Lord of All I Survey

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Last week, a couple of online surveys came to my attention. Both were from the Pew Research Center (a non-profit, respected group); one was about public knowledge of science, the other about religion.


If you haven’t taken them, they are very short (13 and 15 questions each) and will literally only take a couple of minutes for you to fill out—they don’t ask for any specific personal info, and the questions are very simply stated. So please, go take them both before you continue reading here.

<sound of “Jeopardy!” theme>

OK, all done? How did you do?

Bragging time: I got all the answers right, on both quizzes. But, apropos of a test on religion, I have a confession: I guessed on the last religion question; I’m not all that clear on the First Great Awakening (though I knew it wasn’t Billy Graham, so my odds went up to 50/50 for my guess).

I found the questions and results interesting. I’ll note the religious test was given out in 2010 (32 questions were used in the phone survey; only 15 are listed online), but I didn’t find the questions particularly dated.

Not surprisingly, I was pretty confident in the science test, and knew my answers were right. I was shakier on some of the religious questions; I have a broad knowledge of many religions, but specifics not so much. Still, I did well.

Also not surprisingly, Americans didn’t fare so well in the science test (maybe we should make members of Congress pass both tests before being allowed to sit on the House Science Committee). But more interesting is which questions were answered incorrectly, and by what percentage; Pew reports the results.

Written By: Phil Plait
continue to source article at slate.com

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  1. I stumbled upon that test a few days ago. I didn’t see a religious component though.

    I remember at the time, that stats showed that males answered the science portion more correctly than all females except for the two with a medical nature (antibiotics related). I thought perhaps the latter was due to women still being the primary care givers to children and would therefore know more about medicines.

    Now looking at the website, I see others noticed that lopsidedness too.

    Mike

  2. Just had to use my first post to say “GOT EM ALL CORRECT”,like yourself i too guessed the last religion question.Very suprised at the low scores in the science questions,i thought they were ,in the main,the type of questions i would have been given in a junior school quiz. More general knowledge than hard science.

  3. Survey on science: 15/15 correct.
    Survey on religion: 13/15 correct. Missed on these: “Which Bible figure is most closely associated with remaining obedient to God despite suffering” and “Which one of these preachers participated in the period of religious activity known as the First Great Awakening” which is quite a US centred question.

    I have to say though that while both surveys were easy, the first one on science was extremely easy. Really basic stuff. As Phil said, there are some shocking results on a few questions. For example, only 47% of people knew that electrons are smaller than atoms.

  4. Spoiler alert!

    I was pleased to learn something here. Namely that the Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday. I also thought Jonathan Edwards was a triple-jumper not a great awakener.

    In the science department, isn’t it flattering to be asked a bunch of easy questions and told that you are in an elite group of smart-arses?

    I did think it worrying that so many people are supposedly as ignorant as this suggests.

  5. I am not really surprised that I turned out a teacher’s pet and got top marks since the surveys were very easy indeed, more like General Knowledge, as has been noted already. But I cannot believe that that achievement places me in the top 7% on science (I’m not a scientist) and in the 1% on religion (I’m not religious). I would much rather be in a majority, ie. I’m wishing that 97% and 99% respectively were the correct respondents since the tests were so basic. As it is, the overall results are a very poor indictment of society as a whole.

    (It’s frightening how many people don’t know their Global Warming facts).

  6. The low scoring on the science “quiz” is pretty concerning, I think I would have been able to mash that test when I was 12. For all the environmental railing, only 58% know that CO2 is a GHG and 51% know what fracking is…

    Kinda funny that in the full report atheists/agnostics scored the best on religion, beating the Jews by a huuuge 1.25% margin! Also funny that 3% of respondents thought the Salem witch trials was the famous trial dealing with teaching evolution in schools.

  7. 13 of 13 on the science quiz. The quiz was ridiculously easy. So, answer this, habitues of this site.

    What is the inhibitor of the Citric Acid Cycle enzyme succinate dehydrogenase, ( starts with M, so that narrows it down considerable ) and what is it’s inhibitory mechanism of action?

    This is a ten point question! ( all counter question must be biological in nature )

    I refuse to use any of my intellectual capacity to answer questions about delusions though.

    • In reply to #9 by Neodarwinian:

      13 of 13 on the science quiz. The quiz was ridiculously easy. So, answer this, habitues of this site.

      What is the inhibitor of the Citric Acid Cycle enzyme succinate dehydrogenase, ( starts with M, so that narrows it down considerable ) and what is it’s inhibitory mechanism of action?

      Somewhat dissapointed that I couldn’t remember this and had to look it up.

  8. The science questions were pretty simple. I think a 7th grader should manage to get them all correct if he did not accidentally hit NEXT before making a selection. The shock was the bell curve.

  9. Got em all right but guessed Job and Jonathan Edwards.
    Only 23% got Q11 in religion right? I wonder if that’s because so many people believe the American Taliban propaganda – “those liberuhls are trying to outlaw the buhble!”.

    The last religious question was interesting. Three choices and 11% got it right? I think this shows how poor most people are at reasoning their way to a guess. Billy Graham is obviously wrong but I’d be willing to bet a fair amount that that’s what about 80% of responders answered.

  10. There was one question on the religion set of questions I don’t think should have been there — asking about Joseph Smith’s religion. He was nominally Christian, but he claimed to believe in his new religion Mormonism. You can’t give a clear cut either-or answer to what his religion was.

    The equivalent question for Jesus is traditionally answered “Jewish”.

    • In reply to #13 by Roedy:

      There was one question on the religion set of questions I don’t think should have been there — asking about Joseph Smith’s religion. He was nominally Christian, but he claimed to believe in his new religion Mormonism. You can’t give a clear cut either-or answer to what his religion was.

      The equiv…

      Yeah, that question was shoddily constructed.

    • In reply to #14 by Roedy:

      Billy Graham is obviously wrong

      That is the question I missed. Why is he obviously wrong

      Which preacher participated in the period of religious activity known as the First Great Awakening? (a) Jonathan Edwards (b) Charles Finney (c) Billy Graham

      If you don’t know what the Great Awakening was, you either know at least it was not a 20th century thing or you intuit the same conclusion. Billy Graham was a prominent evangelist in the 1960′s and was a high profile “friend of Presidents” from Eisenhower to Bush, particularly republicans and ones who got into trouble and needed to rehabilitate their moral image (e.g. Nixon). I recall that he was called in by Barbara Bush to have a little talk with son George “shrub” Bush (think this led to his getting re-born, off the sauce, keeping his wife and greatness as “42″). The two do not coincide historically, hence it’s obvious. Now then, Jonathan Edwards sounds familiar from somewhere, maybe pre-Revolution? (as a matter of fact, 1703-1758). Charles Finney starred in Network right, oh, no that was Albert Finney … so, never heard of the guy. Thus, answer must be Jonathan Edwards. Your age matters on this one.

  11. Wow, the science questions were so basic, that even I scored 12/13(major brainfart mixing up hydrogen with nitrogen). 13/15 in the religion department. It seems i forgot that transubstantiation represents the literal turning into the body of Christ, I shouldn’t have overestimated the catholics. ^^

  12. If the questions were so easy, no one should be bragging about getting them right. If those are too easy for you, take a whack at these: Be careful.

    1. Which of the following is not a closed compact 2-dimensional manifold: (a) the Sphere (b) the Projective Plane (c) A bicycle.

    2. Stars can only be seen at night. (a) True (b) False.

    3. Can you get a ticket for going faster than the speed of light in a 30 mph zone? (a) Yes (b) No (c) Only if you get caught.

    4. What should you do if you are being chased by an extinct dinosaur? (a) Run (b) Hide (c) Wake up and check the calendar.

    5. Where does the Sun go at night? (a) Nowhere, it stays where it is (b) A dragon swallows it and it comes out his ass in the morning (c) To bed (d) God only knows.

    What is really terrifying is that this is probably a harder test than the one in the survey.

    • Nobody is bragging; all that is being said, really, is why are the percentages of the original respondents so low if we, some non-scientists among us, can get top marks in this extremely easy test?

      In reply to #18 by whiteraven:

      If the questions were so easy, no one should be bragging about getting them right. If those are too easy for you, take a whack at these: Be careful.

      Which of the following is not a closed compact 2-dimensional manifold: (a) the Sphere (b) the Projective Plane (c) A bicycle.
      Stars can only be seen…

    • In reply to #18 by whiteraven:

      If the questions were so easy, no one should be bragging about getting them right. If those are too easy for you, take a whack at these: Be careful.

      Which of the following is not a closed compact 2-dimensional manifold: (a) the Sphere (b) the Projective Plane (c) A bicycle.
      Stars can only be seen…

      Those questions aren’t so hard but you did not give all the possible choices, For instance, number three should have as a choice, ” Only in the Star Trek universe. ” Of course no one is going to get that kind of ticket anyway, so ‘ no ‘ is correct there.

    • In reply to #18 by whiteraven:

      If the questions were so easy, no one should be bragging about getting them right. If those are too easy for you, take a whack at these: Be careful.

      I’ll be brave and post my answers so you can ridicule me.

      Which of the following is not a closed compact 2-dimensional manifold: (a) the Sphere (b) the Projective Plane (c) A bicycle.

      (c) a spot on a bicycle cannot be described by a pair of continuous variables.

      Stars can only be seen at night. (a) True (b) False.

      (false) You can can play with definitions. Clearly the light arrives both day and night. At least with a sufficiently sensitive detector you should be able to discount the effect of the sun. On the other end just how dark is dark? You don’t need midnight sky to see some stars. The trick of the question might be thinking of Venus as being the “evening star”. Also where are you observing from. From the space station the light is not diffused by the atmosphere and thus stars are always visible.

      Can you get a ticket for going faster than the speed of light in a 30 mph zone? (a) Yes (b) No (c) Only if you get caught.

      (b) no. I thing we are still pretty sure bodies my size never move faster than light, and if I did, I would be long gone before the cop even blinked.

      What should you do if you are being chased by an extinct dinosaur? (a) Run (b) Hide (c) Wake up and check the calendar.

      (c) though if were possible through some sort of DNA reconstruction or deduction (a science I eagerly await), I would like to look after one of the 25 cm tall ones. Amphibians and reptiles have much more appeal to me than they do to most people.

      Where does the Sun go at night? (a) Nowhere, it stays where it is (b) A dragon swallows it and it comes out his ass in the morning (c) To bed (d) God only knows.

      (a) actually the sun rotates around the galactic center at a rate of 220 km/s, but the whole solar system moves with it. Lord knows what the galaxy is doing relative to some bigger frame.

      • Roedy 25……Can you get a ticket for going faster than the speed of light in a 30 mph zone? (a) Yes (b) No (c) Only if you get caught……(b) no. I thing we are still pretty sure bodies my size never move faster than light, and if I did, I would be long gone before the cop even blinked.

        There was a young man called Bright / Who travelled at the speed of light / He set off one day / In a relative way / And came back the previous night.

    • In reply to #18 by whiteraven:

      If the questions were so easy, no one should be bragging about getting them right. If those are too easy for you, take a whack at these: Be careful.

      In setting coherent multiple choice questions it is difficult to effectively cover the possible answers without making the choice obvious.

      Stars can only be seen at night. (a) True (b) False.

      Bright stars can be seen from the bottom of a well (or through a dark tube) on clear days – and from the surface of Earth on clear nights. Faint stars cannot be seen at all where light pollution reflects from the sky.
      Very faint stars cannot be seen without a telescope.

      Can you get a ticket for going faster than the speed of light in a 30 mph zone? (a) Yes (b) No (c) Only if you get caught.

      No – Nobody goes faster than the speed of light.

      What should you do if you are being chased by an extinct dinosaur? (a) Run (b) Hide (c) Wake up and check the calendar.

      Wake up and get back to reality!

      Where does the Sun go at night? (a) Nowhere, it stays where it is (b) A dragon swallows it and it comes out his ass in the morning (c) To bed (d) God only knows.

      None of these!

      It is moving very quickly around the Galactic centre! – “Night” is a feature of (usually rotating) planets or moons.

      • [The] time required for the Solar System to orbit once around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.[1] Estimates of the length of one orbit range from 225 to 250 million “terrestrial” years.[2] According to NASA, the Solar System is travelling at an average speed of 828,000 km/h (230 km/s) or 514,000 mph http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galactic-year
  13. Much to the surprise of Alan4polemic, I got all the science questions right. I got the last religious question wrong, probably because it is about local knowledge in the Land of the Free, though I did know about the first revival.

    What I do wonder however, is how much of Christian theology, or rather standard Christian belief, do the bible thumpers know? I suspect that a similar survey would find them lacking. They know the bible backwards, but I doubt very much that they could answer questions about the trinity, transubstantiation, or lack of it, the nature of good and evil, the role of faith, hope and charity, the sacraments, or the difference in covenants established by the old and new testaments. Whatever they believe, they should have a basic knowledge of these standard Christian beliefs.

    But then, to fundamentalist believers, any knowledge or education outside of their sacred books,is the work of the devil. Ignorance is sacred.

  14. High score on science like everyone else. 13/15 on religion. Fluffed the question about the jewish sabbath and the last question about the third great awakening.

    And I wish I was surprised by the bell curve at the end. :( Though at least we can take heart that Atheists got 67% on average, and essentially got joint first place. :)

  15. Let me try to address all comments on #18 at once. Multiple choice tests do not have to present all possible answers, that could be infinite. I am not interested in ridiculing anybody, I’d assume that most people here would easily outscore a random sample. Any explanations of what I failed to understand or explain correctly and disagreements are welcomed..

    Answers are all obvious but there’s a little trickery. I wanted the questions and answers to be simple, not require more than general knowledge, common sense and basic reasoning ability to answer.

    1. I don’t expect anyone who hasn’t taken a solid undergraduate course in topology (~junior year or later) to have the faintest idea what this means. (a) and (b) ought to strike anyone as vaguely mathematical so © has to be right.

    2. The sun, Sol, is a star so the answer is (b). The end.

    3. As far as anyone knows, especially people who are unaware of an experiment in which photons were delayed, the false result at LHC/CERN, or who knows what, we all know the speed of light to be an absolute limit. No one will expect you to be travelng that fast on Main St. so they won’t be prepared to catch you and even if they did, Relativity gets you off the hook or wins your case on appeal. No matter how you cut it, (b) is right.

    4. If it is extinct it is dead and can’t chase you so (a) and (b) are totally unnecessary and irrational, hence wrong. If you think it’s happening it has to be a dream or hallucination. Literally or figuratively, you need to wake up and refer to the calendar to verify there’s nothing to worry about.

    5. (b) is nonsense and strains credulity to the breaking point, the dragon would die from radiation or vaporization first, plus it;s just too damn funny and ( c) is equally foolish, plus the bed would vaporize before Sol got near enough to lay down, (d) is wrong because atheists, scientists and the catholic church reject it because physical theory provides a complete answer that makes what a nonexistent deity knows absolutely irrelevant. The ignorant, uneducated, superstitious, irrational, misinformed and perhaps some creationists (somewhat redundant) might be excused for choosing (d) but that doesn’t make it right. Every one else knows, can deduce from simpler facts or guess (a) is right.

    What is even more terrifying than really terrifying is how many fewer people could explain their answers!

    • In reply to #29 by whiteraven:

      Let me try to address all comments on #18 at once. Multiple choice tests do not have to present all possible answers, that could be infinite.

      The point is that they must be framed so that precise correct answers are included, or they should have a “none of these”, answer available.

      Stars can only be seen at night. (a) True (b) False.

      1. The sun, Sol, is a star so the answer is (b). The end.

      “False” is correct, but not for this reason. First the Sun is only one star and the question is in the plural. This is not clear enough for a proper multichoice answer. It has a 50-50 probability of being right by chance, as you have just shown, and has the potential to be right for the wrong reason.

      Where does the Sun go at night? (a) Nowhere, it stays where it is (b) A dragon swallows it and it comes out his ass in the morning (c) To bed (d) God only knows.

      1. (b) is nonsense and strains credulity to the breaking point, the dragon would die from radiation or vaporization first, plus it;s just too damn funny and ( c) is equally foolish, plus the bed would vaporize before Sol got near enough to lay down, (d) is wrong because atheists, scientists and the catholic church reject it because physical theory provides a complete answer that makes what a nonexistent deity knows absolutely irrelevant. The ignorant, uneducated, superstitious, irrational, misinformed and perhaps some creationists (somewhat redundant) might be excused for choosing (d) but that doesn’t make it right. Every one else knows, can deduce from simpler facts or guess (a) is right.

      Some of the answers are indeed farcical, so can be eliminated. The problem is that all the answers can be eliminated!

      Every one else knows, can deduce from simpler facts or guess (a) is right.

      While “(a)” is more credible than the other ludicrous answers, “(a) Nowhere, it stays where it is”,** is in fact wrong**, because (as I pointed out @28) The Sun does not stay in one place – but along with the Solar System, is moving rapidly through space in its galactic orbit, so “none of these” is the correct answer, that was not included in the options.

      As with surveys, multichoice questions must be very carefully formed and unambiguous, if they are to give meaningful results.

      • In reply to #30 by Alan4discussion:

        In reply to #29 by whiteraven:

        Let me try to address all comments on #18 at once. Multiple choice tests do not have to present all possible answers, that could be infinite.

        The point is that they must be framed so that precise correct answers are included, or they should have a “none of these”, an…

        I’m surprised you didn’t take me to task on (1) where I omitted some other possibilities given in the classification theorem as well as arbitrary direct sums of the basic types. To be honest, all (1) tests is whether someone knows they don’t know something and can judge who’s the odd man out. You can get a B.S. in mathematics without having to take topology.

        (2) is testing whether someone knows we have day and night because as the earth spins, different areas of its surface are illuminated by the sun. You have not specified your frame of reference. I am free to pick my frame of reference and describe all motion with respect to it. So is NASA and I don’t think they do their calculations with respect to the galactic center. It’s no more special than any place else. One picks a frame of reference and coordinate system to simplify the description of a problem, not to complicate it.

        No, I disagree. These surveys are evaluating general knowledge in the general population. I don’t know what typical graduation requirements for high school are but it probably isn’t much more than algebra and general science; I’d bet most students in college preparatory tracks don’t study calculus or physics (my ancient experience was no more than 30 kids in a total graduating class of 476.

        As for the “none of these” option, I think you’ve omitted the complete set of combinations of the basic answers. It’s only fair to maximize the number of ways someone can screw up.

        Let’s really nitpick some of the questions on the original survey…

        • Electrons are smaller than atoms. (True?)
          In what sense? Everything is mostly empty space. Particles are really fields; how big is the electron’s field compared to the atom’s? Entangled electrons can be separated by great distances; does than relate to how big an electron is? Does the statement actually make sense?

        • Lasers work by focusing sound waves. (False?)
          Lasers don’t focus anything. There are a lot of different kinds of lasers, more than I knew and to describe in simple terms how any of them work so you could have a statement “Lasers work by doing something or other to light” with a true answer is beyond me, especially because some are amplifiers and some are oscillators. However, we have this story Hail the first sound ‘lasers’ on an Institute for Physics web site.

        • The continents on which we live have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future. (True?)
          Actually, at some point in the future an existing continent will be subducted beneath another and lose its identity.

        • Which one of the following types of solar radiation does sunscreen protect the skin from? (Ultraviolet?)
          Actually there’s UVA and UVB to be concerned with, all sunscreens are not created equal, length of exposure matters and the SPF determines how much protection you’re getting, and not all screens cover the same or complete spectrum.

        • What is the main function of red blood cells? (Carry oxygen to all parts of the body?)
          My hair and nails are parts of my body but are not oxygenated.

        • In reply to #31 by whiteraven:

          The point is that they must be framed so that precise correct answers are included, …

          These further comments are illustrating why precise understanding and precise wording are required if unambiguous results are to be obtained. I shall pick a few examples.

          (2) is testing whether someone knows we have day and night because as the earth spins, different areas of its surface are illuminated by the sun. You have not specified your frame of reference. I am free to pick my frame of reference and describe all motion with respect to it. So is NASA and I don’t think they do their calculations with respect to the galactic center. It’s no more special than any place else. One picks a frame of reference and coordinate system to simplify the description of a problem, not to complicate it.

          The problem is when oversimplification actually makes the answer incorrect.

          Even if you take the Solar System as your reference frame, the Sun does not stay in one place! Both the Sun and the planets orbit the Barycenter. http://www.brighthub.com/science/space/articles/117934.aspx With a little thought, it is quite possible to phrase questions avoiding these inaccuracies or wrong answers. I mentioned the orbit of the Solar system, but of course the galaxy is also moving. It is possible to frame questions about day and night without introducing these inaccuracies.

          Where does the Sun go at night? (a) Nowhere, it stays where it is (b) A dragon swallows it and it comes out his ass in the morning (c) To bed (d) God only knows.

          Even with the farcical wrong answers more or less unchanged, a simple change of wording tidies up the problem for the correct answer.

          Why is it dark at night? (a) The sun is at the other side of the Earth (b) A dragon swallows the sun and it comes out his ass in the morning (c) The sun goes to bed (d) God only knows.

          As for the “none of these” option, I think you’ve omitted the complete set of combinations of the basic answers. It’s only fair to maximize the number of ways someone can screw up.

          The “none of these”, is regularly used on university multiple choice questions along with combinations of answers. ( eg. Which of the following is correct:- (1)answer. a, (2)answer c, (3)answer a and b, (4)answer, c and d, (5)none of these).

          Let’s really nitpick some of the questions on the original survey…

          Electrons are smaller than atoms. (True?) In what sense? Everything is mostly empty space. Particles are really fields; how big is the electron’s field compared to the atom’s? Entangled electrons can be separated by great distances; does than relate to how big an electron is? Does the statement actually make sense?

          If it does not make sense or has no clear answer, it is an unsuitable question. “Smaller”, is undefined.(Mass? volume? energy?)

          Lasers work by focusing sound waves. (False?) Lasers don’t focus anything. There are a lot of different kinds of lasers, more than I knew and to describe in simple terms how any of them work so you could have a statement “Lasers work by doing something or other to light” with a true answer is beyond me, especially because some are amplifiers and some are oscillators. However, we have this story Hail the first sound ‘lasers’ on an Institute for Physics web site.

          Again the choice of suitable questions arises. They must have clear unambiguous answers of they are a waste of time, giving no useful information.

          The continents on which we live have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future. (True?)

          This is a suitable geography question with a clear (if 50 – 50) answer.

          Actually, at some point in the future an existing continent will be subducted beneath another and lose its identity.

          This is irrelevant, as the question applies to continents generally, so the replacement of some subducted ones does not affect the answer. Likewise it says “future”, not “all of the future”, so the fact that (as on Mars), at some point in the future as the Earth cools, the continents will solidify at depth and lock up does not affect the answer..

          Which one of the following types of solar radiation does sunscreen protect the skin from? (Ultraviolet?) Actually there’s UVA and UVB to be concerned with, all sunscreens are not created equal, length of exposure matters and the SPF determines how much protection you’re getting, and not all screens cover the same or complete spectrum.

          Again the detail does not affect the generic answer. Sunscreen protects from (unspecified) Ultraviolet.

          What is the main function of red blood cells? (Carry oxygen to all parts of the body?)

          Correct!

          My hair and nails are parts of my body but are not oxygenated.

          The question did not say, “all parts of the body”, so the answer is correct.

          Setting questions which measure understanding, requires a lot more thought than answering them!

          • In reply to #32 by Alan4discussion:

            In reply to #31 by whiteraven:

            The point is that they must be framed so that precise correct answers are included, …

            These further comments are illustrating why precise understanding and precise wording are required if unambiguous results are to be obtained. I shall pick a few examples.

            (2) i…

            Get real my friend, the answer is “right” if it is the best fit to the options available given present knowledge, available information and understanding.The results of a ballistic calculation using Newton’s laws is “right” compared to anything done before, but it’s “wrong” if you don’t take fluid dynamics, projectile geometry, variations in gravity, air density, the wind velocity field, coriolis effect, etc. So a test of general knowledge is invalid if that result isn;t available to choose from? If we needed answers like that for us to be right about how to throw a rock at a squirrel, we wouldn’t have lasted long enough to become extinct.

  16. 15/15 on science quiz. 14/15 on religion quiz. I failed on the Great Awakening question – never heard of the “great awakening” (talk about a misnomer) before.

    BTW, one of the questions in the religion quiz had an incorrect “right answer”. Mother Teresa was an Albanian nun so she was NOT a catholic, she was a christian orthodox. Unless she was converted to catholicism when she met with the pope. The old goat probably decided she had paid enough money to buy her way into the catholic club despite “the past heresy of her orthodox ways”.

    Hmmm… Catholic Club… sound like a brand of whiskey doesn’t it?

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