Author Archives: Tyler Olson

Why Are Humans Religous?

Why are humans religious? Why do people have faith in a supreme being? A simple answer to that question would be that He exists, but in science, we try to delve deeper than that. In investigating this topic, the most fundamental question and starting point is the following: Are humans naturally predisposed towards religion or is it something we come to accept through societal influence?

The College View took a look at a study by two Oxford scientists, Justin Barrett and John Trigg. Its null hypothesis was that humans are not hard wired to have faith whereas the alternative hypothesis was that people were in some way inclined to believe in the supernatural. The study concluded that humans are naturally are wired to have some sort of religious belief in the world’s purpose. Those educated in the sciences were no exception. This study appears to be quite reliable, as the sample size is enormous. Barrett and Trigg’s paper is actually a conglomeration of forty studies in about two dozen

So people are hard wired to have some sort of faith? But what purpose does that serve? Researchers at Queens University, in a study published by the Association for Psychological Science had a theory that this purpose could be to improve human self discipline. In four different experiments they tested the idea that putting religious ideas into people’s heads through word activities could help increase self control. In this case, their null hypothesis, where nothing is going on, was that thinking about religious words would not increase self control behaviors. The alternative hypothesis was that thinking about these religious topics would cause the subjects of the experiment to exhibit more self control than their peers in the control group. The first three tests were resoundingly rejecting the null hypothesis for the alternative, but there were some wishy-washy results in the fourth. There were three groups in the fourth experiment. One group, rather than normal words, received words related to mortality, a second received words that were related to virtue and not necessarily faith, while the last, as usual, were subjected to words that had to do explicitly with religion and faith. The subjects were then requested to complete the Stroop task, a test that measures an individual’s self control. The virtue group and the religion group preformed equally well whereas the group that was subjected to mortality words preformed poorly compared to their peers.

So what’s the conclusion here? While we can definitively say there is something wired into our psychology that wants to believe in a higher power or at the very least a higher purpose, we can’t say for sure what that purpose is. Evidence from the Queen’s University researchers does indicate that our faith could serve some purpose regarding self control, but in just one study, and one with slightly contradictory results at that, we will need more research before we can fully answer what exact purpose having a religious predisposition serves the human race.

Photo Reference:


The Science Behind…Faith

Why Do We Have Religion Anyway?

Why are People so Touchy About GMO’s, and Should They be?

I came across an article from the website FiveThrityEight about a study today that seemed potentially groundbreaking in the fight against Zika. A company, Oxitec, has developed a way they believe can control the population of the dangerous and pesticide resistant aedes aegypti that carry Zika in the United States and elsewhere. They’ve genetically modified these mosquitos so that any offspring they have will die before they mature and thus cause the population to fall dramatically if not go extinct. If they were to release these genetically modified mosquitos into the wild, in theory, they would breed with the existing ones and all the offspring would die before they were old enough to bite humans and transmit any diseases.

Oxitec has proposed a controlled experiment in a small neighborhood of the

Mosquito sucking blood on a human hand

Mosquito sucking blood on a human hand

Florida Keys to field test their theory. They will release the GM mosquitos into one area, designate another area as the control area, and ensure to keep a buffer zone to separate the two (these mosquitos don’t fly far from home in their lives). They will then measure the aedes aegypti levels in each area and see whether or not it worked.


Their null hypothesis is that the GM mosquitos will not affect the aedes aegypti populations while their potentially massively important alternative hypothesis is that imposing these GM mosquitos will dramatically reduce the population of mosquitos that could transmit disease to humans.

Sounds awesome, right? Wrong, according to some.

There’s a strong protest movement going on in that area against the introduction of the mosquitos simply because they’re genetically modified. It’s similar in nature to those who oppose genetically modified crops or livestock. I know there are plentiful upsides to genetically modified organisms, but I’ve never looked closely at any possible downsides to this practice. So, I sought out some peer reviewed scientific studies to see if they should change my attitude about eating (and releasing them into the wild to fight Zika) GMO’s.

The first and most compelling study I found was done by Alison Van Eenennaam and her team out of University of California- Davis. She looked decades of feeding patterns for livestock that ate GMO feed and non-GMO feed and found no considerable distinction between the health of the animals. This study was so large that it consisted of animals numbering in the twelve figures.

The pure size of that study was quite compelling to me, but I wanted to find another credible study that corroborated those results. Unfortunately, as I waded through pages and pages of search results that were just shady websites with clear political agendas either for or against GMO’s, I was unable to find another credible study,

I did, however, find an article from the Genetic Literacy Project where they looked at ten studies anti-GMO activists regularly cite as evidence of problems with genetically modified organisms and it showed major flaws with all of them. From the fact that some were not peer reviewed to some studies lab studies that used far too small sample sizes and rats prone to health problems to lacks of controls, it showed that much of the anti-GMO research is bunk science.

So, as best as I can find, there is no problem with genetically modified organisms that would warrant people changing their behavior to avoid them. Therefore, the concerns of the folks opposed to the experiment with the GMO mosquitos don’t seem to have legitimate claims.

Photo References:

How Predictive Analytics Can Combat the Zika Virus


Humidors, Not Just for Your Cuban Cigars Anymore

As a former resident Denver, I can personally attest that there is a very noticeable difference in the air at a mile high as compared to the air at the relative sea level of Penn State or my home in Maryland. Whenever I return, stepping off the airplane in Denver International Airport is like learning how to breathe again. It feels like your lungs are doing the same work in order to access less oxygen, and that’s because they are. That’s why many people get altitude sickness and why three of the five longest field goals in NFL history happened to take place in Mile High Stadium. But there’s another quality to the Coloradan atmosphere; it’s extremely dry.

Baseball teams in Colorado notice the difference as well. In the first nine years after the Colorado Rockies baseball club entered the MLB, their ballpark, Coors Field, was known as a hitters park. According to MLB Reports, their team batted an average of .331 at home, an great number for an individual player and patently absurd for an entire team to sustain over the course of almost a decade.

Many thought the dry air could be the cause of the Rockies batting success. Baseballs are made of a rubber core tightly wrapped in dozens of meters of yarn and covered in leather. The yarn was thought to become heavier and softer in humid conditions while it was harder and compressed less (therefore making the ball go further when hit) in dryer conditions. There was no way, however, to isolate that from the confounding variable of the thinness of the air, until 2002 when the team installed a humidor to keep their baseballs in storage. If the yarn were soaking up atmospheric moisture in other locations and not doing so in Denver due to the lack thereof, maybe keeping the baseballs moist could help normalize the Rockies’ insane hitting statistics.

Their null hypothesis in this case was that keeping baseballs in a humidor wouldn’t affect their hitting stats while the alternative hypothesis is that it would decrease them.

Eleven seasons in (by 2013), the null hypothesis was unequivocally rejected. In that time, the Rockies have seen their team average plummet to .315, an extremely significant drop. baseball-humidorThe sample size on each side of the humidor installation is also large enough to control for years where the team might have had an exceptionally good or exceptionally bad season.

The team’s minor league affiliate, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, followed suit by installing a baseball humidor in 2012. While the sample size of two seasons looked at by the Denver Post is relatively small, the results are very pronounced. While hits and batting average have both fallen by between two and three percent, the number of home runs, where the aerodynamics of the ball would be most effected by moisture or lack thereof, decreased by 14.9%.

Clearly, the use of the humidors served exactly the purpose the originators of the idea believed it would serve.

Photo Refrence:


Humidor having big impact on Colorado Springs Sky Sox games

The Humidor Effect On Baseballs At Coors Field: 11 Years In

Wait, Smoking Makes You Earn Less Money Too?

So tonight I was casually scrolling my Instagram feed, and it was pretty much the usual. Girls that I know were sticking their butts out while they take pictures with their friends, all the golf trick shot accounts I follow were posting mind blowing videos of people doing things I didn’t even think were possible using golf clubs and golf balls, and all of my hippy friends were posting nature photos from their latest hikes. Then, I came across something that didn’t seem quite right. It was an advertisement from the anti-smoking group, Truth, about the dangers of smoking. But rather than lament lung cancer or the amount smokers pay each year to feed their nicotine addiction, it spoke of a smoker’s wage gap similar to the so-called gender pay gap. These folks claimed that smokers make 20% less money per year because they smoke. It seemed a little far fetched to me, so I decided to do some investigating into their claims. smoking-money

The null hypothesis in this case would obviously be that smokers make the same money as non-smokers and the alternative hypothesis is that smokers less money. While I was unable to find the exact data that lead to their claim that smokers make 20% less than nonsmokers, the CDC website states that about 26% of adults who make less than the poverty line smoke while only 15% of adults not living in poverty do so. So obviously there’s something going on here with smokers and their disproportionately low incomes.

Next I decided to look to some other possible explainers for the data besides direct causality between smoking and making less money.

Reverse causality, that making less money may cause an individual to smoke, has a place in this discussion. The Health Literacy Special Collection mentions that for some, smoking is a means of stress relief because they have personal or financial problems. This environmental stress then makes it harder to quit smoking, according to the CDC.

There could also be confounding variables in play. Also based on CDC statistics, those who have an associates degree and higher are much less likely to smoke than those who have a high school diploma or less. Obviously, those with lesser education tend to make less than those who have pursued more advanced degrees. A possible mechanism for the discrepancy in smoking related to education could be that more educated individuals know better the effects of smoking and will avoid it. Time also reported that workers in the construction, mining, and hotel and foodservice industries, not particularly high paying jobs, smoke the most, all three of those hovering around a 30% rate. Some of the jobs where smoking is least prevalent are business management, finance and insurance, and science and tech fields, all with rates between ten and fifteen percent. The discrepancy here could also be due to the relative education levels of those with certain jobs or it could be due to the culture within these occupations. For example, construction workers spend all day outdoors and thus have more opportunity to smoke on their breaks while business managers spend all day in offices with no smoking policies.

In conclusion, while there seems to be something Truth’s claim that smokers make less money, there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence to back up the idea that smoking in and of itself is what is hurting smokers economically.

Photo Reference:

Take It From CVS: Quitting Smoking Could Save You Thousands


Ranked: Jobs With the Most (and Fewest) Smokers

              Discussing the power of prayer in class made me wonder what other studies had been done attempting to measure things regarding faith and religion. As it would turn out, there’s no shortage of scientific interest on it. One topic where many studies had been done was on whether religiousness had any correlation with the happiness of a person.

              Several studies confirmed that, yes, on the face of it, religious people were in fact happier than their secular counterparts. However, these studies also looked at the mechanism of this happiness and many concluded the mechanism involved was not having faith in and of itself. The first study that I stumbled across tracked nearly ten thousand European adults ages fifty and older. It controlled for a litany of confounding variables and it found that participation in a religious organization did in fact decrease depression. This positive jesuseffect of participation in a religious institution was shown to be even greater than other forms of social participation, such as volunteer work, political participation, and even playing sports. In an analysis of that study, psychologist, Jennifer Harstein, noted that the fact religion is a form of social participation that is year-round, and therefore may be able to provide more sustained happiness than seasonal sports or volunteer opportunities that aren’t permanent.

              Another study mentioned in Psychology Today backed up Harstein’s comments. Traditionally many areas in the world and even in the United States have mandated that businesses close on the Sabbath of the religion most prominent in that area. As time has gone on, many areas have taken those laws off the books. Researchers in this study looked at how the repeal of these laws affected happiness in those areas. They concluded that despite the level of faith in the population remaining the same, church attendance and level of happiness decreased significantly, especially among women. Whatever it was that these women were doing on Sundays outside of church clearly was not as fulfilling as attending morning mass.

              The largest of all the studies that I found was a Pew survey of over 150 countries that looked at correlation between religiousness and happiness. It showed the same that in general those who were religious were happier than nonreligious people. This was especially true in countries where religion is extremely prominent and where poverty is a severe problem. Again the mechanism was said to be due to the social support that is so easy to come by for one who is active in a church, synagogue, or a mosque. However, an interesting note in the study showed that richer and less religious countries were outliers, and religion did not provide more happiness and was sometimes actually correlated with more internal despair than nonreligious people in those secular countries. One possible mechanism for this observation is that in church-choir-300x199countries without proliferation of religion, people are able to gain the same kind of social fulfillment from other activities as those involved in religion would in other places. Another contributor to that could be the fact individuals in these rich and secular countries don’t need the social network of a church, mosque, or synagogue to survive the way many in poor countries do; they can afford all their needs on their own so their money is literally buying them happiness. Princeton researchers did find that up to a yearly income of $75,000, money has a direct correlational relationship with level of happiness, likely because that is a level at which one can easily provide for all his or her needs and have disposable income left over.

              So, should you go out and join the Sunday choir if you’re ever feeling down? According to science, it is unlikely to hurt. But it won’t be the faith in and of itself that’s making you happy, it will be the relationships you cultivate with others that buoys your spirits.  

Picture Sources:

Easter Music – Contemporary and Classical

The Church is a Fellowship or Communion of Saints.



I’ve always excelled in my academic pursuits in all subjects (one would hope so, otherwise I would certainly question Penn State’s admission’s process. Whether in English or science or history or math or foreign language (Spanish, in particular) or government, I’ve always made the grade. However, when teachers started combining numbers and letters in the same equation or problem, I always ended up getting confused regarding what meant what. I did well enough in subjects like algebra, geometry, and physics, where in equations x letter clearly meant a certain variable, which was a number I was supposed to manipulate the other numbers to find. But in chemistry, precalc, and the like I seemed to constantly get this function or that symbol or this other number jumbled up didn’t know the heck to do with them. Whether due to an undiagnosed case of dyslexia or just a subliminal disinterest in the subject matter, that was the case. So I stuck with the stuff that didn’t confuse me, which was generally the humanities.

A synergy between my love for sports, interest in politics, and general talent for writing led me to pursue a major in Journalism here at PSU. I was lucky enough in High School to find several places to foster those talents with internship opportunities that more or less fell in my lap. The first one was with an organization called the Game of Golf Institute, a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to furthering interest in the game among millennials. They run a twitter account which I followed, and they posted an internship opportunity where applicants could possibly write for their blog or even assist in running their extremely popular social media platforms (their twitter has 29000 followers). I applied and now after a year working with them I have full purview over both the blog (heres the blog) and the twitter.

The other internship was with the congressional campaign for a man named David Vogt. I met him during a primary debate held in my town and after a while talking to him, I was offered a job as his social media intern on the spot. While his campaign was unsuccessful, it was a great experience and helped me gain invaluable connections that with my journalism degree here at PSU I hope will one day lead to a successful career. Image result for david vogt for congress

In the orientation for comm majors, there was a big blackboard of science classes that was labeled, “Science classes that do not require math.” For the reasons explained above, I was all over this course. I am definitely interested in science as a whole, just not doing it myself, and this course seems like the place for me to be in my gen ed.