Before I go any further let me first declare that I don't believe in abstract economic research. I never did. Even when I was working on my PhD, I concentrated on Applied Economics, developing large-scale cost models for the industrial sector.
Come to think of it, I don't believe in studies for the sake of "pure knowledge" in mathematics and the entire spectrum of natural sciences either. I think that the virtue of abstract thoughts is affordable only in Philosophy, her sister Poetry, and Fine Arts. After all, the creation of original ideas is the entire purpose of the imaginative process; and all it needs is one genius mind.
Yet, humans as a species are so fucking insecure and self-centered! They constantly need reassurance that they are smarter than they really are. So, they "study" everything there is because they simply "must know" and not because it can help our planet to survive or make a single thing better in this world. As a result, vast resources are spent on absolutely irrelevant bullshit and poor trees are cut down to bear endless dissertations, monograms, articles in fat journals, etc. Nobody, except the assigned reviewers, reads, and, more importantly, can possibly put to use any of that crap. I would like to ask these people, "So, you've discovered, dissected, and analyzed this. Now what?"
And that's assuming the actual "discovery" is made and proven, which is, as you can imagine, is not a frequent case.
Enters the graph above. My friend texted it to me. I stared at my phone's screen for two seconds and was like, "Hmm, this is fascinating!" Seeing that the graph was posted by Economist.com, I looked it up. It turned out to be a part of a "research" paper Forbidden Fruits: The Political Economy of Science, Religion, and Growth (no less!) collectively conceived by a Princeton "scientist" and his two Italian colleagues out of the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies.
[FYI (so you don't have to look it up): IMT Institute for Advanced Studies is a research establishment and a graduate school located in Lucca, Italy. It primarily specializes in various branches of economic and computer sciences. Note, this is where Princeton and Italy's highest ranked institution for economic studies allocate their grants. I mean, right now!]
The paper was published by American National Bureau of Economic Research and, according to the Economist's note accompanying the graph, the authors explicitly claim to find "a strong negative correlation between innovation, as measured by patents, and religiosity, measured by the share of a population that self-identifies as religious."
Huh? What? Where? And WHY? Are you looking at your own graph, gentlemen? Well, I am. And if I had to focus my disbelief in just a few most problematic areas, I would have to holler:
1. How is this research in the subject of Economics? By definition, Economics as a branch of social science deals with structures and forces that drive production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. While religiosity is definitely a factor in consumption patterns, innovations by themselves (especially the number of filed patents per capita) do not necessarily have direct or even indirect correlation with production and distribution. In fact, in isolation this statistic doesn't mean much at all. More on this below.
2. How did these people even come up with the idea for this research? With all social, political, and economic problems this world is facing, this was deemed crucial - to find if religious people can produce as many, more, or less patents as atheists? More importantly, what was the thesis? That religion is invariably bad for innovations and economic development? The commentary to the chart in The Economist states that "the authors do not claim to prove that religion causes an innovation deficit." No? Then why the said commentary is titled No Inspiration From Above? Such, liars! I think that's exactly what they were trying to show - that being religious stuns one's creativity; that every political leader who believes in God will force anti-scientific polices. Such unscientific absolutism! I wish I could ask them face to face: Do you know anything about the history of innovations? The majority of the greatest innovators from 1400's through early 20th century were believers of various degrees. Even the Man of Proof and Reason himself, Leonardo, did not deny God's existence.
3. Whatever cockamamie tangent cross-sectioned sub-sub-branch of science these narrow specialists are trying to plow, what were the purpose and application of this exercise? What were they trying to achieve with this research? How did they plan to impact the world? Let's assume for a second that they've found an undeniable inverse correlation between a country's religiosity and level of innovation. What's then? Cancel religion? Some countries already tried that, as students of history know. Agitate people to overthrow their governments for the sake of scientific progress? There are more important causes to start revolutions.
4. You realize, of course, that, in spite of the declining straight line, obnoxiously and arbitrarily drawn through the graph to force their point of view, these pseudo-scientists actually did not prove their preposterous thesis. There is nothing wrong with that per se, of course. The prevalent majority of well-financed research projects end in disproving the original theories and hypotheses. That's how science works. By its standards, negative results are just as important as absolute proves. The problem here is that these particular researchers lie to themselves believing that they came to a positive conclusion. Well, not to my eye.
According to the graph, the least religious country in the world (and the most populated), China, has the same number of patents per capita as the unspecified cluster of Central & Eastern European countries, whose overwhelming majority of citizens (over 95%) believe in God, and Iran (!). India (nearly 80% religiosity) and Vietnam (less than 40%) are on the same level of "innovation"; so are Egypt and Uruguay.
But, of course, the country that completely throws this bullshit study into garbage is the United States of America. Our patents rate is in the third place after Japan and South Korea (even I was surprised to see that we lead Germany and UK), while, judging by the high percentage of believers, our closest peer should've been Guatemala.
The truth is that if some diligent scientists actually wanted to model the major influences affecting, not innovativeness, which is too broad of a concept, but such specific parameter as the number of government-approved patents, they would have to consider an interwoven complex of factors: social and political structures, distribution of wealth, percentage of GDP re-invested into scientific research, specifics of university systems, extent of fundraising and philanthropy, the existence of entrepreneurial culture, economic mixture (particularly industrial vs. agricultural ratio), the percentage of people who can be motivated on the higher levels of Maslow hierarchy of needs, etc. And, of course, religiosity, but only as a part of the synthesis.
And one cannot ignore the mundane fact that in some of the sampled countries the patent laws are outdated and the processing bureaucracy is unmanageable. There might be thousands of applications in those countries that will not see the light of day for decades.
In all objectivity, though, I cannot dismiss this illustration as completely useless. As a compilation of data it piqued my curiosity about a few items of information.
The position of Russia on the chart, for example, shocked me - and not because of their closeness to France and Australia in the number of patents per person, but because of their level of religiosity. How the hell this country that spent 74 years exterminating God and his devotees with fire and blood, destroying 99% of places of worship and executing priests, rabbis, and imams like mad dogs, in just 24 years since the fall of the Soviet Union shot itself into the 75 percentile of population identifying themselves as religious?
By the way, all those patents registered in that country (a lot considering its population) mean absolutely nothing in terms of both macro and micro-economics. Russians are famous for inventing new stuff at their kitchen tables and building prototypes. None of it ends up in the production because everyone over there, including the entire government, lives for a quick buck, not long-term investment of resources.
Another thing that kept teasing my attention was the apparent strong potential for innovative achievement in the US; and that despite the pervasive nepotism and escalating irrelevance of merit. Can you imagine what we could've accomplished here if we continued to uphold the fundamental principles of the original American Dream ethos?