Friday, May 14, 2010

Tom Flynn of Free Inquiry Magazine spoke on statistics of unbelief

When someone rattles off statistics 
ask about source and method

Information - on the demography of unbelief -was exactly what Tom Flynn (shown in my rather blurry picture) was sharing at a meeting of The Humanist Association of Connecticut this past Monday evening. Flynn is editor of Free Inquiry magazine, and executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism. Flynn is a lively speaker and gave a very interesting talk with lots of laugh lines as well as some terrific insights into the meaning of statistics. He looked at multiple sources, and also looked into their methods.

I came away with two things: 1) the number of unbelievers is indeed growing and 2) comparative statistics don't mean anything unless the methodology by which they were created is objective and consistant. This brings to mind a story I've heard from a administrative assistant for a statewide organization whose representatives were sometimes called on to speak before local civic groups. After typing up a speech for one - this admin asked where his statistics came from. "Oh I just make them up - people don't question...."  he said adding he'd never been challenged. The lesson is when someone, even someone who should know, rattles off statistics:  ask about their source and its method.  People are free to say whatever they like - that does't make it true.

Thanks to Tom Flynn and to HAC for the opportunity to hear him speak.   Flynn is author of a number of books, among them a debunking of modern Christmas traditions called The Trouble with Christmas and two science fiction sagas: Nothing Sacred and Galatic Rapture. He is also editor of the New Encyclopedia of Unbelief.