Jewish Journal

Dramatic Findings Often Don’t Hold Up

by Pini Herman

October 24, 2012 | 1:08 pm

None of these conventional wisdoms reflect research findings:

A tenth of the U.S. population is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender.

Orthodox Jews will become the majority while non-Orthodox Jews will disappear through assimilation from the Jewish population.

Emigration of Jews from Israel is endangering Israel’s existence.

Many hot button topics rely on dramatic findings of unreplicable studies to pass unchallenged into “conventional wisdom” and have great political and policy influence and incorrect assumptions are never questioned or can withstand the light of basic research.

These came to mind because today's  LA Times highlighted a study by Dr. John Ioannidis of Stanford which demonstrated that “very large effects” rarely held up when other medical research teams tried to replicate them. 

Small studies often show dramatic findings which often go away when repeatedly replicated or studied when a total population is more realistically represented through robust and scientific sampling.

The Kinsey studies of the 1950’s set the assumption that the “homosexual” component of the population was ten percent, this has never been replicated.  Depending on definition, all studies, including recent ones based on scientific samples of the US population, have found around 2 or 3 percent. 

Disproportionate disaffiliation from Orthodox Judaism, both in the US and Israel, is buttressing the numbers of non-Orthodox Jews, while non-Orthodox Jewish identity may be more robust at surviving assimilation to the point of non-Jewish self-identification.

Despite the recent findings of the narrowly bounded 2011 NY Jewish Community Study that the Jewish population is growing again, no National Jewish Population Survey has been undertaken and assumptions that the US Jewish population is growing and still exceeds Israel’s Jewish population would likely be contradicted in a future scientific National Jewish Population Survey.

Israel is actually retaining its native Jewish population more effectively than other industrialized countries are retaining their populations as well as attracting non-native Jewish populations better than other countries.

Basic scientific large-scale research is usually the only effective antidote for the mistaken dramatic assumptions entering into common wisdom, but because it’s large-scale, its expensive and often the most endangered in time of fiscal cutbacks such as we’re experiencing now.

Pini Herman, PhD. has served as Asst. Research Professor at the University of Southern California Dept. of Geography,  Adjunct Lecturer at the USC School of Social Work,  Research Director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles following Bruce Phillips, PhD. in that position (and author of the “most recent” 15 year old study of the LA Jewish population which was the third most downloaded study from Berman Jewish Policy Archives in 2011) and is a past President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area. Currently he is a principal of Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. To email Pini: pini00003@gmail.com To follow Pini on Twitter:

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Bruce Phillips is Professor of Sociology and Jewish Communal Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. He has conducted Jewish population...

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