Religious and drug-addled, in the abstract

Concerning the association of practicing religion and good things happening, a just-published study has my nomination for the most puzzling assertion in a recent publication. According to the abstract of the study:

“Though church attendance was related to later physical health, this was only through indirect means, as both physical health and church attendance were associated with substance use…”

Think about that sentence. Do they want people to jump to the conclusion (as they typically insist on doing) that good health and church attendance can be improved by alcoholism and shooting up?

It all becomes clear when one checks the details. They found negative correlations with substance use. That’s a relief.

I know that their summary statement is technically correct. An association is an association, whether negative or positive. But in common usage one assumes an association to be positive unless otherwise specified. The eminent George Vaillant should have known better than to leave out that informative word “negative” from the abstract.

A prospective study of church  attendance and health over the lifespan,” Laura B Koenig and George E. Vaillant,  Health Psychology. Vol 28(1), Jan 2009, pp. 117-124.

So says investigator Stephen Black, Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, at Bishop’s University