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Brown paper wrapper only, please

Atheist Shoes, a German company that makes atheist-branded shoes, did a simple experiment. They shipped duplicate packages to American destinations, with one difference: one package would be plain, the other had tape with the word “atheist” put on it.

Atheist-labeled packages were ten times more likely to be lost in transit.

Their interpretation: workers at the post office are taking offense at overt godlessness, and most unprofessionally, are ‘accidentally’ losing packages with labels they don’t like. They’re going to be more discreet in their packaging from now on.

Alternative explanation for godbots: the USPS is more dependent on divine assistance to get their job done than they want to let on.

Comments

  1. carlie says

    Day-um. I’ve been coveting a pair of those shoes ever since they were on Kickstarter. Glad I didn’t try to order a pair only to have them “lost”.

  2. blf says

    Hang on, you mean my shoes aren’t supposed to be worshiping the FSM with its many strands tentacles feet…

  3. says

    Sounds like a great idea for a larger study here in the US (to avoid customs and other international issues) for an atheist society somewhere in America.

    Send out three batches of packages with different labeling — one neutral, one overtly atheistic, and one overtly christian — to multiple places around the USA, and then track their arrival.

    One could also test the different delivery services to see which is the most reliable.

  4. kittylady says

    That link does not seem to be inclined to work for me, so perhaps I am working on a flawed assumption, but am I the only one worried that those customers who had “lost” packages are about to “lose” a lot more mail, at best?

  5. bittys says

    While I agree that their interpretation is more likely, an equally valid one from the data they gathered is that the USPS staff consider something marked with the ‘atheist’ tag to be more valuable, and hence steal more of them.

    I wonder how you’d design an experiment to distinguish between the possibilities?

    Either one, of course, reveals a hideous lack of professionalism from the postal staff

  6. Mark Irving says

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but is not deliberately “losing” something actually theft?

  7. carlie says

    I got about half of the page to load – some suggestions in the comments were that the atheist label might have “confused” the deliverybots that scan the packages. That’s an alternative explanation, that more text on a box makes it more difficult to scan, but shouldn’t result in entirely lost packages. There should be (and I believe already are) secondary checks on things that don’t go through machines well.

  8. thumper1990 says

    @bittys

    I admit to some confusion as to why something with “Atheist” packing tape would be considered more valuable.

  9. says

    some suggestions in the comments were that the atheist label might have “confused” the deliverybots that scan the packages.

    Which is why you have to experiment with a variety of labeling — most likely, one neutral, one overtly Christian, and one overtly Atheistic. Then, if one type of packaging goes astray, you can rule out scanners and other technology-based “biases”.

  10. says

    Gotta love those moral upstanding believers. Way to make a point about moral highgrounds and perfect inspiration, loving thowe nyghburs and enemys. That’s a totally convincing doctrine once you decide to underscore it with theft, vandalism and threats, just to name some of the most common “legally questionable” conduct.

  11. noastronomer says

    bittys beat me to it. Who knew that the USPS was staffed with thieving aheists?!

  12. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    don’t buy the atheist shoes. They’re crap. No soles

  13. blf says

    That link does not seem to be inclined to work for me…

    The page is currently loading extremely slowly. It also appears to be some sort of an image, making extracting some of the more interesting points difficult. There is a comments section, including some trolling by what I assume are nice loving xians, such as: “you are pathetic fucking bitch atheist, go fuck you moron.”

  14. mythbri says

    Atheist shoes are…..

    ….Shoes that are made by atheists.

    ….Shoes that are made for atheists.

    ….Shoes that do not believe in god(s).

  15. says

    don’t buy the atheist shoes. They’re crap. No soles

    I still <3 you, Ing, never change. Unless, you know, you feel like changing, then enjoy.

  16. Alverant says

    Some of the comments were pretty disturbing like “Why do you Atheists feel you can go around pushing your beliefs on others?” all while ignoring the christian-themed clothing out there. 89 people wearing shoes vs an unknown number of Jesus t-shirts and cross jewerly.

  17. carlie says

    Um. There may be a reason it’s loading slowly… Internet speeds around the world have noticeably slowed down due to a massive “distributed denial of service” attack, reports the BBC.

    These DDoS attacks bombard targeted web servers with so much dummy traffic that people trying to access a site for legitimate purposes are unable to do so. It’s most analogous to a traffic jam on a highway with no one able to move.
    The BBC says that security experts are describing it as “the biggest cyber-attack in history.”
    The attacks were focused on a company called Spamhaus, which maintains a “domain name system” to connect a typed-in URL to the correct server hosting the appropriate content. With this company’s services compromised, large portions of the web became less stable.

  18. bittys says

    @7 Mark Irving

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but is not deliberately “losing” something actually theft?

    From a legal perspective, possibly, I was more drawing the distinction between “we don’t want the recipient to have this”, and “we want to keep it for ourselves”

    @9 thumper1990

    I admit to some confusion as to why something with “Atheist” packing tape would be considered more valuable.

    Like I said, I don’t think it’s the more likely explanation, I was just wondering what sort of experiment you could do to distinguish between the two possibilities.

  19. blf says

    Which is why you have to experiment with a variety of labeling — most likely, one neutral, one overtly Christian, and one overtly Atheistic. Then, if one type of packaging goes astray, you can rule out scanners and other technology-based “biases”.

    The did the same test in Europe and had no problems. So they are concluding the problem is in USAlienstan and specifically with the USPS. (I’m not quite sure how that know an unbiased set of samples arrived in USAlienstan, since they were all mailed from Germany.)

    Having said that, they only did the test with overtly atheist and “neutral” packing tape. No overtly muslim or xian or cute penguins or ugly peas or incomprehensible gibberish.

  20. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    I dunno about the USPS, but given the unreliability of Canada Post, I am prepared to believe the employees rely on gawd to get the mail to the right place.

  21. Dick the Damned says

    When i lived in England, i had a Darwin sticker on my car. I thought it might be prudent to not have one in Canada. I live near Ottawa, by the way. (I definitely see more overt religiosity in Canada than in England.)

  22. UnknownEric is GrumpyCat in human form says

    don’t buy the atheist shoes. They’re crap. No soles

    But will they dye for you?

  23. Tâlib Alttaawiil (طالب التاويل) says

    what? i thought christians were the oppressed ones in the u.s. …

  24. tbp1 says

    This, sadly, doesn’t surprise me at all. The Freedom From Religion Foundation uses plain wrappers with just the initials FFRF and no indication of content. I’ve always assumed that’s because of stuff like this.

  25. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. Once I started getting various atheist-themed mail, I suddenly started finding more and more conveniently damaged mail in my box and shit missing.

    Which is why I’m always confused when people get all misty eyed about the slow death of the USPS. They suck.

  26. psocoptera says

    I get stuff shipped with writing on tape all the time, and none of it has been delayed. I think it is safe to assume that the content of the writing was the problem, not that the tape had writing. And, having lived in rural Michigan, that “lost” package surprises me not at all. I took worse crap there for being atheist than I have living in the bible belt.

    Also their website worked fairly well immediately after PZ posted this. The site may just have been overwhelmed by the spike in traffic. We gave them the Pharyngula bump, if you will.

  27. Alverant says

    #26
    I had similar issues with my American Science magazine and Knights of the Dinner Table comic. I wouldn’t blame the USPS just the delivery guys.

    There should be a domestic test to see if this happens, send 300 packages out to people across the USA. 100 in plain wrappers. 100 in christian themed wrapping paper. 100 in Atheist themed paper. And lets see what happens to them.

  28. WharGarbl says

    @Illuminata
    #26

    Which is why I’m always confused when people get all misty eyed about the slow death of the USPS. They suck.

    I thought the reason is that USPS, by law, are required to provide services to hard to reach places (like rural areas).

  29. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    yeaH it sure as he’ll is weird that a good provider of benefits jobs for the lower classes is being shut down and people are upset.

  30. thumper1990 says

    @bittys

    Like I said, I don’t think it’s the more likely explanation, I was just wondering what sort of experiment you could do to distinguish between the two possibilities.

    No, I’m confused as to why you even think that’s a viable alternative explanation. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

    Just to be clear, I’m not having a go. Just trying to understand your point.

  31. Dunc says

    Which is why I’m always confused when people get all misty eyed about the slow death of the USPS. They suck.

    I’d guess because the people replacing them tend to suck even more, and will probably get worse once they no longer have the competition?

  32. says

    I thought the reason is that USPS, by law, are required to provide services to hard to reach places (like rural areas).

    Little known fact, UPS and Fedex also outsource the most expensive parts of their work to the USPS, for exactly none of the profit. The USPS isn’t supposed to be profitable, it’s providing a god damn public service – but private industry leeching off of them isn’t helping.

    Which is why I’m always confused when people get all misty eyed about the slow death of the USPS. They suck.

    Because they employ the poor, and give them benefits. Not counting the direct problems with tying a vital public service to private industry.

  33. Alverant says

    Would the competition be allowed to pick and choose who they will and won’t make deliveries to/from? Like could an employee decide not to make the scheduled pick up at say the FFRF because of their religious views?

  34. says

    Would the competition be allowed to pick and choose who they will and won’t make deliveries to/from? Like could an employee decide not to make the scheduled pick up at say the FFRF because of their religious views?

    Do you have any reason to think this is actually within the rules at the USPS? I’d support more rigorous testing before making a statement about them, but let’s suppose it were done and the results came up the same. Do you think a vital public service should flutter out the window like a lonely sparrow because a small minority of traffic (Obvious atheist movement things) is being consciously derailed by employees clearly violating federal law? Or do you think that traffic should be cleaned up? Not that the packaging industry wants to see USPS go – like I said, they send their most expensive mail through them.

  35. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    @36 given pharmacists I don’t see why not

  36. Rey Fox says

    Would the competition be allowed to pick and choose who they will and won’t make deliveries to/from?

    Oh absolutely. They’d be beholden to no one but their shareholders.

  37. bittys says

    @32 thumper1990

    No, I’m confused as to why you even think that’s a viable alternative explanation. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

    When I think of something going missing in the postal system, three possible reasons occur to me:

    1. It’s genuinely been lost by mistake
    2. The postal staff have decided it might be valuable and kept it for themselves
    3. The postal staff have deliberately thrown it out so it never reaches the recipient.

    Any statistical questions about sample size and confidence aside, option 1 is ruled out because of the difference between their two sample groups, but the data they’ve collected provides no evidence to distinguish between options 2 and 3.

    Admittedly, the inference they’ve drawn (overly religious staff discriminating against obviously atheist merchandise) is the most plausible explanation, i’m in no way disagreeing with that, but their data itself doesn’t rule out option 2.

  38. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    We hadn’t ruled out leppercauns either

  39. thumper1990 says

    @bittys

    Oh, I see. I assumed you had some reason to believe that things labelled “Atheist” were seen as more valuable. OK, yeah, they haven’t ruled out two, but 3 seems most likely. I agree.

  40. Alverant says

    @bittys
    I would think that two identical packages from the same address would imply same worth. So the idea that one appears more valuable because it has Atheist written on it doesn’t have much of a foundation.

    #37
    I’m not sure what you’re saying. You want more data, fine, but I think between that experiment (confirmed by the experiences of others) is enough. I never said the USPS should go away. I only asked if the private enterprise sector would be worse. As Ing pointed out, we already have that problem with pharmisists. Why wouldn’t it happen with other industries.

  41. frog says

    @36: Absolutely not. That would be unconstitutional under the 14th amendment (by way of some legal roundabouts, but anyway, it’s an “equal protection” situation).

    If a company provides a public service to people in general, then they must provide it to all people, and cannot differentiate for certain protected categories/status. Different categories have different levels of scrutiny, but religion is pretty close to the top.

    The trick is proving it. If a potential employer asks what your religion is, that is completely, utterly illegal. This doesn’t stop some employers from doing it, however (why, hello there, Oklahoma!). A church may refuse to perform a wedding for persons not of their faith, but if they have a catering hall that they rent out to some groups not of their faith, then they must rent it to all groups not of their faith.

    A non-sectarian package-delivery business must provide the same service to everyone who ponies up the money, wraps the package securely, and doesn’t ship dangerous or illegal products.

    In the last 40 years it has become obvious that people will bring suit for bias based on race, and often on gender or handicap, so few businesses will be open about any bias there. However, suits for religious discrimination have only become common in more recent years, and they are still met with massive blowback, probably because the victims are usually non-Christian.

    So shit goes on. It’s not legal, but it will take more cases and more punitive damages to convince companies that they shouldn’t even make a run at being religious bigots.

  42. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    I thought the reason is that USPS, by law, are required to provide services to hard to reach places (like rural areas).

    Aaahhh. there’s my city “privilege”. I forgot people actually live in places that aren’t right down the road from everything else.

    Okay, so they have ONE legitimate reason to exist. That might explain why they suck so hard at everything else.

  43. Brother Ogvorbis, Fully Defenestrated Emperor of Steam, Fire and Absurdity says

    Either one, of course, reveals a hideous lack of professionalism from the postal staff

    Not to mention violation of US federal law.

    some suggestions in the comments were that the atheist label might have “confused” the deliverybots that scan the packages. That’s an alternative explanation, that more text on a box makes it more difficult to scan, but shouldn’t result in entirely lost packages.

    Yet when I send a book out to a buyer, they stamp “Media Mail” all over it. Or if I sent something 2nd day, they put lots of tape, with lettering, all over it. So, no, I don’t think so.

    don’t buy the atheist shoes. They’re crap. No soles

    Bad Ing. Go and spend an hour in the Comfy Chair and then report to the Spunking Couch!

    (I’m not quite sure how that know an unbiased set of samples arrived in USAlienstan, since they were all mailed from Germany.)

    Customers who want to know where in the hell their order is?

    Which is why I’m always confused when people get all misty eyed about the slow death of the USPS. They suck.

    Envelope via USPS — 42(?) cents. Envelope via a private carrier — $9.95 to $19.95. No wonder the GOP want to kill it. Just imagine how much money their donors could be making on privatized mail delivery?

    Because they employ the poor, and give them benefits. Not counting the direct problems with tying a vital public service to private industry.

    But if it gets rid of APWU (American Postal Workers Union), no matter what happens, it’ll be a win for the GOP and Big Money.

    And more and more states are going to all-mail elections. If a postal worker doesn’t like the majority politics of a particular zip code….

    Just imagine the shenanigans if it wasn’t a postal worker but an entire corporation sucking at the GOP teat?

    I only asked if the private enterprise sector would be worse.

    Yes. Selective blacklisting of unprofitable areas, discounts to any politician that promises to cut the corporate tax rate, high prices, low wages, no benefits. The only ones who would win would be the rich. Again.

    That might explain why they suck so hard at everything else.

    And I really do disagree with that. The USPS mail delivery is dirt cheap (compared to private industry and to many other national mail systems), they are not trying to screw the workers to pay the stockholders, and the amount of stuff lost in the mail (well, non-atheist branded stuff) is damned small. Keep in mind that much of the ‘hate the USPS’ is coming from the same anti-union, anti-public workers, anti-living wage, anti-benefits thugs who have been systematically destroying the US.

  44. says

    Aaahhh. there’s my city “privilege”. I forgot people actually live in places that aren’t right down the road from everything else.

    Even in DFW, I did not live ‘down the road’ from my power company. And I sincerely doubt you live ‘right down the road’ from the IRS.

    Okay, so they have ONE legitimate reason to exist. That might explain why they suck so hard at everything else.

    You know, I’m not gonna lie, I’ve had overall great experience with the USPS. The one time they stonewalled me, they should have legally, and it didn’t bother me th at they did. But even crappy service isn’t going to change that people need their god damned mail, and shouldn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for it.

    You want more data, fine, but I think between that experiment (confirmed by the experiences of others) is enough.

    Sample size of 187, yo…

    Not gonna lie, it reallyd oes strongly suggest bad things, but mostly, my post is aimed figuring you’re also like “Oh golly gosh darn, we don’t need a mail because they deliver atheist packages slower”.

  45. frog says

    Regarding the pharmacist “conscience clause”:

    Point the first: the laws are different from state to state. Some say pharmacists have the right to not fill things that go against their conscience; other states have explicitly made such action (or rather, lack of action) illegal. Until someone brings suit and it climbs to SCOTUS, this will continue to be the situation. Considering that pharmaceutical prescriptions are (a) not interstate commerce, and (b) individual (i.e. there is no corporation that will feel harmed because it wants the Morning After pill and can’t get it), it will be a long time, if ever, before this gets settled. More likely it will be be settled by social pressure first.

    (In my happy dreams, some woman decides to go after them. But it’s a lot of stress and given how shitty women get treated simply for insisting they are human, I hate to think what she would go through in bringing such a suit. Any place that felt a need to explicitly allow this exception for pharmacists is almost certainly overrun with froth-mouthed religionists of the particularly foul sort.)

    Point the second: “Conscience clauses” are intended to protect an individual person from performing an act that is forbidden by their religion. While I think it’s utter bullshit that pharmacists are given this exception–dispensing birth control is not the same as using it–there is at least a rational connection between “this is what the drug is for” and “I am forbidden to do X.”

    The only parallel with package/post delivery would be if a carrier could reasonably claim that their religion forbids them to interact with atheists. But then the discussion ranges back into protected classes and segregation and so on, and the law is established pretty solidly there.

  46. says

    That might explain why they suck so hard at everything else.

    i honestly don’t know what “everything else” is in this context, compared to Fedex and UPS. I’ve lost a lot more mail through the private guys than the USPS, and the USPS isn’t forcing me to drive at unreasonable hours across town because they can’t be assed to actually try to deliver my packages to me (and that’s entirely aside from the fact that half the stuff delivered through UPS ends up being sent at least partially through USPS anyway).

    And it’s not like it’s particularly likely that there’s more bigoted Christians working at USPS than at Fedex or UPS

  47. Alverant says

    @frog #49
    Thing is “conscience clauses” are are being used as a basis for other “religious liberty” laws basically saying that a believer doesn’t have to do his/her job if it goes against their faith. Basically it’s legalized discrimination being disguised as freedom.

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/03/26/kentucky-democrats-may-overturn-governors-veto-of-religious-freedom-bill/

    I think there is a justified concern that privatized mail services could site religious freedom to treat minority groups poorly.

  48. says

    Alternative explanation for godbots: the USPS is more dependent on divine assistance to get their job done than they want to let on.

    Well, when you don’t have employees, or like.. money, any more… and, since god doesn’t have much of anything else to do, or ever has, its hardly a surprise he is freelancing along with Hermes, to make a bit of spending cash.

  49. jimnorth says

    the USPS is more dependent on divine assistance to get their job done than they want to let on.

    I’ve always wondered why my rural delivery never took place on Sundays. Thanks for the explanation, PZ.

  50. frog says

    @Alverant #53: Oh, sure, they’ll keep trying, just as states kept trying to find ways to make it legal not to let African Americans sit at the lunch counter with the white folks, or share drinking fountains, or what-all.

    SCOTUS has been pretty consistent in knocking this shit down. Yes, even the current SCOTUS. The question becomes how many times it has to be brought up, and how consistently is punishment applied.

    Aside from that, natural human behavior works against it. Interstate trade would be fucked if package delivery services engaged in religious discrimination. I suspect that business interests would outweigh local bullshit. Imagine if Amazon.com, for instance, which has built their entire business model on customer service, suddenly received a lot of complaints of people not getting their packages. I strongly suspect they would tell their service to get it right or else.

    And how long would it be before some large company run by an atheist decided to embargo regions with such laws? Or at the very least start a counter-campaign and pay their own lobbyists. When government doesn’t sensibly regulate interactions between people, people start doing the regulating themselves, and if those “people” are corporations, they can get quite nasty about it.

    Contrast with drugstores and pharmacists, who are entirely local, and harming individuals only. A much harder fight, dependent on the courts, and dependent on individual women to keep on in the face of a horrible social price, long after their specific problem has been dealt with.

  51. says

    I like the idea (but lack the funds) of sending several hundred test packages cross country with the overt Christian, overt Muslim, overt Atheist and Neutral (control group) and see which ones make it or are “lost”. I’d also like to add to the experiment whether there is any difference when a package is using one night express and certified services. Finally, although I’m not sure of the legality/feasibility, but make sure each package includes a audio recording bug/RF tag, so for those packages that get lost, maybe we find out which dumpster/point along the chain of delivery that the “lost” occurs…

  52. says

    But this sort of this is, alas, common in the US.

    When my spouse had her student loan serviced and she’d moved from Oklahoma to California, she ended up with a service agent who bleated about how they were a good Christian and gave her the worst possible rate on her student loan, specifically losing documents and putting her Californian wage vs an Oklahoman cost of living. She ended up paying something near half of her income on the loan payments until a different loan management company bought it (and I started managing it).

    Bigotry comes even in tiny, hard to see packages.

  53. WharGarbl says

    @Illuminata
    #46

    Okay, so they have ONE legitimate reason to exist. That might explain why they suck so hard at everything else.

    One reason may be that USPS is constrained by the Congress on what rates they can charge.
    http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/opinionperspectives/939126-263/congress-didnt-do-us-postal-service-any.html
    And, as far as I know, USPS is not allowed to charge more for delivery from/to rural areas. Which means that combined with the above rate restriction, USPS really don’t have a lot of money. Hence the “suckiness”.

  54. Brother Ogvorbis, Fully Defenestrated Emperor of Steam, Fire and Absurdity says

    Which means that combined with the above rate restriction, USPS really don’t have a lot of money.

    Not only that, but the GOP congress decided that the USPS needed to fully fund the pension programme for a huge number of years. And do it within an unreasonably small time frame. And then, as the USPS did what congress told it to do, they began screaming about it losing billions of dollars a year and calling for privatization.

  55. unclefrogy says

    I have never to my knowledge had any trouble with the US postal service other than dog mail. (fail to deliver because of dogs)
    But have had problems with UPS changing the address because some supervisor decided the zip code was incorrect. it wasn’t he was.
    It might be time to do some in depth studies of all devilry services to include miss directed cost speed lost and anything else that is deemed appropriate.

    uncle frogy

  56. noquartyr01 says

    Bahahahaha!!!! awesome……let’s put all the atheist in a box wrapped with brown paper, the written word atheist and hope for the best

  57. says

    Brother Ogvorbis:

    Not only that, but the GOP congress decided that the USPS needed to fully fund the pension programme for a huge number of years.

    Oh, you mean defunding a program they don’t like to the point where it can’t operate efficiently, then claiming that government programs are inefficient?

    Yeah. I like to call that “SOP for the GOP.”

  58. chigau (違う) says

    noquartyr01
    I hope you are not a Christian because that kind of attitude makes Jesus sad.

  59. obscure1 says

    A few years ago I was given a fix-it ticket by a cop who didn’t approve of what was on my bumper. I had the dinosaur eating the jesusfish Darwin evolve one. Of course he never admitted that was the reason but it ended up costing me a few hours of dealing with clueless burearcrats for a ticket I never should have received. This problem seems to be uniquely American and its prevalence is not limited to the employees of the postal service.

  60. alwayscurious says

    WharGarbl, your reference also omits notice that the same legislation restricted the parcel rates from changing for the most expensive & competitive items without an act of Congress. Also, in the process of filling up the newly minted retirement fund, USPS has been overpaying its required retirement monies. These overpayments haven’t been credited to USPS accounts. The Postmaster is very upset by this because it’s money leaving their system that they won’t ever see again (it seems). Imagine filing a tax return & being told “Nope, you overpaid, money spent. Maybe next year the right amount will be withheld”

    Also, packages get handled by more individual & longer than an envelope. Also note that different classes of mail go through different handling facilities. This sounds like a fun experiment!!

  61. Ichthyic says

    yup, without proper sample sizes, controls, and even any understanding of how distribution actually works for packages coming from Germany to the US, there’s really not much you can say about this other than it sounds like a real experiment might be fun to try.

  62. says

    This “study” is probably more of a publicity stunt. USPS has packaging guidelines, and having tape with lettering which can be read by optical scanners violates the guidelines. As a result the packages have to be scanned manually which delays shipping time. It’s no surprise the delays weren’t seen with the plain tape. Had the company done a proper study they would have used tape with different lettering (something that just says shoes, or hello), in order to see if there was a problem with the scanning or actual bias.

    However the company fell victim to confirmation bias and their bias towards Americans became evident with their unsupported conclusion.

  63. carlie says

    dougittner – did you see the part where they had no problems in Europe? Unless Europe doesn’t use machines, that isn’t necessarily the right explanation.

  64. says

    I got a package from Amazon.com the other day. It was sealed with tape that has that annoying smily-line Amazon logo all over it. I’ve re-used cartons to ship stuff – all they ask is the old shipping labels and any bar codes be covered over. Just use your head – any package scanning system that could be tripped up by words or logos on the tape would have been shitcanned years ago.

  65. Sassafras says

    Besides which, even if the packages had to be manually scanned because of the tape, that only explains the 3 day delay, it does nothing to explain away the lost packages or the one that arrived over a month late.

  66. deephlat says

    Righteous indignation marketing win: especially if you can fool relatively privileged groups.

    This ad attracts you because of the same psychology that christians have when they complain about being victims. I’m an atheist, but it’s pretty clear that being a type of person that is oppressed by the status quo gives you a good feeling, “yeah man, we’re like rebels and shit! wooo!”

    The company didn’t publish this ad to demonstrate inequality at all, it’s supposed to make you say, “oooo I’d like to get shoes like those!” and hits it home with the “righteous indignation dollar” as Bill Hicks called it.

  67. says

    Dick/#22:

    When i lived in England, i had a Darwin sticker on my car. I thought it might be prudent to not have one in Canada. I live near Ottawa, by the way. (I definitely see more overt religiosity in Canada than in England.)

    I could see that. Hard to call, honestly…

    I think as an average measure it’s probably less nasty here than it is in, say, the US, but that’s only saying so much. And neighbourhood by neighbourhood, it would probably vary. Some rural areas, I’d be expecting a bit of trouble. And I’d be curious to know what would happen passing stuff through Canada Post.

    And all that said: I do see FSMs and Darwin fishes and evolve fishes and tool-using fishes on cars around here. It’s the Glebe, near universities, and there’s academics around. So like I said: neighbourhoods will vary.

    (/… and oh, I’m also very staunchly assured by certain believers that really, atheists aren’t at all discriminated against, here, even as they themselves treat me like shit for reasons I’m sure have nothing to do with that, so, hey, obviously, no worries.)

  68. throwaway, extra beefy super queasy says

    This ad attracts you because of the same psychology that christians have when they complain about being victims.

    Not quite. Christians believe themselves persecuted through hearing it from their preacher and reading it in their book. Atheists often experience it first-hand. Once again, for clarity: Christians imagine it to be so, atheists experience it to be so. Oh, and that’s not all there is to it… but I’ll allow you to score an own-goal should you choose to respond.

  69. deephlat says

    @77
    Correct, but I mean the psychology (or chemistry if you will) of victimhood is the same, and includes a good feeling that is exploited for selling products no matter if the victimhood is justified or not. I remember when I was a christian people in church wearing buttons and necklases commemorating the currently oppressed-christians in muslim countries like Indonesia. The victimhood of those christians was real, and the feeling exploited for sales.

  70. thumper1990 says

    Hi, as someone who works in the mail industry (TNT Post) I can confirm that tape with pictures on doesn’t upset sorting machines. If it’s not a barcode, it can’t scan it. Pictures on the packaging just doesn’t make any difference providing the area the barcode is printed on is plain and of a sufficiently light/pale colour. So tape with words on would not present a problem as far as sorting goes.

  71. thumper1990 says

    @deephlat

    This isn’t an ad. This was a study (admittedly not the most rigorous) which was run in response to complaints from US customers. We are interested in it because it appears to confirm that anti-atheist bigotry is the cause of the delays and lost packages which this company have experienced in the US.

  72. Dee Phlat says

    @thumper
    Ever see a drug ad? Study+ad, often whose purpose is to mislead.

    Yes, that’s why I’m interested in it as well, but the primary purpose isn’t to educate. The purpose is to spread awareness of the company within a (largely privileged) internet community and hope it will go viral, with added exploitation of the coolness of victimhood.

  73. chigau (違う) says

    The purpose is to spread awareness of the company within a (largely privileged) internet community and hope it will go viral, with added exploitation of the coolness of victimhood.

    Wow.
    Which ad did you look at?

  74. says

    Dee Phlat:

    Yes, that’s why I’m interested in it as well, but the primary purpose isn’t to educate. The purpose is to spread awareness of the company within a (largely privileged) internet community and hope it will go viral, with added exploitation of the coolness of victimhood.

    And? Does any of that negate their study? Or are you just employing and ad hominem argument against it?

    They are a company that is based on tribal identity. Part of the identity of that tribe is a reliance on empirical evidence to back up claims. They had a surprising number of delayed and lost parcels to the US. The gathered some empirical data, with a nod to controls. Their results ruled out simple sloppiness on the part of the USPS. While their conclusion isn’t necessarily the only possible conclusion, the other conclusions are not as likely. (For instance, poor quality of the automated scanning and routing systems in the US compared to those in Europe.)

    They shared this information. This is a good thing — it provides feedback to their customers explaining a business decision, shows the rationale behind the decision, and gives them some exposure.

    Every advertisement is based on exploiting some feeling or desire in the minds of the customer. That doesn’t make it bad. Yes, this is an ad — but it’s more than just that. It’s a demonstration of a legitimate study, the results of which affect their business process. It’s not the most rigorously-designed experiment, but the pragmatic results were undeniable.

    And really, that’s what they were after.

  75. thumper1990 says

    @Deephlat

    Pharmaceutical ads don’t take that format in the UK. They might throw a few statistics in, but that’s it. But then our pharmaceutical ads are generally for cold/flu remedies and pain killers. I have never seen prescription drugs advertised here, probably because we don’t have the sort of “Prescription pill culture” that America has.

    And anyway that’s entirely different. Presumably the drug adds employ studies to show their product works. This is an investigative study done to ascertain the source of complaints from US customers. When the study confirmed their suspicions, they published it on their website to reassure US customers who complained that the fault is not due to the company. It’s on a website which prospective customers visit anyway, so it hardly counts as an advert in the sense that adverts spread awareness, though I suppose it’s presence may ensure more sales if those customers are concerned by stories of poor service they may have heard. If PZ hadn’t put it on his blog, I’d never have heard of it.

    Funnily enough, this study has not filled me with desire to buy their product. I tend to buy shoes based on whether they will look good and whether they fit me (I have quite large feet).

  76. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Even in DFW, I did not live ‘down the road’ from my power company. And I sincerely doubt you live ‘right down the road’ from the IRS.

    Well, I was joking. So, you’re right, I don’t. Didn’t think that needed to be explained, however.

    Though, I don’t use the USPS to pay my bills. I do that at the local bodega. Cheaper, faster, much more incompetence-proof.

    P.s. Doug upthread works at the post office, (see Friendly Atheist) so he’s got more than a little personal stake in portraying them are perfect, blameless paragons of expertise.

  77. Dee Phlat says

    @Nigel

    How is conflict of interest an ad hominem? Any form of exploitation is immoral, regardless if it is culturally acceptable or commonplace. As long as it’s a study tied to an ad, it’s a conflict of interest, and therefore should be met with permanent criticism.

    I said “largely privileged” because, to a capitalist, internet-active atheists could be a great marketable group with higher than average expendable income. I wanted to emphasize the possible exploitative thinking in their intensions.

    Also, any form of tribal psychology should not exist in a community of rationalists, and an attempt to profit from that way of thinking should be recognized and denounced.

  78. says

    Oh, you mean defunding a program they don’t like to the point where it can’t operate efficiently, then claiming that government programs are inefficient?

    Except for the fact that the USPS isn’t “funded” by the government at all, but is simply a corporation, which runs under government hiring practices, and rules.. yeah, basically.

    And, that is the most bloody idiotic thing about it, really. Its not owned by the Koch brothers, therefor its bad, even though it is a corporation, not tax funded, and purely run using capitalist principles, just like all other corporations. Its just – government, so… the assholes are not able to buy stock in it, run it into the group via their own stupidity, or buy it up in an attempt to create a new monopoly, so.. again – therefor “bad”.

    Yet, it was entirely solvent, right up until they pulled this pension shit, and then tacked on more laws, after, denying them any right to create new services, to make up the difference. Yep, that’s right – force them to do something no one else is required to, then tell them, “But you can’t buy Ebay, or Amazon, or otherwise create any other sorts of ‘new’ commerce, which you might be able to use to make more profits, and get yourself out of the hole we made you dig. We gave you the damn shovels, now dig, and keep digging!”

  79. Maureen Brian says

    Dee Phlat & thumper1990,

    It is to all intents and purposes illegal to advertise prescription medicines to the public in the UK. Advertising of over-the-counter medicines and to professionals is monitored and change may be demanded.

    The rules start here but do, please, make yourselves a couple of gallon drums of coffee before you start – there’s an awful lot of readin’ there!

    http://www.mhra.gov.uk/Howweregulate/Medicines/Advertisingofmedicines/

  80. Dee Phlat says

    @Maureen and Thumper,

    In the US, there are at least 1, often 2 prescription drug ads in every commercial break on TV, all are emotionally exploitative, all saying “ask your doctor” who have been heavily coached by drug reps and offered exotic vacations to see talks about new drugs. Also, prescriptions by each doctor are monitored by drug companies taking pharmacy records so they know who to target.

  81. says

    Dee Phlat:

    How is conflict of interest an ad hominem?

    Because you’re questioning their motives and not their technique. That is, calling into question their character, rather than the study itself.

    They admit it’s not a watertight experiment. They were after one result: how to decrease lost and delayed items to the US. They got the results they needed, and found they could increase delivery reliability with one simple change. This is a far cry from a clinical study with dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of free variables, so your comparison to drug-funded research is really a strawman.

    Also, any form of tribal psychology should not exist in a community of rationalists, and an attempt to profit from that way of thinking should be recognized and denounced.

    Why? As long as we recognize it for what it is, what’s the problem?

  82. says

    Also, any form of tribal psychology should not exist in a community of rationalists

    You don’t pay much attention to the atheoskeptisphere, do you? Tsk.

    The shoes are much more subtle than, say, my A+ t-shirt. The brand is on the sole of the shoe, just like every other freaking shoe on the planet. Why shouldn’t an atheist company be openly atheist and make money? Religious ones certainly do. Non-religious ones certainly do. *shrug*

    More importantly, they look nice and they look godsdamn comfortable.

  83. Dee Phlat says

    @nigel
    Yes, it’s a far cry from a drug company study, I mentioned that to as an example for thumper1990 of how a study can be an ad. It’s not a strawman. Anyways, my point is I wish people would look at this ad and see how it is exploitative for profit. You don’t think it’s immoral, but I do.

    “Why? As long as we recognize it for what it is, what’s the problem?”

    Because tribalism is fake! It is an irrational realm of human behavior and should be purged from all discourse like any other destructive behavior. It makes a magic invisible barrier that influences our thoughts to artificially separate ourselves from others, encouraging us to have anti-social behaviors and create outgroups that deserve blame and shame.

  84. says

    Dee Phlat:

    Because tribalism is fake!

    No it’s not. It’s an honest desire to be part of a group. Things that distinguish us from others. There’s nothing fake about the feelings people get when they feel alone, ostracized, and left-out. Similarly, there’s nothing fake about the feeling of belonging, the idea that there are people that understand you, and the identity of that group.

    That’s why cons are wonderful. Even if I don’t attend a manga con, I can enjoy SF cons; and I don’t detract from those who go to the manga cons. Folks who attend Trek conventions don’t detract from those who go to a con featuring Joss Whedon. The feeling of group identity is not fake.

    Nor is it necessarily wrong.

    Where it goes wrong is when it identifies those not of the group as bad.

    It is an irrational realm of human behavior and should be purged from all discourse like any other destructive behavior.

    Just because it’s irrational doesn’t make it bad. That’s what being human is about. If you aspire to be a Vulcan, then sure. Expunge feelings, spontaneity, and creativity from your life. But please, don’t think you can do the same for the rest of us. I, for one, don’t want that kind of life.

    And, I don’t see how tribalism is necessarily destructive. It seems constructive, from my experience. It’s only when you allow it to define good and bad that it becomes destructive.

    It makes a magic invisible barrier that influences our thoughts to artificially separate ourselves from others, encouraging us to have anti-social behaviors and create outgroups that deserve blame and shame.

    But it also encourages good behavior. Feeling part of a community helps you volunteer for cleanup days, and to patronize local shops and farmers’ markets.

    Just because something exhibits both good and bad traits doesn’t make it wrong. Especially when you can minimize the bad traits through knowledge and understanding.

    Tribalism is not inherently bad. In fact, I submit tribalism is inherently good, with the understanding that group identity does not delineate good and bad — just different.

  85. carlie says

    Because tribalism is fake! It is an irrational realm of human behavior and should be purged from all discourse like any other destructive behavior.

    Y u hate fandom? :(

  86. Dee Phlat says

    nigel:
    Sorry, let me change my terminology. By tribalism, I meant groupthink.

    In regards to ad hominem: I don’t care about the validity of their data, my argument is entirely a complaint of the nature of their exploitation. But independent of that, yes, it is quite possible for a journal to reject a paper if they have an outstanding conflict of interest. If you publish data saying vaccines cause autism, and disclose that you’re currently being paid by lawyers in a litigation group against vaccine companies, your paper won’t be accepted. It’s not ad hominem. I feel the same why about any company doing research on its own product – it is cause for automatic and permenant skepticism until repeated by independent groups.

  87. says

    Dee Phlat:

    By tribalism, I meant groupthink.

    And what does that mean, exactly?

    I’m going to make the assumption that you and I both believe there should be a congruence between observation and reality. Do we call that groupthink? Or are you referring to the idea that a tribal identity might form a model of reality that is independent of observation? Or are you proposing something else entirely?

    “Groupthink” is a phrase that is used to identify an outgroup from an ingroup. Your use here, in the context of rationalism, seems to indicate you think there is a salient distinction between one group or another. That is, the “ingroup” and “outgroup” mode of thinking is diametrically opposed.

    While I don’t disagree that’s a possibility, I’m claiming it’s not a necessity. You seem to claim the opposite — that one “groupthink” is necessarily opposed in every conceivable way with any other “groupthink.”

    In regards to ad hominem: I don’t care about the validity of their data, my argument is entirely a complaint of the nature of their exploitation

    That’s what an ad hominem is. So my initial evaluation of your complaint stands.

  88. Dee Phlat says

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink
    I’m saying if we want to call ourselves rationalists, we need to stamp out and destroy any sign of this.

    It’s only an ad hominem if I say “their argument is wrong because they’re bastards.” I never said that. I’m saying “they’re immoral for exploiting people.” Why is that ad hominem?

  89. says

    Dee Phlat:

    I’m saying “they’re immoral for exploiting people.” Why is that ad hominem?

    It’s not, if that’s your argument. It’s only an ad hominem if you are claiming their research is wrong because they’re exploiting people.

    That’s what your initial postings suggested. You implied their conclusions were wrong because they might be biases, without showing actual bias. That’s an ad hominem. Others in the thread had already shown issues with the actual model, so it would’ve been easy to demonstrate methodological problems. But instead, you focussed on ideological problems. That pretty much makes your initial post an ad hominem.

    I’m not claiming groupthink isn’t an issue here. But it sure as hell ain’t a problem with the methodology of the initial experiment. And that’s what your initial posts implied. And you have a helluva long road to go from the entirely amorphous groupthink term, to a sound analysis of the experiment, as presented.

    And that is what I mean by ad hominem. Which is what you’ve presented.

    So let’s get one thing clear: is their research, as presented, accurate? If not, please explain their failures of methodology vis-a-vis their conclusions.

  90. Dee Phlat says

    “It’s not, if that’s your argument. It’s only an ad hominem if you are claiming their research is wrong because they’re exploiting people.”
    Correct. I never made any claim about the research. Where did I suggest otherwise?

    Looking back, looks like I interpreted “Tribalism” to mean “groupthink” when you first said that word. But they’re not the same, I have learned now.

  91. says

    Dee Phlat:

    Where did I suggest otherwise?

    You did not suggest anything, even when asked to clarify if that was your intent. But, this seems promising:

    Looking back, looks like I interpreted “Tribalism” to mean “groupthink” when you first said that word. But they’re not the same, I have learned now.

    Exactly. And I didn’t understand where the miscommunication was.

    Shake hands and continue in a rational way?

     

    /me says, though completely drunk, and unable to continue in any way.

  92. says

    Me:

    Shake hands and continue in a rational way?

    This is not to say that Dee Phlat (of the AWESOME nym) wasn’t rational before. There was just some question of definitions*.

     

    * For those playing at home

  93. says

    Dee Phlat:

    Good luck on your drunken journey, I’ll be there soon.

    Good to know.

    Also: I look forward to future engagements. I think we have much to learn from each other. Of course, that might just be an over-inflated sense of ego on my part.

  94. chigau (違う) says

    Hi Dee Phlat
    [that’s better than my initial reading as deep hlat :)]
    If you type
    <blockquote>paste quoted text here</blockquote>
    this will result.

    paste quoted text here

    It will make your comments-with-quotes easier to read.

  95. says

    Well, I was joking. So, you’re right, I don’t. Didn’t think that needed to be explained, however.

    A joke that isn’t funny can stand a tag.

    Though, I don’t use the USPS to pay my bills. I do that at the local bodega. Cheaper, faster, much more incompetence-proof.

    Good for you. Millions still receive and pay them through the mail.

    P.s. Doug upthread works at the post office, (see Friendly Atheist) so he’s got more than a little personal stake in portraying them are perfect, blameless paragons of expertise.

    And that says what, exactly, about his, or anyone else’s, arguments? The quoted statement actually is an ad hominem, fyi. I mean, the whole thing about ‘anti-american bias’ is pretty laughable… but again, a sample size of 147 is insanely tiny. I agree that it suggests bad possibilities, but it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that the reverse happened with so few packages by sheer luck (Would you then say Atheists are the recipients of untoward bias by USPS?)

  96. gussnarp says

    For the record, in case you haven’t read the myriad of comments on the Friendly Atheist post on this, we can not reasonably draw any conclusion from this study because it is inadequately controlled. They say they used “neutral” tape, but there’s no statement that the neutral tape was printed, and their graphic indicates tape with no printing. The USPS automates a great deal of shipping with scanning machines, which they recommend customers not have any writing on packages other than the address to prevent problems with. It is entirely possible that more of the packages with writing on the tape were unable to be processed by the scanners and had to be processed by hand, resulting in slower delivery. Whether or not you think, based on your personal anecdote, that this is likely, does not change the fact that it is certainly a possible explanation that was not controlled for. Therefore the study is invalid. Now if they want to do it again with innocuous writing on the control packages, perhaps writing that might also encourage theft by suggesting high value contents, then we can control for theft and scanning problems and reach a conclusion.

  97. gussnarp says

    And carlie, Europe doesn’t have to not use machines, they just have to use different machines. If this was a study of the efficacy of prayer, or alternative medicine, we would be tearing it apart, and rightly so, for far smaller methodological problems than this. This is not a well designed and controlled scientific study, much as they’ve tried to make it look like one. I think that’s an honest mistake, but we ought to be honest enough to say that this, at most, raises a troubling question, but does not allow us to reasonably draw a conclusion because it was inadequately controlled.

  98. says

    Every so often you hear about a letter carrier who refused to deliver Playboy or the Victoria’s Secret catalogue or an especially racy TV Guide. I didn’t realize the problem was so endemic.

  99. stevem says

    When I think of something going missing in the postal system, three possible reasons occur to me:

    1. It’s genuinely been lost by mistake
    2. The postal staff have decided it might be valuable and kept it for themselves
    3. The postal staff have deliberately thrown it out so it never reaches the recipient.

    Gee, I’m late, excuse me for going back so far. The only “reason” that comes to my mind is some poor postalworker seeing the “Atheist” on the box and getting angry at it (since it is evil!) and stomping on it, or throwing it out the window of the delivery truck. No possibility it was stolen as more valuable as atheists are totally worthless. But that’s just my lack of imagination. Sorry I’m late, just needed to vent.

  100. Nerull says

    Lettering on packing tape is almost standard. My company uses branded packing tape. So does almost everyone else. If that was enough to throw off USPS scanners so badly that packages vanished into the void, the entire US mail system would grind to a halt.

    “THIS STUDY IS INVALID BECAUSE LETTERS!!!” is ridiculous.