The Latest Witchcraft News

This is a strange one. We found it at EurekAlert, the online news service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Their headline is Do witchcraft beliefs halt economic progress? Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Believing in witchcraft is a salient feature of daily life in many parts of the world. In worst-case scenarios, such beliefs lead to murder, and they may also cause destruction of property or societal ostracism of the accused witches. The first large-scale economics study to explore beliefs in witchcraft, broadly defined as the use of supernatural techniques to harm others or acquire wealth, links such beliefs to the erosion of social capital.

Well now, there’s a topic which needed study. Let’s dig in:

Where witchcraft beliefs are widespread, American University Economics Professor Boris Gershman found high levels of mistrust exist among people. Gershman also found a negative relationship between witchcraft beliefs and other metrics of social capital relied upon for a functioning society, including religious participation and charitable giving.

Witchcraft has a negative relationship with religious participation? Let’s read on:

It’s long been argued that witchcraft beliefs impede economic progress and disrupt social relations, and Gershman’s statistical analysis supports that theory. From a policy perspective, Gershman’s results emphasize the importance of accounting for local culture when undertaking development projects, especially those that require communal effort and cooperation. Gershman and other social scientists believe that education can help foster improved trust and decrease the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs.

Ah, this is social science. Now it’s starting to make sense. We continue:

A major focus of Gershman’s findings involves regions of sub-Saharan Africa. …. A respondent is assumed to believe in witchcraft if she claims to believe in either “witchcraft” or “that certain people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to someone.”

That seems reasonable. Here’s more:

Witchcraft may be alone among supernatural beliefs for having a negative correlation to trust. Beliefs in heaven, hell, reincarnation, angels, miracles, and evil spirits have no relationship to trust, Gershman found.

Oh? Do you trust, say, someone like ol’ Hambo, or a Discoveroid, more than you trust someone who believes in witchcraft? Moving along:

Gershman, who studies the social costs and benefits of culture, has also published research on the “evil eye,” a cultural belief that a person’s envious glance leads to property destruction. The evil eye belief is also harmful to economic progress but in a different way, Gershman said.

What’s different about the evil eye? We’re told:

“Witchcraft beliefs are likely to erode trust and cooperation due to fears of witchcraft attacks and accusations. The evil eye leads to underinvestment and other forms of unproductive behavior due to the fear of destructive envy, where envy is likely to manifest in destruction and vandalism involving those who own wealth,” Gershman said.

Okay, that’s enough. We don’t write much about social science. Perhaps you can see why.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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8 responses to “The Latest Witchcraft News

  1. Dave Luckett

    Mr Curmudgeon, I believe I understand why you dislike and distrust social science. Alas it isn’t as rigorous as its practitioners would like. But it does contribute some useful insights.

    The research found NO correlation between the common beliefs of many religions, such as an afterlife, Heaven and Hell, reincarnation, and so on, and mutual trust, while it DID find a correlation between belief in witchcraft and mutual trust.

    This would appear to suggest that the two sets of beliefs are qualitatively different to some degree. That is, though they’re both superstitions, they’re different superstitions. How, different? That’s where the lack of rigor comes in. But still it’s useful to know that.

  2. Since many consider witchcraft to be associated with women its not surprising that male patriarchs would have a misogynistic negative attitude toward its practitioners when in fact witchcraft is just inspired silliness like its mainstream brethren.

  3. Richard Bond

    Social science is notorious for its mis-management of statistics. Unfortunately, the full paper is behind a paywall, but I suspect that Bonferroni’s principle might be involved. That is that if you examine n attributes, then the p-value for significance must be divided by n. Failure to appreciate this has led to innumerable false conclusions.

  4. Well when you consider that witchcraft (associated with women) as talked about by bigoted xtians and invented by them, would be all about evil. In fact wicca is far away from what the 3 abrahamic bigots say it is. But going back to the xtian invention…ever notice that only women and kids are accused of witchcraft??? Never any men with BIG knives or guns! or political power. It is the excuse of the ignorant powerless to give them power over others. But even worse witchcraft has woman cooties so it must be evil!!!
    And if witches were real with the powers they have then no ignorant bigot would be able to stop or catch them!

  5. Eric Lipps

    The chief difficulty with the quoted article is that people who accept creationism also believe in witchcraft (as the work of Satan).

  6. It would be interesting to question Ham et al. regarding their personal beliefs about witchcraft.

    As for Ham himself, I’d bet he believes in witchcraft. He would claim it’s a facet of devil possession — i.e., the work of Satan.

  7. I’m curious what definition of “witchcraft” they’re using – if it’s the more ancient, shamanistic spiritism, I can understand the distrust. The idea there is often that the witch or shaman is able to negotiate against demons on your behalf, but only because they’re part demon themselves, or have an existing pact, or have already been ravaged by the demons’ worst and survived anyway.

    I doubt it’s the “riding on broomsticks and consorting with a pitchfork-wielding devil” variety.

  8. Sadly, Science Daily, which usually has fairly good articles, also promoted this biased witch hunt. Another unmentioned confound is, what is the exact definition of “trust” used for this “study” and how was it measured? In-groups, whether xtian or not, show greater trust within the group and paranoia of all others, so if the measure of trust is largely trust by one particular numerous in-group which happens to have a fear of “witches” then the results are essentially foreordained. Also, the failure to detect loss of trust due to very popular religious ideas such as angels and demons (a.k.a. “evil spirits”) is not evidence of a lack of loss of trust in a society with such beliefs, when the measurement is made against the average population and n is sufficiently small; rather, a more effective study would check for such loss of trust by comparing against a society of atheists or other pool of people who do not have the beliefs under study. Without a well defined control group that lacks the beliefs, the results simply show that witchcraft has a smaller in-group than belief in heaven and hell, angels and demons.