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Shoe study: The USPS discriminates against atheist packages

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  March 28, 2013 09:00 AM

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Has there every been a more perfect study than this one? The German company Atheist Shoes noticed that many of its packages shipped to the United States were taking longer than normal to reach their destinations. They began to suspect that United States Postal Service employees were deliberately "losing" Atheist shipments- in retaliation, perhaps, for the godless labeling on the boxes. So, Atheist ran an experiment. They shipped 178 packages to 89 people in the United States. Each person received two packages, one clearly marked Atheist, the other, not. The results, which Atheist describes in a fun infographic on its website (detail below) were flabbergasting: Atheist-branded packages took, on average, 3 days longer to reach their destinations and were 10 times more likely to disappear altogether. And in one extreme case, the Atheist-branded package sent to a customer in Michigan took 37 days longer to arrive than its secular counterpart.

atheist shoes.png

UPDATE 3/28:Commenters on the Atheist Shoes study have noted that the holdup could be with customs- either in the E.U. or the U.S.- rather than the USPS. Atheist Shoes replies (also in the comments section) that they have no similar delays with international packages to non-U.S. countries, leading them to conclude the problem doesn't lie with E.U. customs. If it is U.S. customs that's behind the delays for the atheist-branded packages, a number of different mechanisms could explain why, including: A) Vigilante customs officials are deliberately sidetracking packages; or B) There's a kind of cognitive bias at work where customs officials know they have to inspect X number of packages in an hour and they're more likely to pull out packages with noticeable packaging characteristics than packages with neutral packaging characteristics. See all comments here.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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