Is the US Postal Service Biased Against Atheists? Check Out This Study

Remember those atheist shoes? They had soles (ha!) with the phrases “Darwin Loves” and “Ich Bin Atheist”:

Well, the Berlin-based makers of the shoes have been sending their goods to a lot of Americans and they’ve noticed something weird: The shoes take a lot longer for American customers to receive than you might expect:

We have lots of customers in the USA, but sometimes the shoes we send them take longer than they should to arrive, or even go missing. And, when some of our customers asked us not to use ATHEIST-branded packing tape on their shipments, we started to wonder if the delays were caused by the US Postal Service taking offence at our overt godlessness…

So they did an experiment. With control groups, two-tailed t-tests, and p-values (got that, AP Statistics kids?)… and the results are pretty clear.

Here: This infographic will explain everything.

Conclusion: The company is no longer using ATHEIST packing tape.

And the USPS has some serious explaining to do…

(Thanks to @ellenchisa for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Mackinz

    Why am I not surprised that super religious people are in the postal service? It does offer a lot of control over other people, and can allow you to send your message without sending it yourself.

  • Brown

    “Out” magazine is delivered to my mother in a plain, brown wrapper. I thought it was maybe a good idea so the rednecks around her wouldn’t vandalize her box or something, but now I wonder if they did it to make sure the damn thing arrived. I would demand accountability from USPS, but they can’t afford to launch an internal study. They’re still trying to figure out how to raise prices on citizens while lowering prices on bulk mailers and still remain solvent. That’s enough for any boondoggle to deal with.

    • DougI

      The company sends their packages through DHL. DHL isn’t the Post Office.

  • Gus Snarp

    So what are the mail carriers doing with the packages? Here, this makes me mad, so I’ll stick it in a closet for a few days and then deliver it? It seems like an awful lot of work to delay something you don’t like. Missing shipments make a bit more sense, they only require one postal employee to be offended and in an unwatched moment, chuck it in the garbage.

    • Keith

      Wouldn’t it be reasonably easy to place the package on a truck going in the wrong direction? Drop it off the truck into a puddle? Allow it to roll off a pallet or cart then watch it get run over with a forklift?

      I can think of many passive-aggressive ways of delaying or destroying packages like this with a very low risk of being caught.

      • Gus Snarp

        I’ll buy this mechanism. It also reminds me that this could happen way upstream, rather than at the level of local carriers. Although either could happen. I wonder how mechanized the upstream part of the process is and how often individual packages are handled.

        • Artor

          The delays are probably happening at the local level, as the main distribution centers are highly automated. But once a package get into rural areas, it has to be hand-read & sorted, so the local church lady who works at the post orifice might decide that being a dishonest cheat in the name of Jeebus is a good idea.

    • Cortex_Returns

      My guess is the same person isn’t doing the same route every day, so one deliverer is refusing to carry the package, and others perhaps aren’t.

      • Gus Snarp

        I don’t know, this approach seems to require the involvement of another person. I don’t think anyone would think they could get away with outright refusing to deliver, but I guess they might just leave it on the truck. Even then, though, I think there’s the possibility of someone asking questions. “Hey, Joe, what’s with this package you left on the truck?”. Now they’ve got to make excuses, and if the person asking is the other carrier who successfully delivered the package, those excuses are likely to ring hollow.

      • Alice

        Actually, at least at the office I know and I’d imagine they all have the same general operating procedure – carriers do the same routes every day, but get one day a week off (since they work Mon thru Sat). So maybe one carrier would have an issue with it, but I suspect the issue would be higher up since there are a lot of failsafes in place to make sure carriers delivery packages. I’d be interested to see the information from the tracking numbers for these packages. It should point to where the problem lies.

    • Artor

      Trashing it yourself could get you in trouble, as internal tracking might show that you were the last to handle it. But putting it on a truck to somewhere far away gets it out of your hands and makes problems for those filthy atheists.

    • DougI

      Considering the time and space involved, not to mention it’s a felony and that people tend not to want to waste so much time, it’s probably that the tape is causing the packaging to be misread by the computer scanner.

  • C Peterson

    The USPS isn’t competent enough to have any systematic discrimination in place. When it comes to mail delivery times, the USPS is officially equal opportunity: anybody stands a good chance of having their mail lost or delayed.

    But that this could result from the actions of individuals wouldn’t surprise me at all, especially since we would naturally be looking at religious employees, meaning that they have a higher chance of exhibiting poor moral character.

    My FFRF paper comes in plain wrap, like pornography in the 1950s. I guess that’s why I always get my copy on time!

    • DougI

      The company sends their packages through DHL, it says so on their website. If the company wanted faster delivery then they’d send it straight through the USPS and save money in the process. I suppose the company isn’t competent enough to distinguish between the two companies.

      • Psychotic Atheist

        I may be seeing things here, but how would they ‘send it straight through the USPS’? Does the United States Postal Service operate in Germany? DHL does, which is why they handle the packages in Germany, and they are handed off to USPS for the ‘final leg’:

        International orders are shipped from Germany with DHL and, in some
        countries, make the final leg of their journey via domestic shipping
        services (e.g. AusPost in Australia & USPS in the USA).

        • DougI

          By having distribution centers in the United States and most competent international companies have. It’s not the Post Office’s fault for DHL’s problems or the company’s poor business model.

          • http://www.facebook.com/ross.gibson.94 Ross Gibson

            Nice victim blaming there, Most small international companies, like the shoe one here, and many cos-play companies, and other nich markets only operate out of their home country. Hell even think geek does not have international warehouses to expediate shipping.

            • DougI

              Is someone else to blame for their poor business model? Or is it that every company that doesn’t perform well is on the receiving end of some conspiracy to keep them down? Over a half of a billion pieces processed and delivered daily and this one company is being targeted? That’s rather paranoid. One thing is known, the company doesn’t know how to run a controlled study.

              • Gus Snarp

                So wait, you’re railing about the business model that keeps the USPS in business? I mean, if USPS is in as dire a financial state as we always hear, then if FedEx, UPS, and DHL stopped handing off to USPS for local delivery, wouldn’t that potentially cost the USPS enough business to completely break them? Just wondering.

                For the record, I hate the business model because it’s terribly inefficient. Every time I order something and the shipping method is FedEx SmartPost I get irate. I can track the package and watch it arrive at a processing center 20 minutes from my house, form which a regular FedEx delivery truck will leave and drive to my house if it were a straight FedEx delivery. Instead it goes to USPS and gets put on another truck to take it to another city a full day’s drive away, where it sits for a couple of days before being put on a truck back here to a USPS processing facility before going out on a truck for delivery. How anyone thinks this is a good idea is beyond me.

                I also think the USPS is the best postal system in the world. I’ve virtually never had anything lost in the mail or seriously delayed in decades of using the post office. I can send a letter cheaper than it can be done in any other major industrial nation. Everyone gets served, and letters and packages cross the country with astounding speed and efficiency.

                But if some handful of USPS employees are causing problems, it ought to be looked into. I do think the printed tape issue needs to analyzed first, but then, DHL probably uses the exact same package scanning technology, so it’s not a slam dunk.

                • DougI

                  If there’s a case that there are postal employees intentionally delaying mail then they are committing a felony and will be terminated from their job and subject to prosecution. However, no such indication of misbehavior was revealed by this study.

                  The study is flawed in that it had only two variables, their Atheist tape and blank tape. For the study to be remotely valid it would have needed lettered tape of a different variety, like a word that says simply “shoes” of the same typeset size and print.

                  The conclusions generated by the company are not supported by their flawed research and is more generated by their perceived bias of either the USPS or by Americans in general.

                • Gus Snarp

                  Right, so hopefully we’ve all learned something here. Even smart people can miss a problem with their research paradigm, let alone people who are doing an ad hoc study as opposed to one involving experts who’ve studied an academic literature on a subject. In this case it took outside people who had more expertise to come up with the control problem.

                  It does seem there was a lot of defensiveness, anger, and wrong ideas about the problem with the study before anyone arrived at the real problem, not controlling for scanners having difficulty with printed tape in general.

                  This is a great lesson in doing science, how difficult it really is, and why peer review is important. We have to set aside getting mad at people, even if they’re angry, and really look at the issues they’ve raised.

                  If there are more shipments to be made to the U.S., I’d love to see them replicate this with control tapes. Hopefully the difference would disappear. I thought this seemed unlikely from the outset, but didn’t see the problem in the study myself and accepted the big numbers in significance.

                • Psychotic Atheist

                  Well no, it doesn’t invalidate the study that they didn’t use a neutral label. It just limits the conclusions that can be drawn and invites further investigation.

                • DougI

                  it does limit the conclusions, as in you can’t form a conclusion since the variables weren’t controlled for.

                • Psychotic Atheist

                  You can form a conclusion from the evidence presented. You can form the conclusion that USPS has difficulty with packages with labels on them.

                • DougI

                  A conclusion based upon assumption and bias is a conclusion, but I prefer to have a conclusion based on direct evidence. That was not provided by the flawed study.

                • Psychotic Atheist

                  The conclusion I formed is based on the direct evidence. Further evidence has revealed that the ‘control’ packages had neutral packing tape on them. So we might also conclude that blank packing tape is not a problem. The only think left that I can think of is that USPS might have some problem with packing tape with words on.

                • DougI

                  Hence the reason USPS has packaging guidelines that discourage the use of lettered tape. The company may want to follow the guidelines before throwing a temper tantrum as a result of a persecution complex.

                • Psychotic Atheist

                  I don’t see a temper tantrum or a perceived persecution complex. It was their American customers that gave them the hypothesis that the word Atheist may be causing problems.

                  And of course, if the USPS’s system has the problem you highlight – that’s still a problem. Other mail carriers don’t get all confused when packages display extraneous letters, or so it seems.

                • DougI

                  The USPS delivers 660 million pieces of mail a day, to believe that they are taking time and effort to intentionally delay one person’s mail is a bit of a persecution complex. Given the time of the year the “study” was done the mail volume would have been a lot higher.

          • Psychotic Atheist

            But there is no evidence that this is down to DHL’s problems. DHL seem to have no problems delivering in Europe. They hand off to the USPS, and a problem arises. Not every recently started company with a highly niche item sets up distribution centres on every continent as the overheads would surely kill them.

            What is the Post Office’s fault is the bit where post handed to them is getting lost, for whatever reason that might be. And its not a necessary failing of the system, as other postal services such as AusPost do not have the problem highlighted.

            • DougI

              The authors of the study are forming the conclusion that the problem is not with DHL based upon their assumptions rather than actual data. They might as well say that since penguins are surviving in the cold Antarctic they must be doing well in the cold Arctic.

              • Psychotic Atheist

                Again – since DHL deliver with labels without this problem to Europe and Australia etc., and the US is the one that is presenting a problem…why would you even consider that DHL might be the party at fault here?
                Your analogy looks to be inappropriate and you don’t explain why I should think otherwise.

                USPS do handle the mail, contrary to your previous assertions. DHL do manage to deliver post with labels on without problem to the rest of the world where there are customers.
                What data would show, in your view, that USPS was the source of the problem? The problems are only noticeable when USPS are used and are not noticeable when other providers are being used. That seems pretty conclusive evidence that the problem is USPS. You seem to have an undue amount of faith in USPS.

                • DougI

                  I’m not forming a conclusion based upon a lack of data. The authors made the conclusion based upon an assumption, that’s not how science works.

                  As I have stated in previous posts a controlled study would have to be done to establish if it was a case of labels being misread by the computers or if it’s a product of human bias. I’m not going to accept a flawed study because it comes out with a conclusion that I may prefer.

                • Psychotic Atheist

                  What assumption? The evidence shows that only USPS has this problem. What that problem is, remains to be seen. I agree we could do more work to see if the labels are causing USPS a problem. This is still an issue, of course. Other postal services don’t get tripped up by those same labels.

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nadin-Brzezinski/100003248998183 Nadin Brzezinski

              You realize DHL not only ships to Michigan but gasp DELIVERS in Michigan?

              http://www.mystore411.com/store/list_state/33/Michigan/DHL-store-locations

              Gets worst, they hand to USPS for last mile delivery in RURAL areas… major cities, where they have distribution centers, THEY DELIVER.

              But let’s of course blame public workers, cause of course, private employees working for a private company, carrying out the shipping that the company itself says they contract with, no choice DHL IS Deutche Post… but of course…

              The experiment was poorly designed, with extremely piss poor conclusions, What is shocking and sad is that people are falling for the stereotypical attack on public servants. I guess the lamblasting of public servants is de rigour any more.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nadin-Brzezinski/100003248998183 Nadin Brzezinski

          Here, read from the horses mouth

          SHIPPING INFORMATION
          We ship worldwide via DHL. All services make deliveries between 9am-5pm Monday to Friday. Please note some services may not be available in all countries. Shipping is calculated at the checkout based on the address you are shipping to:

          Germany – 8 euros
          EU – 12 euros
          USA & Rest of the World – 17 euros

          From time to time we offer promotional or trial shipping rates that may not be reflected in this table. For details on these rates, please refer to the promotional banners and communication.

          http://www.atheistberlin.com/service/orders-and-shipping

          • Psychotic Atheist

            That bit that is in italics – that’s straight from the website too. See that bit where it says: make the final leg of their journey via domestic shipping services (e.g….USPS in the USA)?

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nadin-Brzezinski/100003248998183 Nadin Brzezinski

              Yes, last mile shipping… in RURAL AREAS. You seriously think that they are delivering through USPS in NYC, or for that matter in large swaths of Michigan?

              DHL has distribution centers in Michigan too. (As well as the rest of the country)

              http://www.mystore411.com/store/list_state/33/Michigan/DHL-store-locations

              I suspect the company has no clue how the postal and shipping system works in the US.

              Oh and the DHL scanners will also kick the package with writing on it, for the same fracking reasons… it cannot read it. Hey… human, tell me what this says please!

              The mind boggles, of course it has to be the public workers. It could not be, at all, PRIVATE ENTITIES, including the company itself, violating shipping guidelines for not just one, but two entities.

              • Psychotic Atheist

                I’ve not said it has to be the workers. Could you put forward a hypothesis as to why DHL’s systems might have problems with the labels with writing on in their US offices, but not elsewhere in the world?

      • http://www.facebook.com/brain.hulk Brain Hulk

        But they ship the packages from Germany, not the USA. Domestic German mail is delivered by Deutsche Post, who also happens to own (and ship internationally) via DHL. Since the delay seemed to be a USA only problem, it is easy to figure out that the variable is USPS, since non-US DHL orders arrived fine. They do ship DHL, but with DHL failing in the US, that means that USPS gets the packages once they come state-side.

        • DougI

          DHL does deliver in the states as well but the company chooses to use them as a middleman and chooses not to set up a distribution warehouse to exclude two delivery companies. DHL must also process the orders when they come to the states, so there is no controlling for DHL potential mistakes, only the assumption that there’s some conspiracy against their company.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nadin-Brzezinski/100003248998183 Nadin Brzezinski

            Last mile is at play if at all, also compounding all mistakes. Deutche post was privatized a few years ago and taken over by DHL. The company probably thinks USPS is a subsidiary of DHL, I know, I am being very kind.

            Oh here is the link to Deutche Post .

            http://www.dp-dhl.com/en.html

            • DougI

              Many in Congress are hoping for the Post Office to be privatized (Constitution be damned). If they’re successful we can look forward to higher prices and lower services, you know, like the private carriers are already providing.

              • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nadin-Brzezinski/100003248998183 Nadin Brzezinski

                I know…but the company blaming the USPS when they are not following shipment procedures. If they are shipping to rural areas, last mile is at play, but some of their worst delivery areas are served by DHL.

      • AtheistShoes

        Dougl, the ATHEIST Shoes people here… it says a lot about your world view that you think we might have direct access to the US Postal Service from Germany, rather than first having to send them via OUR national postal service, DHL. If you’re the same Doug that emailed us earlier, then I do empathise that you’re a USPS employee, but still, you can’t argue with the empirical results of our controlled study.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nadin-Brzezinski/100003248998183 Nadin Brzezinski

          Dog mind checking the USPS site on how to send a package?

          http://pe.usps.com/text/dmm100/preparing-packages.htm

          FYI, Nike has the same issue. The machines kick them out for human handling if the boxes are not plain. Between the delay at Customs and having to be handled by hand…

          Hope this helps. FYI, if you use UPS or FedEx thinking it will be better, both have a last mile contract with the USPS in rural areas and DHL does not go there. Your experiment revealed why those postal regulations are in place.

          It is the scanners in the machines. I hope that helps.

        • DougI

          Then isn’t it your fault for not having a distribution center in the US? As for your “controlled” study, I don’t see how it’s controlled when you have two separate delivery companies. How can you possibly claim to have a controlled study if that’s the case? Face it, it’s a piss poor study and you’re just making a pathetic excuse for your poor service.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nadin-Brzezinski/100003248998183 Nadin Brzezinski

          I am confused, since your site is clear…you use DHL for world wide shipping.

          SHIPPING INFORMATION
          We ship worldwide via DHL. All services make deliveries between 9am-5pm Monday to Friday. Please note some services may not be available in all countries. Shipping is calculated at the checkout based on the address you are shipping to:

          Germany – 8 euros
          EU – 12 euros
          USA & Rest of the World – 17 euros

          From time to time we offer promotional or trial shipping rates that may not be reflected in this table. For details on these rates, please refer to the promotional banners and communication.

        • tedseeber

          But your study wasn’t adequately controlled .We need a few control experiments to make sure we’re not mixing causation with correlation. I suggest a series of such double packages- some decorated with “Atheist” tape, some decorated with “Christian” tape, some plain brown, and some decorated with “Happy Birthday” and “Happy Anniversary” tape, and some of course decorated with Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu symbolism.

          My alternative hypothesis is that *any* sort of decorative tape is going to mess up the aging automated scanners, thus causing delay as packages need to be routed by hand.

    • Cortex_Returns

      Competence isn’t necessary for systematic discrimination.

      • C Peterson

        Actually, I think it is. Competence is required for systematic anything.

        • Cortex_Returns

          Nonconscious biases are systematic. That’s why there are so many racist social outcomes and so few “racists.”

    • RecreationalPilot

      Yet the chance of you having one letter go missing is extremely remote.

      • jay

        USPS delivery performance has been YEARS behind UPS and Fedex (in fact I have had some packages shipped USPS that used UPS online tracking system.

        Getting their trucks filled a bit more by the express services for the last mile in rural areas makes a lot of sense for the services, USPS, and fuel savings, but if it wasn’t for the competition they got from the outside providers, their service would probably have stayed as crappy as ever.

        When I order stuff, USPS is NEVER my first choice.

        • Cortex_Returns

          Guh. UPS and Fedex are tied for worst. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting there, WAITING, only to find one of their “you weren’t home” notes on the front door of my building, or an email that says they tried my door when I was RIGHT THERE. USPS has earned my preference over their competitors every place I’ve lived, and I move all the time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nadin-Brzezinski/100003248998183 Nadin Brzezinski

      Since it is DHL per their own site…

      SHIPPING INFORMATION
      We ship worldwide via DHL. All services make deliveries between 9am-5pm Monday to Friday. Please note some services may not be available in all countries. Shipping is calculated at the checkout based on the address you are shipping to:

      Germany – 8 euros
      EU – 12 euros
      USA & Rest of the World – 17 euros

      From time to time we offer promotional or trial shipping rates that may not be reflected in this table. For details on these rates, please refer to the promotional banners and communication.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nadin-Brzezinski/100003248998183 Nadin Brzezinski

      Since they use DHL wrong tree you are barking at.

      http://www.atheistberlin.com/service/orders-and-shipping

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nadin-Brzezinski/100003248998183 Nadin Brzezinski

      Since they use DHL wrong tree you are barking at.

      http://www.atheistberlin.com/service/orders-and-shipping

    • Kristen inDallas

      ^this^ exactly.
      I have noticed delays and lost packaging with ANYTHING that gets shipped without standard packaging. I’m not disputing the acuracy of the study (that x packaging is delayed more than y packaging) but I think it’s a pretty big jump to infer the cause as someone actually taking the time to notice what the packaging says and delaying it intentionally. The USPS sucks. There are barely any real people working there anymore and they increasingly rely on machines for sorting. I’d bet dollars to dimes you’d see exactly the same delays when comparing handwritten addresses to mailing labels or hotpink tape to brown tape. According to my mom, who worked for the USPS back in the 80s, the 3 things postal workers really hate are rabid dogs, April 15, and December 23-24. Why would they discriminate against the one group of people that doesn’t contribute to the onslaught of mail written with a green pen on a red envelope all demanding to be delivered within the same week?

    • tedseeber

      We need a few control experiments to make sure we’re not mixing causation with correlation. I suggest a series of such double packages- some decorated with “Atheist” tape, some decorated with “Christian” tape, some plain brown, and some decorated with “Happy Birthday” and “Happy Anniversary” tape, and some of course decorated with Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu symbolism.

      My alternative hypothesis is that *any* sort of decorative tape is going to mess up the aging automated scanners, thus causing delay as packages need to be routed by hand.

      Want to test your hypothesis “especially since we would naturally be looking at religious employees, meaning that they have a higher chance of exhibiting poor moral character.” objectively?

  • Matto the Hun

    Tell me again how religion makes people better and more moral o_O

    • RecreationalPilot

      It might be Atheists who know what the product is and want to swipe it.

      • JohnnyRelentless

        Much more likely to be theists. Theists are filling our jails after all, not atheists. And anyway, many of the packages weren’t swiped, just delayed.

    • r.holmgren

      You should have finished the sentence “. . . better and more moral . . .” than what? If you want to say, “better and more moral than me or other atheists,” then you’d show a profound misunderstanding. If however you said, “better and more moral than they were before Jesus came into their lives,” you’d be exactly right.
      I’m not less of a liar than any given atheists. I am less of a liar than before Jesus began His work of change in my life.
      I’m not less violent than any given atheists. I am less violent than before Jesus began His work of change in my life
      and so on.
      thesauros-store.blogspot.com

    • http://www.facebook.com/troutman911 Mike Barrett

      I and others think you don’t need religion to be a better person and have morals. I say believe what you want, I raised a family that respect people, show kindness and in general are good people. I don’t need a priest telling me how to raise my children or how we as husband and wife should treat each other when they have never been married or had children. I don’t have respect for a religion that protects there priest against sexual abuse that have been going on for years. I don’t like when religions try to push there views onto you or come to your door to get you to come to there churches. Leave papers on tables so they get there messages out. If people want religion in there life so be it but leave us who don’t want it alone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.westley Brian Westley

    Shoes for Industry! Shoes for the dead!

  • Cortex_Returns

    This. Is. Awesome. More citizen social science! More!

  • Gus Snarp

    Honestly, this might not seem like a big deal, but it seems like this could warrant a congressional investigation. Or at the very least an independent investigation set up by the postmaster general. I hope they’ve made an official complaint and included the research data.

    • AtheistShoes

      Hi Gus, we’re going to put the findings to the USPS tomorrow… we’ll post what they have to say!

    • RecreationalPilot

      Congresses mucking around with the USPS is why they are having financial problems right now. Why don’t you go contact Darryl Issa and have him launch an investigation… I forget how much he gets in ‘contributions’ from the private delivery companies along with most in congress who want to privatize the USPS and have that certain private equity firm take the billions in pension money that had already been prefunded as the spoils of war.

    • RecreationalPilot

      What… research data that violates USPS package codes and identifies the product being sent. Why don’t you ship packages with the word’s APPLE iPAD on them and see how many come up missing.

      But really, if you are sending a plain box to a residents with a bunch of 20-somethings in it and another box that identifies Atheist Brand Shoes… Someone wanting shoes will swipe the box.

      This all comes down to Know Your Customer. And Atheist fails at that task.

      • Gus Snarp

        I don’t buy the roommate theft argument. It seems unlikely to produce a statistically significant effect. Most people don’t live with room mates who are going to swipe their stuff.

        But I’m going to acknowledge the tape problem, in spite of the argument regarding it not having been made clearly. I’ll make it for you all:

        Is there a problem with the controls in this study? Yes. Is that problem necessarily one to do with controlling for package delivery company? No.

        A blank package is clearly not an adequate control group in light of the possibility that printed tape is causing package handling delays due to scanning problems.

        The control that is needed is a package with printed tape that says something entirely innocuous. Like “We love USPS! And Kittens!”

        So it’s an interesting bit of data that reveals a potential problem, but we’ve found another potential and reasonable source for the problem, so we would need to control for that now to show bias.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nadin-Brzezinski/100003248998183 Nadin Brzezinski

      Mind reading USPS shipping guidelines?

      http://pe.usps.com/text/dmm100/preparing-packages.htm

      They are getting delayed since the postal service needs to manually handle their packages for not meeting USPS guidelines.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ross.gibson.94 Ross Gibson

        So we run into an issue where the USPS is uniquely incompetent, or evil. Take your pick.

        • DougI

          The guidelines are for faster service, if you don’t want to follow the guidelines then expect slower service. Atheist Shoes didn’t want to follow the guidelines yet complained about the slower service which should be expected. Given that their “study” was done during the busiest time of the year for package delivery it wasn’t terribly brilliant to ignore the guidelines.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nadin-Brzezinski/100003248998183 Nadin Brzezinski

          No, we run into a company that cannot follow clearly posted guidelines to make shipping easier. FYI, a box that is clearly labelled Nike will be kicked out as well for human processing. As well as a box marked Gamesa, or for that matter all writing.

          No wonder the plain packages had zero issues, they followed USPS regulations.

          I guess logic is not…

        • http://twitter.com/BruceMcGlory Bruce McGlory

          Incompetent. Our local branch just told my office (a huge law firm), that we have to physically take the certified mail (of which there are HUNDREDS of pieces a day) to the branch to be scanned, processed or whatever, because the useless morons they send to pick up the mail every day have suddenly, and without any attempt at an explanation or justification, stopped scanning it when they pick it up. Which they’ve done for at least the 15 years I’ve worked here.
          When I asked them if all law firms in this city have to now do the post office’s job for them, they got mad.

      • Sandra Duffy

        Does that explain why Amazon packages take so long to get from the US to Ireland I wonder. If USPS can’t handle the logos common on packaging they really need to update their system.

  • Brent

    The obvious issue is that less than 100 cases (if we consider each customer being shipped 2 differently packaged boxes) is too small of a sample size to make a true sweeping statement. But, there’s at least enough of an appearance of bias to be worth conducting the study on a larger scale. If you have 1000 cases and there’s still a 10% loss rate for atheist branded packages vs. a 1% loss rate for non-branded, we can make bigger statements. (and I should mention that the loss rate is probably more indicative than the delays given that I find it hard to believe that people are upset by the packaging so they decide that they’ll deliver it, but they’re just do it later vs. people seeing the packaging and just “losing it”0

    There’s also the “on average” part. With only 89 cases, that 37 day delay in Michigan added a little over .4 of a day on to the average…a few major delays can drastically skew results in a small sample size. And it’d be interesting to see it presented in a breakdown of X number of shipments arrived at the same time, Y number of non-branded shipments arrived ahead of branded, and Z number of branded shipments arrived ahead of non-branded.

    • invivoMark

      Well, that’s the point of statistical tests, my skeptical friend! As they point out in the footnotes, two different tests on the time-to-arrival statistic give p values of < .001. If I could get p < .001 on any of my experiments, I'd be ecstatic! p < .05 is usually considered significant enough to warrant believing in the results (it's informally considered to be a "95% chance" that the difference is real).

      Furthermore, the missing packages statistic was also significant (p < .02) by two statistical methods. So have no worries about the sample size, the power of statistics tells us that the results are believable and almost certainly not due to chance!

      • LutherW

        Its that darn Science stuff. If you just had faith in common [non]sense all would be well.

      • Brent

        Well, that’s what I get for not going to the larger graphic. I didn’t see the footnotes. I’m not sure why this makes me “that guy.” I was just stating that I’d like to see it done on a larger scale because I thought it’d be interesting. I’m a guy who errs on the size of “larger sample” with everything. That’s all. If you stat dudes with more knowledge than me say the results are significant despite the size used, I believe you.

        • Matt

          There’s always “that guy” in the comments of a statistics article who talks about the sample size not being large enough when it almost always is. That’s all I was referencing :)

        • invivoMark

          I thought your comment was fine. I figured you had probably just missed the footnotes and posted a bit hastily.

          I get the argument for bigger samples. I really do. But there are certain cases where bigger samples really aren’t feasible (say, in experiments involving rodents), and I’m all too familiar with such cases. :-)

    • Matt

      ^ Found “that guy”.

    • mobathome

      Brent says: The obvious issue is that less than 100 cases (if we consider each customer being shipped 2 differently packaged boxes) is too small of a sample size to make a true sweeping statement.

      That turns out not to be true. Pairs of packages were sent with the one difference being whether the “Atheist” tape was used. Then:
      – only 36 cases are needed to say with 95% confidence and 95% power that the difference in delivery time is 3 days, and – only 66 cases are needed to say with 99% confidence and 99% power that the difference in delivery time is 3 days.
      With 74 cases, the number used in their calculation of the t-statistic, their statement is made with 99.4% confidence and 99.4% power.

      In contrast, a relevant factor was that the packages were sent November 21, which is people are starting to send holiday presents by mail. At that time of the year,
      – the variation in arrival times starts to increase, but it has to increase by 4.2 days for the required sample size to be at least 100 cases, and
      – the highly advertised “War on Christmas” might cause changes in interfering behavior.

    • AtheistShoes

      Hi Brent, the sample size is actually 178, not 89… and it’s plenty robust enough.. we have it independently checked by 2 statisticians who are far brighter than we are.

  • http://twitter.com/thelittlepecan TheLittlePecan

    Boo to no more tape, but I think I need these shoes.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EYZCDG3OAPGD3PDG7XD7SM7OAM ElizabethS

    What Cocks the USPS are.

    • DougI

      Yeah, fuck you too.

    • rustygh

      Whoa! One person does not make them.all bad. Hopefully they track the culprit for the better of the system.

    • Cortex_Returns

      I think you mean “Americans.” Why can’t anyone see this for the interesting cultural study it is??

  • Guest

    If anyone sent me a package with tape that had ATHEIST on it, it’d probably be tossed in a burn pile somewhere the minute it hit my local USPS!

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.mckaskle James Mckaskle

    This Hijinks Ensue comic is relevant.
    http://hijinksensue.com/2013/03/06/post-apocalyptic/

    • eonL5

      I thought of that comic right away, too. Thanks for linking it.

  • Spark

    It would be interesting to repeat the experiment, this time with GPS loggers in each of the boxes…

    • AtheistShoes

      We’d love to do that! We thought to the first time round, but sadly the trackers were too expensive :/

  • Artor

    It would be more expensive, but it would be nice to try the same experiment with GPS transmitters in the packages, so they can be tracked to the exact location where they go missing. There’s a lot of people somewhere who are tampering with the mail, and they should not be working for the USPS. A fine or some jail time might make them see the error of their ways, but maybe not. Any kind of lie or fraud is okay in the name of Jeebus, right?

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    I’m disappointed by some of the responses to this. Correlation does not imply causation. The testing described here indicates that packages labeled with “atheist” were more likely to be delivered late or not at all. But how and why this happens has been merely speculated to involve religious bias.

    • invivoMark

      If you’ve got an alternative hypothesis, let’s hear it! However, I can hardly imagine why else packages labeled “atheist” would arrive later than identical packages minus the label. Do you think that any label on a package will cause it to be late, or do you think the content of that label might matter?

      See, the problem with the “correlation =/ causation” argument is that it doesn’t really work when the experiment is well controlled.

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        “[…] I can hardly imagine why else […]“

        I think this is called personal incredulity. Possible causes shouldn’t be limited to your imagination.

        I can imagine an atheist stealing a package labeled “atheist.” I can imagine the novelty of a package labeled “atheist” being paraded around a postal facility for fun and entertainment, by both theists and atheists, and thus delayed. I can imagine the shipper’s tape causing problems with sorting machines. I can imagine a person, aware of the mistrust and tension between theists and atheists, interfering with the system in hopes of causing false accusations of theistic bias in the postal system.

        Yes, the cause might be atheist-hating theists in the postal system. But it might be something else, or a combination of other causes. However well controlled this experiment was, it merely established correlation between “atheist” tape and late / missing packages. It didn’t establish why this correlation exists.

        • invivoMark

          And I can imagine fairies stealing packages with labels that begin with ‘A’ and returning them three days later.

          Look, nobody is claiming to have incontrovertible proof of the mechanism by which packages labeled Atheist arrive three days later than unlabeled packages. The claim is that there’s really bloody strong evidence that some people in the package delivery industry want to grief atheists. And that’s because there IS really bloody strong evidence for that.

          • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

            I didn’t mention anything about incontrovertible proof. I expressed disappointment because of the willingness of some people to eagerly and prematurely connect dots in this case. I’m simply trying to be a good skeptic. You are welcome to assume the conclusion if you like.

            • invivoMark

              I’ll stick with following the evidence to its most likely and rational conclusion, thanks.

      • DougI

        How about the machines that scan the boxes are reading the lettering on the tape which kicks processing of the address to manual means which increases the length of the delivery time? There’s a reason the Post Office requires you to remove prior labels or company logos when mailing a package.

    • rustygh

      Numbers don’t lie. If you don’t understand then don’t say anything

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        Numbers don’t tell the truth either. They’re part of a tool used by people, for better or worse. Do you have criticism of my actual objection?

        • rustygh

          More criticism of your rant? Like you posting you’re disappointed of peoples comments like some parent who has already put yourself above the rest. Or the original criticism of you not paying attention to the numbers? Please stop being a troll.

          • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

            What is wrong with you? I’m not above anyone. I expressed my opinion, like anyone else can do here. I am taking part in the discussion — this is what happens in comment threads.

            Thanks for making it clear that you aren’t interested in what I actually said. And, for what it’s worth, your troll detector needs calibration.

            • rustygh

              Religious bias was implied by the packaging marks, and then non-marks. You first attacked this as to say we all just assumed it had to do with religion. In fact it was more then obvious.
              You then claimed we should all have more imagination of the cause which in itself is ignoring the obvious religious markings and non markings.
              You then again say how disappointed you are at us for not imaging more then what the facts show.
              Then discarding the numbers, suggesting again we are somehow not as smart as you for not imaging more then the data we have.
              In the same reply challenging me to critisize you original imaginary data.
              Nope, my troll detector is right on.
              What you need to ask, is, what is wrong with myself? Why would I argue a point from imagination.
              Why would I insist on adding facts other then those on hand, to prove a point, all the while speaking down to others.

              • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

                The person your text describes isn’t me. I haven’t said or done what you claim. You are wildly mistaken about the points I’ve made.

                Perhaps we can have a fruitful discussion in another thread, but I won’t be responded to you again here.

                • rustygh

                  I expected some backtracking response as I can tell from your posts you also must have the last word.
                  I’m not holding any grudges, and simply ask you to read your posts. I was not the only one to push aside your adding new data. Really read it and see how it would sound in context?
                  Maybe I’m wrong but arguing with data not present seems silly to me.

      • DougI

        So if I mailed 10 boxes of wine through the USPS and none got delivered should I conclude:
        1) USPS supports prohibition
        2) USPS has employees who are drinking my wine
        3) I didn’t follow the guidelines that prohibit the mailing of wine through USPS

        With this analogy the shoe company chooses the first two options, but if “numbers don’t lie” then I can certainly form any conclusion I want.

    • Cortex_Returns

      They had a control group without the “atheist” tape sent out at the same time. This means that we can infer that something related to the “atheist” tape caused the packages to arrive later/go missing at a higher rate. Unless atheist tape is particularly heavier, slipperier, or bulkier than the control tape, I don’t see any way this difference isn’t due to human bias.

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        I completely agree.

        • Cortex_Returns

          Yeah, I posted before I noticed the rest of the thread. :)

      • RecreationalPilot

        Or, the Atheist tape identifies the products being sent.

  • DougI

    I work for the USPS. The boxes are put in a machine and scanned by a computer. I doubt the computer is being biased. It would take way too much work to sift through the thousands of packages the USPS receives, and too much space to isolate the packages to have them wait longer.

    According to the company website they ship via DHL, which is not the Post Office. So why the fuck would you complain about the Post Office when you aren’t shipping through them?

    • Mario Strada

      I was just about to post that it would be nice to have an opinion from someone working at the USPS. Thank you for posting.

      As far as DHL. I haven’t seen one of their trucks, nor taken a delivery from DHL in years. I vaguely remember them getting out of the internal delivery in the US. Could it be that DHL delivers as far as the USPS in the US and then USPS takes over?

    • Mario Strada

      Mystery solved. A bit of google explains that DHL indeed subcontracts USPS for delivery.

      http://askville.amazon.com/DHL-story-delivery-company-home-page-read/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=9868826

      [USPS instead of competing with the proivate carrier joined them] USPS proposed that private express carriers collect parcels from high-volume shippers — such as mail order houses, catalogues and Internet retailers — and deliver the packages as deep into the postal stream as possible. The carrier would pick up the parcels at origin, sort and deliver them to the local Post Offices, known as “Destination Delivery Units,” or DDUs. From there, USPS could use its unmatched “last-mile” delivery network connecting 27,556 Post Offices to every home in the U.S.

      • DougI

        Yeah, UPS and Fedex do it too because for-profit companies charge more and they save money by having the USPS do the work. It adds a couple days to the delivery time. Perhaps if this company would just deliver straight through USPS they would cut back on their delivery time and save a whole lot of money in the process, but it appears they aren’t that smart.

        • Bob Becker

          Yup. So does Barnes and Noble. Book that was supposed to be express shipped via UPS , which they say means delivery in 3 business days, was delivered to local P.O. which then delivered to me. That added two days to the overall delivery time. UPS says it’s doe that way at shipper’s request.

        • Tom H.

          Deliver straight through USPS? Because the UNITED STATES Postal Service operates in Germany, does it? As a USPS worker I take it you’re not a robot? So, there is (to use the term loosely here) a human element involved at USPS? I could have sworn that the USPS worker who delivered my mail was a guy with a hand-trolley, but apparently it’s a computer. I also could have sworn that it’s easy for a human to deposit an ‘Atheist’ branded package in the dumpster rather than at my front door – explaining the missing packages… but again maybe it’s the computer’s fault.

          • DougI

            Computers read the packages. Humans have to read the packages if some company does something stupid like put a bunch of lettering on tape which confuses the computer and extends the processing time. It tends to cause delays, just like if the company puts down the wrong zip code or something. USPS still hasn’t developed the technology to read minds.

    • Psychotic Atheist

      Because they use DHL for Europe. They use USPS for the US.

      DHL alone: no reported problems (above normal levels)

      DHL handing off to Auspost: no reported problems (above normal levels)

      DHL handing off to USPS: atheist branded packages go missing ten times more often than non-atheist branded packages.

      If the entire USPS postal handling is done by robots – then it does appear that the robots are biased. However, I suspect that humans are involved in the handling of packages at USPS at various times, surely?

    • rustygh

      The numbers speak Doug. Someone at the usps doesn’t like atheism
      Face it dude.

      • DougI

        Based upon what data? All I see is an infographic with no data other than a description of a poorly conducted study that would garner any college student a D.

  • NG

    Not all postal workers are asses. My carrier is wonderful! He would never delay my mail. My mother and her boyfriend both retired from the post office and both are atheists. Sure, some people who work there are jerks, mean, nutty, weird or any combo (Mom told me plenty of stories of her coworkers), but not all of them. This seems like the vandalism issue/compliments on t-shirts from that recent post. I think they should contact the postal inspectors.

    • RecreationalPilot

      Perhaps their customers are just a bunch of deadbeats who want to order from another company and just claim that their package didn’t arrive so they can get the products for free.

      Since many atheists are younger, under 30, they probably are either in college or working crappy jobs where they can’t really afford much. I know of a few people who would probably try and scam a company out of product.

      Perhaps this company should know their customers better. This might not be an issue in Europe, but in the US, there are a bunch of deadbeats here who want to dress a certain way but can’t afford it. Knowing you are offshore, just makes them know you can’t do anything about it.

      As such, many 20-somethings are very mobile and might have their packages picked up by others while they are away in school, playing music in a band or working. Again, it all comes back to knowing your customer.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ross.gibson.94 Ross Gibson

        I take it you did not read the study. They took into account the customer being a dick by sending two packages. The ones that systemically were being lost were of course, the ones labeled atheist. The customer still received two packages, One just took longer. If both took longer then maybe an argument could be made.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nadin-Brzezinski/100003248998183 Nadin Brzezinski

    Perhaps because the USPS requires plain boxes since the automated system also kicks out Gamesa, Nike and any other it does not recognize?

    http://pe.usps.com/text/dmm100/preparing-packages.htm

    It is on their own website…

    Perhaps we should blame the company for not following postal regulations…they are there for a reason…you even discovered it

  • RecreationalPilot

    Without a tracking number on the packages, without a GPS transmitter in the packages, this is just a subjective BS theory. All USPS packages have a tracking barcode, so they can really find out what happens to them if they want.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had packages dropped off at my house, in the old rural town I lived in, and the packages were swiped off the front door. One neighborhood kid was caught throwing away our discarded packaging by another neighbor. Other times, they would just disappear. And this even included UPS and FedEx drops. I live in another town now and, so far, I haven’t had one package taken in 8 years.

  • Verimius

    I wonder if packages with Jesus tape on them would be delivered faster?

    • Verimius

      Replying to my own comment.

      If Nadin is right, ANY printing on the tape might delay the package. The experiment was not controlled well enough. If they do it again they should use tape with other writing, such as Jesus, as well as atheist tape and blank tape. Then see when each package is delivered.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nadin-Brzezinski/100003248998183 Nadin Brzezinski

    Well then there is this from postal regulations for the USPS

    http://pe.usps.com/text/dmm100/preparing-packages.htm

    They require plain packages, or as you found they are kicked out (and delayed) to be handled by a human. Don’t worry, Nike would have the same issue…so would Adidas.

    I hope this helps you to streamline operations. Oh and DHL only scans their barcode, newer technology. I guess it’s best to blame workers than actually finding the USPS guidelines.

  • RecreationalPilot

    Really, this is not a controlled test.

    For a controlled test, you send 5 packages to the same 20 people on the same day.

    1) Plain box following shipping rules of the USPS/DHL.
    2) You label the second box with Atheist tape.
    3) You label a third box with Christian tape.
    4) You send the fourth box with Muslim tape.
    5) Then, you send the fifth box with a high-end product label on it.

    The problem is, you have to completely trust the recipients and make sure they do not have their own agenda but that would be difficult. You also need to know your customer and know if you sent them something before, the chance of them being an honest person is higher than normal. Younger kids try to scam package delivery all of the time, just search for it on the web. They know they can get away with it at least once per company. Since your target audience will mostly be under 30, they are probably single and going out to clubs with little to no money–but they want to look sharp. BINGO! I’ll just say I never received the package.

    Since you have a loss prevention issue, you need to place tracking on your products. Identifying your products is a very poor way to ship goods and it invites theft.

    • Gus Snarp

      I think you’ve nailed it here (although I personally find the scanner hypothesis much more likely than the theft hypothesis). But I think you only need three tapes: “Atheist”, something entirely innocuous, and something theft worthy. Every package and custom tape raises the cost of the study, so given how unlikely I think the theft hypothesis is to generating statistically significant results, I would just go with two tapes. I’m pretty convinced that would change the results alone. But if you want to be really thorough scientifically, the high theft likelihood tape eliminates another potential variable. I suppose you could also just do the “Atheist” tape and a high end brand tape and that would be adequate. The high end brand tape should be innocuous as far as religious bias goes as well as controlling for theft. It’s two controls in one. Doesn’t tell us if the problem is theft or scanning, but does rule out religious bias.

  • http://twitter.com/BiancaChez Bianca C

    I think it would have been a better study if the packages were sent with a set that had no writing on the tape, a set with the usual atheist tape and a set with a random phrase printed on a third set. You have proven correlation between printed tape and slow deliveries, but not causation of slow deliveries due to atheist tape. An easy conclusion to jump to but further study would be required before accusations proven.

  • Cr0w$C@lling

    I’ve had issues with the delivery of my Harry Potter books in the DFW area. I received a 5 minute lecture on how the books were the tools of the “devil” before the postal woman handed them over.

  • Gus Snarp

    I’ve commented too much on this thread already, but I’m putting this up as a new top level comment because I think it’s important.

    When I first read this post I thought it must be nonsense. I love the USPS an have an in built bias in favor of it. But I looked at the numbers and the statistical significance and between the numbers, the apparently good experimental design, and my other in built bias in favor of atheists, I became convinced. Most of the criticisms I saw of the experiment were pretty poor.

    But then the comments on the printed tape started. And after a moment I realized what they were saying. The experiment was inadequately controlled because there was no innocuous printed tape to rule out scanner problems or theft.

    It seems that due to a lack of expertise and in built biases, the company, and many of us, reached a hasty conclusion. The promotion of the experiment was rushed and inappropriate in light of the glaring flaw in the experiment. We know very little until a properly controlled experiment is done.

    I was wrong. Let this be a lesson to us all. These comment effectively served as “peer review”, and we can see why that is so important. It found a flaw in the study the rest of us didn’t see because we lacked sufficient expertise in the subject and because of our biases. This is how science works. How skepticism works. And if our atheism is informed by science and skepticism, we have to acknowledge being wrong.

  • rg57

    Perhaps the tape should be changed to “ATHEIST will SUE YOU if you’re LATE”

  • rg57

    Perhaps the tape should be changed to “ATHEIST will SUE YOU if you’re LATE”

  • http://sdhardie.tumblr.com Sheila

    I work for an organization that sends packages out to many different countries in a daily basis. Packages go missing all the time, both incoming and outgoing. I’m not sure this is indicative of a bias, so much as it is indicative of incompetence. Most of the “missing” packages are never seen again, but we’ve been notified up to a year later that the country where they were shipped had them sitting in customs somewhere the whole time. It’s entirely possible the packages are being held up in customs before they even leave Germany.

  • Thin-ice

    With online tracking, you should be able to tell at which terminal the parcel disappeared, and demand compensation from the shipping company. I presume that international parcels are tracked the same way domestic ones.

  • Sandra Duffy

    Those shoes are gorgeous. Wish I had a spare €130 for the bright blues ones. #sigh#

  • Norman

    It makes sense. I believe that some people might actually pick other packages first. They are definitely annoyed every time atheists call them idiots, try to proselytize them into believing nothing, and generally obsess about their lack of religious belief. Subconsciously or consciously, it might lead to a discrimination in forwarding. The atheist package might be picked up where there is no competitive neutral package.

    The question is: Can we use this to our advantage? We could print something that makes the package look like it carries the word of God. God is everywhere, so it should work for all types of products.


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