Religion and intelligence

More than 400 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, Greek playwright Euripedes wrote in his play Bellerophon, “Doth some one say that there be gods above? There are not; no, there are not. Let no fool, led by the old false fable, thus deceive you.”

Euripides was not an atheist and only used the word “fool” to provoke his audience. But, if you look at the studies conducted over the past century, you will find that those with religious beliefs will, on the whole, score lower on tests of intelligence. That is the conclusion of psychologists Miron Zuckerman and Jordan Silberman of the University of Rochester and Judith Hall of Northeastern University, who have published a meta-analysis in Personality and Social Psychology Review.

New meta-analysis checks the correlation between intelligence and faith,  Ars Technica, 11 August 2013.

This story set the news agenda that day. It received over 150,000 reads and 600 comments in just one day. It was then picked up by The Independent, Yahoo News, Huffington Post and Daily Mail.

Image credit: Sebastian Bergmann

Are fish oil supplements any good for school children?

Are they any good?

In 2006, Equazen, a company that sells fish oil supplements donated to Durham city council enough pills to feed 3000 children for one year. Their aim was to assess if the supplements would enhance the performance of students and make a difference to the their GCSE scores. In the Guardian, Ben Goldacre pointed out that from the limited number of studies done on the efficacy of these pills, it was not clear whether the supplements are beneficial, have no effect or cause harm. He also suggested that, if the company is carrying out research on such a large scale, it might as well conduct it in a way that allows it to be considered as a proper ‘trial’ by having an equal number of students who were not given the pill (control group). The company paid no heed and nor did the city council persuade them. They went ahead with their plans and gave the children enough pills for the academic year 2007-08. A year later, the GCSE results were announced and instead of a better performance by the students, a decline in GCSE scores was observed (growth in the number of students gaining A* – C grades in 2006-07 was 5.5% and in 2007-08 it was only 3.5%). Eventually, the company made some dubious statements that received a lot of attention from the press and thus achieved their aim of advertising their product. Even then, Goldacre defended his case and stuck to his claims. Now in 2010, a double-blind study has been published in the journal, Review in Developmental Disabilities that investigates the efficacy of these supplements on normal school students.

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