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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Non Religious Women Have Better Sex Lives

This post is not about religion or sex. I thought of a "research study" that I thought would get peoples attention. Religion and sex are attention grabbing topics. Why not put them together and add in my own bias towards a blissful non-religious world? If I could fund the research, I could find people to do the work, let them know what my expected outcome is, only accept outcomes that fit the title and this headline would make the news.

It takes on the notion that women who are atheists are rewarded with better sexual satisfaction. Religion and sex may have nothing to do with each other however. In statistics we have the example that home break-ins increase in the summer months. Thus one can make the case that as ice cream consumption increases, so does home invasion. We haven't actually said that eating ice cream makes people want to break into a house. The truth is that the weather leads to an increase in ice cream consumption, home invasions and other things like days spent on the beach. Correlation is not causation.

The title does not state that atheism causes a better sex life. It states a possible correlation. It simply says that, as a population, atheist women may enjoy sex more than their religious counterparts. If you put this up on the Huffington Post you will get a spate of responses that have little to do with defending the science behind the study. People will respond to the title of the study. Religious folk who are open minded about sex will shout it down by sharing their own sexual outlook. Religious folk who are not open minded about sex may condemn the study as being biased. Atheists will say that they knew it all along. The scientist however, will respond to what they feel the data is depicting. Maybe the study was flawed and the religious group of women were all catholic nuns and the atheist women came from the local strip club.

If Dr. Ioannidis is correct and roughly 90% of the medical research that doctors rely on is misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out-wrong, then the question is why. Why do we as scientists select for research that is interesting as opposed to being true? We know that what is true should trump what is more interesting. It should be just as interesting to the scientific community to find out that there is no correlation between religion and sex.

Feynman touches on this with the example of the scientist who tested the maze used in mouse studies. The scientist tested the test (the maze) and found that there was an alternative explanation why mice do what they do inside a maze. The sound or texture of the floor below them led them to the door where food was previously found. The science is in telling the mouse testing world that they have to control for extraneous signals that will confound their research. That should be of interest to scientists.

Getting someone to listen to you is what anyone who desires to move up the ranks of their field needs to do. The trick in science is to get people interested in simple truths. If a study is interesting enough to get funding, it's interesting enough to be published. Imagine a science journal that publishes experimental design then later publishes the outcome. Reviewers of the work have their reviews published along with study. Review the proposed study. Review the work. Review the conclusions. Then review the reviews. Give researchers attention before during and after their work and they'll go back to pursuing what is true versus what will produce most eye catching headlines.

1 comment:

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