King's Evangelical Divinity School

20 December 2010

Some Rather Attention-Seeking Christmas Research

Apparently, scientists in Canada have just released some research exploring how Christmas trees make non-Christians feel excluded. Immediately one can't help but regard such studies as little more than typical academic attempts at sensationalism (better, attention-seeking). Funny how such stories as this always seem to appear during Christmas week (and usually from the same old culprits). In the cutthroat world of original research, all too often mediocre academics floundering to secure tenure do silly things like this in the hope of winning a few media brownie points.

Anyway, the Telegraph reports the story, a quick perusal of which flags up all manner of research flaws. Actually, this gives me an idea for some lighthearted fun during the festive season. Reading the report, can you identify problems and flaws with this study? Here are some possibilities to kick us off...

  • How global was this research? (not very, actually, see below). For example, religious minorities in the UK on the whole seem pretty happy for us to celebrate Christmas, while arguably it is militant anti-Christian secular elites who seek to use "social cohesion" and political correctness to hide behind Christmas-bashing. (It's also interesting to note the difference between relaxed atheists who have no problems with Christmas and those who seek a God-free or pagan version for ideological reasons... actually, they are arguably wasting their time; today's celebrations of Christmas tend to be pretty pagan and materialist anyway). By the way, let's not mention the £7m Christmas tree at a UAE mall this year. Presumably if a 12-inch tree caused such consternation among non-Christians, the UAE jewelled variety must have caused mass communal strokes.
  • Why is the non-Christian sample in the study 25% smaller than the Christian sample, given that the aim seems to be to determine how non-Christians respond to Christmas trees? For that matter, it's a rather infinitesimal sample anyway, isn't it? Seems pretty cavalier to reach conclusions on human behaviour on such a miserly sample. Oh, I forgot, this is the Psychology community we're talking about... two or three examples are more than enough. 
  • One of the main guys behind the research lets on it was based solely on a tree placed in a science lab, not in an everyday space (but remember, the research is about public spaces, wasn't it?). Arguably, not really representative, don't you think?
  • "We're not suggesting 'no Christmas' or 'no Christmas displays at all,' but in contexts where we really do value respecting and including diversity in terms of religion, the safest option is not to have these kinds of displays." Ah, does he mean science labs?  
  • Why a 12-inch tree? (Indeed, perhaps no one even saw it;) It seems somewhat ambitious, then, to refer to a "Christmas room".

Anyway, just a few thoughts which immediately come to mind. Your comments on other flaws about this piece of "research" much appreciated. Merry Christmas!


Andrew Sibley said...

Sad, but there is a tendency to undermine Christmas symbols generally today. There is also a lack of knowledge about simple Christian beliefs in society as well.

As for the origin of the tree; Boniface, the Bishop of Crediton, is said to have cut down a German pagan oak, and as the story goes up sprouted a conifer as an ever green symbol of new life. I don't know how true that is, but Boniface was equally cut down for his troubles by an angry German.

Stephen Kneale said...

I wonder what this research makes of those Christians - of whom I know a few - who don't celebrate Christmas at all? From purely anecdotal evidence (so my research appears as strong as theirs) such people also feel excluded around this time of year. They often cite the fact that Christmas never was 'Christian' and certainly hasn't become any more so (although I suspect it may be the result of the puritan element within reformed evangelicalism which rules out 'fun' and naturally produces scrooge-esque behaviour - not just at Christmas either!).