A German shoe company claims that packages sealed with their “ATHEIST” brand tape are mysteriously going missing when under the care of the United States Postal Service (USPS).
The ATHEIST SHOES company, staffed by a group of “shoemakers & artists” in Berlin, Germany, have customers all over the world, but recently grew concerned when customers in the United States complained about missing packages and asked them not to use “ATHEIST” branded tape to cover the packages because, the customers said, anti-atheist discrimination might be at play.
So, like any good critically thinking company would, ATHEIST SHOES decided to conduct a quick study.
Is The USPS Really Biased Against ATHEIST Shoes?
The company sent 178 sealed packages to 89 people in 49 different U.S. states. Each person was sent two packages. One package was sealed with ATHEIST-branded packing tape, the other neutral tape.
As the packages were all dispatched on the same date, November 21, 2012, they should all have been handled in roughly the same time frame.
The company found that ATHEIST-branded packages took on average three days longer to reach their destinations, while 9 atheist packages went missing compared to just one non-branded package.
The company notes that it took one ATHEIST-branded package 37 days to reach a buyer in Michigan, and for apparently no good reason.
The company then ran a series of control tests in Germany and across Europe to see whether a similar pattern emerged. It didn’t.
The company concludes, “… the problem appears to lie in the USA and is likely explained by the differential handling of packages by the employees of the US Postal Service.”
They go on to conclude, “this seems to be a national problem — traditionally less religious and more liberal states also saw high levels of delay and disappearance.”
What Is ATHEIST SHOES Doing About This Problem?
Well, they’re no longer using ATHEIST brand packing-tape for USA deliveries and report that delivery times have already improved.
Second, they’ve made international headlines with their claim that certain members of the USPS might be committing a federal offense by purposefully tampering with or impeding ATHEIST branded packages.
With that media attention, however, has come the accusation that the company is guilty of confirmation bias–that ATHEIST SHOES went into this study with the outcome already in mind.
However, the company has defended itself, saying that a forthcoming release of their data will demonstrate clearly that they were rigorous in their methods and that while the study could have been improved, with package recipients chosen at random for instance, the study was basically sound, a claim several statisticians have supported.
ATHEIST SHOES has also answered the concern that the problem could lie with Customs instead of USPS. Based on data they have collected in the past, Customs has only ever held back about 1% of packages, which in no way accounts for the kind of numbers they’ve been seeing — though the company expresses a desire to take steps to control and explore this angle at a later date.
Indeed, and most interesting of all, subsequent updates on the ATHEIST SHOES website have noted that while the USPS has so far failed to respond to the study, an unnamed professor from “a leading U.S. University” has reportedly offered to assist the company in the write-up of its research, along with providing funding for further studies in this vein.
Whether further studies ultimately prove a significant bias problem in how the USPS handles “atheist” and perhaps other branded packages, this study has been a marketing dream for ATHEIST SHOES as it has earned them the kind of press interest that even million dollar campaigns fail to provide.
Image credit: Thinkstock.