Fuzzy Math

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According to a Baylor University study of Americans’ religious attitudes released today, more Jews believe Jesus is the son of God than attend weekly religious services.

At first glance, that’s a distressing and embarrassing result for the Jewish community: on the one hand, nearly 10 percent of Jews believe something that is utterly antithetical to basic Jewish doctrine; on the other, we’re so areligious that few of us attend weekly religious services, despite Shabbat’s centrality to Judaism. But a little bit of basic math quickly casts the numbers in a suspicious light.

One thousand seven hundred and twenty-one Americans filled out the survey that formed the basis of the study’s results. Of those 1,721, 2.5 percent identified as Jewish. That’s 41 respondents.

Of those 41, 9.6 percent said they believe Jesus is the son of God and 7.3 percent said they attend weekly religious services. Translated, four Jews said they believe Jesus is the son of God and three said they attend weekly religious services. I’m not a statistician, but I imagine that neither three nor four nor 41 is a sufficient enough sample size from which one can draw large-scale conclusions.

At the RNA sessions where the authors of the study announced the results, they admitted that the sample size for minority faiths like Judaism, Islam and the Mormons were so small as to not be particularly useful. But at the same time, they published these potentially inflammatory results with no disclaimer or translations from percentages to hard numbers.

Those numbers become even more dubious when you consider that the margin of error for the entire study is plus or minus 4 percent. Four percent of 1,721 is 69. In other words, the margin of error is larger than the entire number of Jews surveyed!

So, according to the survey’s margin of errors, Jews could comprise anywhere from zero to 6.5 percent of the American population, and the number of Jews that believe Jesus is the son of God could be zero—or 100 percent.

The more you break down the numbers, the more the numbers break down.

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One thought on “Fuzzy Math

  1. Well, the same survey shows that “nearly 18 percent believed in the Loch Ness monster or Bigfoot,” according to the Chicago Tribune article you link to above…

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