Religious tolerance among children

Here’s another instance of an unsound university press release exaggerating the conclusions of a study. The headline goes “Children in India demonstrate religious tolerance, study finds”. According to the 2011 Census, 182 million people in India are between the ages of 9 and 15. The two studies whose results the press release describes questioned 63 and 37 children between the ages of 9 and 15. How is the press release’s headline justified?

Now, I’m not casting aspersions about these children. My annoyance is what the press release, and the studies’ authors quoted in it, are saying is the takeaway. These 100 children were not subjected to any biological or neurological tests; they were asked questions and their answers were recorded. As a result, I doubt the studies’ results are generalisable.

The 100 children were recruited for the tests, with their parents’ written consent, from a progressive school in Vadodara, Gujarat. The paper says that the school made an effort to admit children from both the Hindu and Muslim communities, and that their parents all belonged to the low-income group. This composition, so to speak, immediately invites confounding factors.

For example, I would imagine many people in the low-income bracket don’t want to invite trouble, so they stay away from communal disharmony and also teach their children to do so. (Indian public institutions have demonstrated a consistent reluctance to protect the weaker sections of society.)

For another, the children’s group’s composition breaks down the following way: “Younger Hindu (8 female, 8 male), younger Muslim (8 female, 7 male), older Hindu (8 female, 8 male) and older Muslim (8 female, 8 male).” That’s 16 children per religious group, by no means a corpus substantial enough to drive such sweeping conclusions.

Again, I’m not saying there are “bad children”, but only that some of the study’s  conclusions and the press release’s tone are not well-supported by the data – assuming empirical tests alone can describe such outcomes.