Pat Robertson and statistics

From: John W Burgeson (
Date: Sat Aug 04 2001 - 12:55:13 EDT

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    Here is a news item with some interesting statistics.

    In addition to some stuff which seems too far out even for Pat Robertson,
    there are interesting (if bogus) arguments based on misunderstanding
    statistical arguments. For instance, one could argue that to gain a
    chance of avoiding tornadoes, form more gay grups. Alabama could avoid
    two tornadoes a year if they'd just get two more such groups.

    OTOH, being a Proteststant increases your chances a lot. Unless you are a
    Lutheran. Oops -- I forgot, I think they, like Baptists, don't use that

    Texas could cut their 139 tornados a year to half that if the Baptists
    would just convert to something else.

    Do Unnatural Acts Cause Natural Disasters?

      Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, recently warned
    Orlando, Florida, that it was courting natural disaster by allowing gay
    pride flags to be flown along its streets. "A condition like this will
    bring about ... earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor," he said,
    apparently referring to his belief that the presence of openly gay people
    incurs divine wrath and that God acts through geological and
    meteorological events to destroy municipalities that permit gay people
    the same civil liberties as others. (Robertson also warned Orlando about
    terrorist bombs, suggesting the possibility that God may also employ
       Before Pat and his Christian cronies get too carried away promulgating
    the idea that natural disasters are prompted by people who displease God,
    they should take a hard look at the data. Take tornadoes. Every state
    (except Alaska) has them--some only one or two a year, dozens in others.
    Gay people are in every state (even Alaska). According to Pat's
    hypothesis, there should be more gay people in states that have more
    tornadoes. But are there? Nope. In fact, there's no correlation at all
    between the number of gay folks (as estimated by the number of gay
    political organizations, support groups, bookstores, radio programs, and
    circuit parties) and the annual tornado count (r = .04, p = .78 for you
    statisticians). So much for the "God hates gays" theory.
      God seems almost neutral on the subject of sexual orientation. I say
    "almost" because if we look at the density of gay groups relative to the
    population as a whole, there is a small but statistically significant (p
    05) correlation with the occurrence of tornadoes. And it's a negative
    correlation (r = -.28). For those of you who haven't used statistics
    since 1973, that means that a high concentration of gay organizations
    actually protects against tornadoes. A state with the population of, say,
    Alabama could avert two tornadoes a year merely by doubling the number of
    gay organizations in the state. (Tough choice for Alabama's civil
    defense strategists.)
       Although God may not care about sexual orientation, the same cannot be
    said for religious affiliation. If the underlying tenet of Pat's
    postulate is true--that God wipes out offensive folks via natural
    disasters--then perhaps we can find some evidence of who's on God's hit
    list. Jews are off the hook here: there's no correlation between numbers
    of Jews and frequency of tornadoes. Ditto for Catholics. But when it
    comes to Protestants, there's a highly significant correlation of .71.
    This means that fully half the state-to-state variation in tornado
    frequency can be accounted for by the presence of Protestants. And the
    chance that this association is merely coincidental is only one in
       Protestants, of course, come in many flavors--we were able to find
    statistics for Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, and Other. Lutherans
    don't seem to be a problem--no correlation with tornadoes. There's a
    modest correlation (r = .52, p = .0001) between Methodists and tornadoes.
       But Baptists and Others share the prize: both groups show a definite
    correlation with tornado frequency (r = .68, p = .0001). This means that
    Texas could cut its average of 139 tornadoes per year in half by sending
    a few hundred thousand Baptists elsewhere (Alaska maybe?).
       What, you are probably asking yourself, about gay Protestants? An
    examination of the numbers of gay religious groups (mostly Protestant)
    reveals no significant relationship with tornadoes. Perhaps even
    Protestants are less repugnant to God if they're gay. And that brings up
    another point--the futility of trying to save the world by getting gay
    people to accept Jesus. It looks from our numbers like the frequency of
    natural disasters could be more effectively reduced by encouraging
    Protestants to be gay.
       Gay people have been falsely blamed for disasters ever since Sodom was
    destroyed by fire and brimstone (we have been unable to find any
    statistics on disasters involving brimstone). According to a reliable
    source, the destruction of Sodom was indeed an act of God (see Genesis
    19:13) and was perpetrated because the citizens thereof were, according
    to the same source (see Ezekiel 16:49-50), "arrogant, overfed and
    unconcerned [and] did not help the poor and needy"--not because they were
    gay. Now Pat would have us believe that gays are the cause of tornadoes
    (as well as earthquakes, meteors, and even terrorist bombs) in utter
    disregard for evidence showing that Baptists are much more likely to
    cause them.
      I say "Kudos!" to Orlando. Despite Robertson's warning that Orlando is
    "right in the way of some serious hurricanes" (hardly a revelation), note
    that it was not struck by the very destructive Hurricane Andrew a few
    years ago. And amid the recent conflagrations (that's fires) in central
    Florida, which occurred just after Pat sounded his alarm, Orlando was
    spared. Keep those flags waving!
       As any statistician will tell you, of course, correlation doesn't
    prove causation. Protestants causing tornadoes by angering God isn't the
    only explanation for these data. It could be that Baptists and Other
    Protestants purposely flock to states that have lots of tornadoes (no, we
    haven't checked for a correlation between IQ and religious affiliation).
    But if Pat and his Christian crew insist that natural disasters are
    brought on by people who offend God, let the data show who those people
      Janis Walworth July 16, 1998
      Sources: Tornado Occurrence by State, 1962-1991; 1990 Churches and
    Church Membership; Population by State, 1990 US Census; Gay & Lesbian
    Political Organizations, Support Groups, and Religious Groups from
    Gayellow Pages, National Edition, 1987.
      Permission is given to all to reprint this article in its entirety on a
    not-for-profit basis.
      Don Thompson
      201 Adams St.
      Denver, CO 80206-3417
      303.320.4895 (phone & fax)

    John Burgeson (Burgy)
           (science/theology, quantum mechanics, baseball, ethics,
            humor, cars, God's intervention into natural causation, etc.)

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