Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: participation in a religious community has always shown to result in increased generosity. These results have been validated by the scholarly community across multiple scholarly studies. Therefore, a few years ago when one survey came out with the opposite results (e.g. that religious participation lowers generosity) there was widespread suspicion in the research methods. Dozens of scholarly studies could not be overturned by one study, even though national media outlets promoted the story. Below is an article about how this one survey has now been retracted because it had a major research error that skewed the results.
Does a Religious Upbringing Promote Generosity or Not? An erroneous paper on religion and generosity is finally retracted.
by Tyler J. VanderWeele, Psychology Today Magazine, 9/25/19.
2015, a paper by Jean Decety and co-authors reported that children who were brought up religiously were less generous. The paper received a great deal of attention, and was covered by over 80 media outlets including The Economist, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and Scientific American. As it turned out, however, the paper by Decety was wrong. Another scholar, Azim Shariff, a leading expert on religion and pro-social behavior, was surprised by the results, as his own research and meta-analysis (combining evidence across studies from many authors) indicated that religious participation, in most settings, increased generosity.
Decety’s credit, he released the data. And upon re-analysis, Shariff discovered that the results were due to a coding error. The data had been collected across numerous countries, e.g. United States, Canada, Turkey, etc. and the country information had been coded as “1, 2, 3…” Although Decety’s paper had 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. When it was correctly analyzed, using separate indicators for each country, Decety’s “findings” disappeared. Shariff’s re-analysis and correction was published in the same journal, Current Biology, in 2016. The media, however, did not follow along. While it covered extensively the initial incorrect results, only four media outlets picked up the correction.