the world’s best countries come with atheists

Samia Hurst (twitter, blog) tweeted about two resources this morning :

Is rather happy in #Switzerland, exactly: « The World’s Best Countries – Newsweek » ( )


Fascinating: « #Atheism by Country – a knol by emilfaro » ( )

Put the two resources together and see what you can get, said the Pink Invisible Unicorn.

How do atheism correlate with the rank of « the world’s best countries »? not at all, poorely, positively, negatively?

A spreadsheet later (link to Google spreadsheet here, or web page) and here are my first impressions.

There are 75 of the 100 countries listed by Newsweek for which emilfaro provides data. Low numerical values of rank indicate better positions based on evaluations of education, health, quality of life, economic dynamism and political environment.

First scatter plot with the 75 countries included:

There is a group of countries that don’t behave as the majority, those with a communist history; if I take them of (red dots persistent in the graphic but not used for R2 calculation) the correlation becomes stronger, just saying and showing:

Seems that it’s better to live in an country as full as possible with atheists 🙂

Needs confirmation and cross examination using other sources of data concerning atheism as the polls may substantially vary

NB: no data by emilfaro concerning the % of atheists for #1 Finland, #3 Sweden, #5 Norway, #8 Netherlands, #10 Denmark, etc. Me thinks that the correlation would be stronger with them. Will seek data them will

  1. #1 par Fab le août 19, 2010 - 9:31

    Hey OC,

    What kind of correlation analysis did you do? I am certain that the type of data you have here (rank) prevents from using a simple Bravais-Pearson analysis, and I think that the data distribution makes difficult the use of any linear statistic. I think that the use of re-sampling methods, such as a bootstrap, might give you better estimates of the relationship between the percentage of atheists and the country’s rank.


  2. #2 par Oldcola le août 19, 2010 - 11:06

    Hi Fab,
    That was a first impression lazy post. Maybe I’ll go a little bit further, but I would like to dig a little bit more in the methodologies of data collection, especially concerning atheism. You know how these can vary depending on the way the questions are formulated.
    I was planning to do better yesterday but a few reactions [here: « @OldCola forgot that correlation ≠ causality… » and there: « @tpoi @celui you should know that atheists are the voice of reason and therefore CAN not mix up correlation and causality. You ARE wrong. »] took of all the enthusiasm off. I’m just like, thenmaybe.

    Probably will be back on that later.

  3. #3 par Fab le août 19, 2010 - 1:50


    I think you should also take real care of what « Best Country » means.

    Regarding the « correlation is not causality » mojo, you never implied that the more atheism « caused » a better country ranking. Apparently there is a relation between the two variables, which basically can mean (a) that more atheism causes better ranking, or (b) that better ranking causes more atheism, or (c) that another–hidden–variable (e.g., national IQ, welfare, …) leads to both a better ranking and more atheism.
    Whatever the relation is, I am not sure that you can dismiss this relation invoking this old mojo (which is, by the way, easily misleading, in the sense that correlation may actually imply causality).


  4. #4 par Oldcola le août 19, 2010 - 2:24

    The very first thing I checked was the « best country » metrics. Way from being perfect but not bad neither. Fie years ago I evaluated four countries considering a second immigration step, the first being my installation in France in the late ’70s.
    My scale for Australia, Canada, France and Greece (alphabetic and by preference order) is almost the same with the one proposed by Newsweek 🙂 Maybe that’s why I used ranks as a scale.

    I don’t think that I had to say something for people to think that I said it or that I though it. I did asked the question:

    @tomroud @tpoi @celui : what’s not clear with that « How do atheism *correlate* with the rank of « the world’s best countries »? »

    expecting an answer to understand what I did wrong. Still waiting…
    Samia, who inspired the post, addressed the critic:

    @tpoi @celui @OldCola Whether #atheism is cause, correlate, consequence, or chance marker of « best », it’s still better to live there 😉

    IMO, atheism can be used as a proxy to identify a nice environment where to live independently of any other metric of « best country ».
    Being born and grown in a country where there is a religion of state and where the church supported a military junta, this aspect, atheism, is an important one for my choices.

  5. #5 par quentin le août 19, 2010 - 6:41

    What about a « atheism / average temperature » correlation ?
    Just by looking at the map, I can say there is one.

  6. #6 par Oldcola le août 19, 2010 - 7:27

    Well, maybe you have a point Quentin. But temperature? You really see a correlation?

  7. #7 par quentin le août 20, 2010 - 3:26

    Australia and vietnam are the only exceptions.

  8. #8 par Oldcola le août 20, 2010 - 5:37

    Some bits of the Americas also.
    So, get the data, add them to the table and let’s see if annual mean temperature is correlated with wealth and atheism.

    Now, if you are looking for a causal relation you will have to discuss it with Timothée and Tom Roud before you say whatever 😉

  9. #9 par quentin le août 20, 2010 - 6:17

    Can’t find the data… But I suggest the hypothesis that the holy spirit of God travels to earth with the rays of light. That would explain why warmer countries have less atheists…

  10. #10 par Oldcola le août 20, 2010 - 6:30

    Try the CIA, no kidding, or NASA.

    Another explanation could be that sun-stroked people are more prone to hallucinations. I’ll stick with that as a working hypothesis. Some data may be available at the ER register.

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