled “The Negative Association between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism across the World,” published in 2015 by Jean Decety and several others in Current Biology, received widespread media coverage when it was first published but has since been withdrawn due to an error, the authors said.

Writing in Psychology Today, Tyler J. VanderWeele said the error was discovered by scholar Azim Shariff whose own research into the subject arrived at the opposite conclusion, which is that in most settings religious participation increased generosity. VanderWeele is a professor of epidemiology at Harvard University’s school of public health and directs the Human Flourishing Program.

The data in Decety’s paper was collected across numerous countries, including the United States, Canada, and Turkey, and the country information had been coded as “1, 2, 3.”

“Although Decety’s paper reported that they had controlled for country, they had accidentally not controlled for each country, but just treated it as a single continuous variable so that, for example, ‘Canada’ (coded as 2) was twice the ‘United States’ (coded as 1). Regardless of what one might think about the relative merits and rankings of countries, this is obviously not the right way to analyze data,” he noted.

When correctly analyzed, using separate indicators for each nation, Decety’s “findings” about religious children being more selfish vanished.

In 2016, Shariff’s analysis of Decety’s numbers and the correction was published in the same journal, Current Biology.

Eighty media outlets, including prominent publications such as The Economist, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and Scientific American, covered Decety’s initial incorrect study, but only four covered the correction.

Decety is a professor and developmental social neuroscientist at the University of Chicago.

Last month, Current Biology finally withdrew the paper and the journal’s website now contains a note from the authors.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Brandon Showalter