Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Challenging CAF on their statistics

BFTF noticed a link to an interesting press release from the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) that suggested that people of faith give more to charities than people of no faith. Now, just to be clear, BFTF is perfectly cool with that, and indeed it would fit with BFTF's own experience. But, fortunately, anecdotes and personal preference aren't evidence!

The key parts of the press release (which is shown in its entirety at the foot of this post) seemed to be the following :
The average amount given to charity by those who are religious was £576 over the previous twelve months, compared to the £235 contributed by those of no faith.. . However, only 31% of religious donors had given money to a religious activity. . . The split across the other causes tended to be more in line with the rest of the population, 68% donating to medical charities and 48% to overseas aid, which were also the two most popular choices for those of no faith . . .The figures come from CAF's 2011 Market Tracker Report, which asked 507 donors giving at least £50 to charity a year a variety of questions about their charitable habits.

BFTF felt a little uneasy with this, as it seemed to leave a lot of questions unanswered. So BFTF sent the email below to CAF to see if they could provide a little meat to the bones of the press release:

"I've seen a couple of references to the CAF press release entitled "Religious donors give more than double those of no faith" recently and was hoping you could provide a little more information on the data behind it.Specifically, I am wondering about the following :
i) Why 507 donors?How did you select them?
ii) Were the results distorted by a small number of donors who gave very high or low amounts?
iii)How much (in £) did the religious donors give, on average, to non-religious charities?
iv) How much (in £) did the religious donors give, on average, to religious charities?"


Update 17th March
Having had no response, sent another email to CAF

Update 26th March
CAF responded that the donors were selected randomly, that there were no outliers in the data and that they had not asked for the total amounts, not the amounts given to specific causes. This last point doesn't quite answer BFTF's questions in (iii) and (iv), but that is probably because BFTF's email was ambiguous.



The CAF press release
People who are religious donate over twice as much money to charity as those without a faith, according to figures from the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF).
The average amount given to charity by those who are religious was £576 over the previous twelve months, compared to the £235 contributed by those of no faith.
However, only 31% of religious donors had given money to a religious activity.
The split across the other causes tended to be more in line with the rest of the population, 68% donating to medical charities and 48% to overseas aid, which were also the two most popular choices for those of no faith.
The figures come from CAF's 2011 Market Tracker Report, which asked 507 donors giving at least £50 to charity a year a variety of questions about their charitable habits.
CAF Director of Research Richard Harrison commented: "These results not only show that those of faith are more generous to charity in general, but that their giving is not uniquely focused on their own religious activities.
"If anything, people of faith broadly give in line with the rest of the general public - to a variety of different appeals.
‘The culture of giving within religious circles that is demonstrated by our survey is an admirable one, and a phenomenon that clearly enriches our society."
The results of the CAF study are published just days after the Richard Dawkins Foundation (RDF)’s report, which shows those who claim to be Christian do not necessarily follow the faith.
Even within the research from CAF, only 51% of those claiming to be a certain faith agreed that they ‘had strong religious beliefs’.
The remaining participants either disagreed (6%) or didn’t specify, supporting the RDF’s findings that there is a certain disparity between identifying yourself as a part of a faith and having strong beliefs.
However, although Richard Dawkins took this news as proof of Christianity being redundant in Britain today, the CAF data could be seen to tell a different story.
‘The survey shows that there is a link between associating with a religion and charitable behaviour, even when people aren’t actively practising their faith,’ Richard Harrison added.
‘The survey shows that there is a link between associating with a religion and charitable behaviour, even when people aren’t actively practising their faith,’ Richard Harrison added.





Monday, 27 February 2012

The Baader Meinhof Complex

BFTF was utterly transfixed by a true-life film drama called "The Baader Meinhof Complex" that was aired on the always excellent BBC4 TV station a few days ago. The film, in German with subtitles, described the early years of the 1970s West-German left wing terrorist organisation The Red Army Faction (sometimes called the Baader Meinhof gang after its original leaders) and was based on the book of the same name by Stefan Aust.

Pulling no punches, the drama dramatically showed the brutality of the bank raids, bomb attacks, shootings and kidnappings that the organisation undertook against political and NATO targets.

What really struck BFTF was that the members of the RAF had been born before or during WW2 and had grown up in post-war austerity - a world of cars with running boards, valve technology television and propeller aircraft. But, by the 1970s, they were living in a world of Ford Granadas, transistors radios and jet aircraft. Truly, they were people who had witnessed profound changes in the world around them. And yet, they felt they were not seeing the same kind of changes in the political structure. The situation, and how it caused the formation of these far left groups has been commented on by Stefan Aust:

"World War II was only twenty years earlier. Those in charge of the police, the schools, the government — they were the same people who’d been in charge under Nazism. The chancellor, Kurt Georg Kiesinger, had been a Nazi. People started discussing this only in the 60's. We were the first generation since the war, and we were asking our parents questions. Due to the Nazi past, everything bad was compared to the Third Reich. If you heard about police brutality, that was said to be just like the SS. The moment you see your own country as the continuation of a fascist state, you give yourself permission to do almost anything against it. You see your action as the resistance that your parents did not put up."
No douts these fears would have been fed by the introduction of laws such as the 1972 "Radikalenerlass", which banned radicals or those with a 'questionable' political persuasion from public sector jobs.

One of the most surprising elements of the story is the level of support that the RAF had amongst the general population, as explained by Stefan again:
"A poll at the time showed that a quarter of West Germans under forty felt sympathy for the gang and one-tenth said they would hide a gang member from the police. Prominent intellectuals spoke up for the gang’s righteousness (as) Germany even into the 1970s was still a guilt-ridden society."

Another surprise was the level of co-operation between the German far left groups and organisations such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). For example the group involved in the 1976 "Entebbe" airliner hijacking comprised two Palestinians from the PFLP and two Germans from the German Revolutionary Cells. In another example, the RAF co-operated with the the Palestinian terrorsts who hijacked Lufthansa Flight 181 in 1977, with the release of a number of RAF prisoners being one of the hijackers demands.

RAF "WANTED" poster from 1986

Incidentally, the RAF weren't the only left wing terror group operating in Germany at the time, for example, the Revolutionary Cells group committed some 186 attacks (including 40 in West Berlin)at around the same time.

And it wasn't just West Germany that was facing these challenges, in Italy the far-left group The Red Brigades were credited with 14,000 acts of violence in the first ten years of the group's existence and some 75 killings in total.

In France there was Action Direct, who carried out some fifty attacks, including a machine gun assault on the employers' union headquarters in 1979 as well as assassinations and attacks on government, commercial and military.

Meanwhile, the Greek authorities were facing the actions of the Revolutionary Organization 17 November, who assassinated 23 people in 103 attacks on U.S., British, Turkish and Greek targets.

And in Spain, GRAPO had, since their inception in 1975, assassinated 84 people, including police, military personnel, judges and civilians, either by means of bombings or shootings. Of course, Spain has also had to deal with ETA who, since 1968 have been held responsible for killing 829 individuals, injuring thousands and undertaking dozens of kidnappings.

And here in the UK, it was the Provisional IRA who were causing the casualties, including 1,800 deaths (1,100 of whom were members of the British security forces).

Looking back, BFTF is glad that the only thing it really had to worry about at the time was making sure that didn't scuff its school shoes too much!

Image Source : Wikipedia

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Bigging up the Zooniverse


BFTF was chuffed to have the opportunity (as alter-ego Nottingham Science Blog) to interview astrophysicist Chris Lintott.

One thing that Chris talked about was the citizen science projects that he is involved with. These can be found at www.zooniverse.org and represent opportunities for ordinary members of the public (both adults and children) to help astromomers analyse the huge amounts of data and imagery that is being generated by the latest satellites (see here for a review of what has been happening, spacewise, over the last year).

BFTF has had a go at one of these, the Milky Way Project, with Number 3 Son and was surprised to see just how excited he was about the project. He and BFTF both enjoyed seeing and evaluating the images of stars and gas clouds taken by a robotic camera - pictures that we were quite possibly the very first to see.

Number 3 Son comments that "I like to find the dark nebuloo and the fuzzy red objects." and that likes the project because "I like to help scientists."



Identify new stars and other objects at the Milky Way Project

With this very positive feedback in mind, BFTF sent emails recommending the project to two local Nottingham schools, some mosques and Nottingham Interfaith Council. One of these mosques has a scout group and a discussion with them led to the possibility of the scouts there getting their "astronomy" badges. The youth worker at the mosque pointed out that it is actually quite hard to do this because they requirements for the badge are pretty strict (see here). As the youth worker said, 'they don't just give these badges away!".

BFTF remembered that the astronomy department at Nottingam University has a really strong outreach department. Sure enough, a quick email resulted in the astronomy department saying that they had helped scouts get their astronomy badges before and would certainly be interested in helping again. Result !

Dear reader, BFTF cannot recommend this project highly enough, so please, visit www.zooniverse.org and have a go!

It would be great to hear how you get on!