Boxes sealed with ATHEIST tape lost by USPS 10X more often than controls

Atheist Shoes ("a cadre of shoemakers and artists in Berlin who hand-make ridiculously comfortable, Bauhaus-inspired shoes for people who don't believe in god(s)") noticed that a disproportionate number of their shipments to the USA were delayed or lost. A customer suggested this may be because USPS workers were taking offense at the ATHEIST packing tape they used to seal the boxes. So the company tried an A/B split, and found that boxes emblazoned with ATHEIST tape were 10 times more likely to go missing in the USPS and took an average of three days longer than their generic equivalents. They've stopped using the ATHEIST packing tape.

ATHEIST / USPS Discrimination Against Atheism? (Thanks, Alice!)


    1. Seems plausible. A lot of money went into making that graphic on their website. And an *average* of three days delay and 10x change in loss rate are both strong claims. I’ll wait for evidence from a source with less obvious financial incentive to make these claims, or with better documentation.

      1. Really? Clearly these are a bunch of nerds. Of course they’d have some decent graphics. And  I said decent. It’s not like it’s MINDBLOWING.

        1. I guess so; depends on the type of nerd. I’m used to the science nerd world, where youth-y graphics like that means sending a chunk of budget over to the graphics people, waiting a few weeks for uneditable bitmaps, and then repeating the process when you realize you screwed up your first order. And even then you wouldn’t get the bunnyhumping.

          1. it’s not our fault you guys hate statisticians and insist on reinventing the wheel at every opportunity.

          2. The company doesn’t seem to be huge or anything. They probably have most of their team in house…

        1. You are correct. A reasonable designer with all the assets in hand would put that together in 10-15 mins tops.

          1. Yeah, sure, if a pre-developed idea is part of said asset you wouldn’t even need a designer, given that designers mostly comes up with ideas. Production is one of the final steps in a design process, before publication and evaluation.

            Hiring one to stitch assets would be like paying a mathematician to do your private accounting.

      2. On the contrary, my girlfriend made the graphic for free and we ran this study because we were having a very real problem with out shipping. Of course it’s great for marketing on the one hand, but on the other we’re also saying “be careful ordering from us, your package may take a while to arrive”… so maybe it’s not such a great stunt? anyhow, we’ll be releasing the data for public scrutiny and, hopefully, for replication of the experiment. 

          1. it would be almost as easy to fabricate the data as to make up the conclusion. there is some opportunity for “data forensics” if they were to make obvious errors, but it’s unlikely to be conclusive.

            the best they could do is post scans of various mailing receipts which is 1) kinda silly and 2) can still be easily doctored.

        1. Could it be that atheists who work at the post office are stealing the shoes for themselves since they are godless heathens who have no fear of retribution from an invisible sky wizard?

          I know that’s why I steal shoes and kick children.

    2. There’s a whole quasi-science of winning contests by making your envelope look like you need help.  Live humans still look at and do things to mail.

      And I’d recommend against ordering the clam chowder.

        1. You’d probably have to paw through infotainment television from the 70s. Somebody entered a bunch of contests with some entries neatly printed and some scrawled in crayon, misspelt and covered with stickers, or other… challenged visual cues. The latter were chosen quite regularly in “random” draws.

          It’s similar to how your junk mail now comes with faux-handwriting, pretend cancellations, etc. on the outside.

    3. Whether it is or not it would be interesting to follow up on this.  Maybe stick a tracking device of some sort in the boxes to see what happens to them.

      1. I like that idea.  Stick a gps device in them and shoot them out to test people around the country who’ll return the devices.

  1. Maybe this makes me a bad person; but I immediately started running some test values through the USPS package insurance pricing table…

    Insurance is usually a losing proposition(on average, obviously coverage against catastrophe is handy; but the net winner is the insurer or you wouldn’t be able to buy insurance); but if you had a totally legal, non-fraudulent, not-included-in-the-actuarial-calculations-used-to-price-insurance, mechanism for giving the odds that a given package will be lost a nice upward shove, it could easily end up being the case that the house doesn’t win…

    Just think of it as a bigotry tax!

    1. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it might actually make you the best person. Who are you and are you married?

  2. Scientifically, I’d like to see a test of ATHEIST tape versus other text-tapes, like PATRIOT or KITTENS or PANTS, rather than ATHEIST vs. unlabeled. I was always told not to put extraneous text on my packages because it might confuse automated scanners. That might be bull-pooty, but I reckon a text vs. text experiment would be more valid than text vs. plain.

    1. You have 100 identical boxes, except 50 use the atheist tape.

      That’s the test.

      Requiring anything else is ludicrous.

      As mentioned below, adding different words instead of ATHEIST will merely test how that word causes the USPS to flinch.

      1. A thorough tests involves a proper control, which should be identical in every way except the variable being tested.

        As has been pointed out, there are actually a few uncontrolled variables still wandering around here. The current results surely merit further study, but it’s certainly not conclusive. A set of controls would probably be required for adequate coverage (to tease out any further potential hidden variables), but a proper lorem te ipsum would have likely been a better initial test case than a box with no text at all.

        Assuming you actually want the narrow conclusion “Boxes labeled Atheist are discriminated against when compared to other packages” to be generally applicable. Right now, the best we can get is “some boxes with the text Atheist on them are discriminated against compared to untexted boxes, but may or may not fair more poorly than other labeled boxes.”

          1. You know, I actually HAVE heard that putting the words Fragile on a box make it more likely to be lost or damaged… Hmm…

          2.  I’ve heard package handlers say that they know co-workers who are more likely to treat packages marked “Fragile” more abusively than unmarked packages.

          3. It’s true. I’ve done my own pseudo-experiment on this…  Never mark any package FRAGILE.  DO NOT BEND is also unadvisable.

          4. Pretty much anything that makes your package stand out to a courier as requiring special treatment is asking for trouble. Better to be inconspicuous.

          5. Pretty much anything that makes your package stand out to a courier as requiring special treatment is asking for trouble.

            I think I saw a porn movie once based on that.

      2. Yeah, as GlyphGryph points out this experiment has uncontrolled variables in it. Is it the word ATHEIST or is it extraneous words of any sort? Or is it the reflectivity of the printed tape versus off-the-shelf tape? Comparing a range of innocuous words (or nonsense text) on the same kind of tape to the ATHEIST tape would be the way to set up a proper experiment, particularly since the USPS specifically instructs us to black out unrelated text. (“If you are reusing a box, totally remove or obliterate all previous labels and markings with heavy black marker.”)

        Think of it this way: Instead of printed tape, imagine the packages shipped with a lighter taped to the outside, and the lighters had a sticker of a naked lady on them. When the packages went missing, would it be the flammability or the nudity that got the packages diverted? You wouldn’t be able to tell unless you also sent some lighters with clothed ladies and some naked lady stickers without lighters. Gotta lock down the variables.

        1. The main variable, other than the label vs no label, is the package destination.  The ATHEIST labelling seems to fare significantly worse in the US.  Hmmm….

    1. I think the correct conclusion is that God’s existence is proven by this experiment because it shows that other packages reach their destinations because God watches over them, whereas he doesn’t bother with the Atheist ones. QED!

      1. Yes, I’ve always thought it was a little unfortunate that God doesn’t have the ability to see inside boxes and has to rely on the labelling.

        1. He can see in the boxes just fine – in fact that’s why he gets the packages where they need to be, because he knows the sender, the recipient and the contents in one perfective glance! 

          Remember; there but for the grace of God, ship I.

      2. Thank you for beating me to it. And definitely we need to send out packages emblazoned with Jesus is Lord! to see if they reach their destinations more often, faster, etc

  3. I was skeptical of their conclusion but then saw they performed statistical analysis to verify this was unlikely to occur by chance. I almost shed a tear of joy. Those guys are alright. I want to buy shoes from them.

    1. Though, really, it’s just that the shoes have no gods. You can be an atheist and believe in absolutely anything else you like, including demons, angels, ghosts, invisible space monkeys or even non-corrupt politicians.

    2. i lol’d

      as for why you would want atheist shoes, they cost 10% less than christian shoes.

      also daemonworks: lighten up…

    3. 104 “likes” and counting.  On Boing Boing.  With a pun.
      Oh what the hell, let’s make it 105, bend like a reed in the wind.

    1. Though Occam’s Razor suggests it might simply be a case of the local post office in Atheist, GA having a lot of boxes of shoes.

    1.  Um… shoes are just, like, shoes.  I don’t think they have beliefs one way or the other.

    1. God is likely just taking the shoes and shipping them to sailors – you know, The Shoes of the Fisherman? :P

  4. Maybe the Christian shoes get lost too, but they find themselves again through the power and mercy of Jesus. (That’s Jesus Sanchez, warehouse worker.)

    1. christian shoes are nice and all but they have a lot more strings attached. they also dissolve if placed near science books.

  5. If this is true, the employees responsible are violating Federal law and ought to be fired and prosecuted.

    With regard to religion, believe or not as you please, but the neutrality of the mails is sacred.

    1. the mail is not neutral. technically, obscene material may not be sent.

      it is illegal to send mail if “to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest.” of course, atheist shoes don’t meet this requirement.

  6. Is it possible that USPS workers want really cool shoes and can identify same by the tape?

    I’d love to see some more text-on-tapes to see what works and what gets snarfed.

    1. A guy I knew in college got a pair of bowling shoes for the price of a pair of old worn-out sneakers he didn’t want anymore. All he had to do was wear the sneakers when he went out bowling.

  7. Perhaps the gods needs new shoes, intercept the packages and pass on those that do not fit after trying them out. Except Hermes, go course.

    Yahweh probably doesn’t bother, being a sandal type.

  8. Prejudice can be an expensive and exhausting thing to prove, sending test applicants after a person of the “wrong” color or gender has been told the job or the apartment was taken “20 minutes ago.”  I recall reading of a study done on what percentage of letters addressed to “Communist Party of the US” were delivered (to a PO box that the entity doing the study controlled).  I’ve got a clipping – yes, a clipping – of coverage on a nationwide chain store asking religious questions of jobseekers. We must fight prejudice, even when not directly concerned, as Niemoller so eloquently pointed out (as someone who wore a cross ’til I was 12 and started thinking for myself, I recommend Bertrand Russell’s Best). If people are so certain there’s something waiting for them up there on a cloud, “why aren’t mailboxes bursting with party invitations to celebrate impending eternity in paradise?” I don’t see any clouds. “It’s your superstition, not mine.” Yes, as Twain said, state the truth and be lonely. 

  9. Don’t necessarily conclude that the USPS are bigoted.  They may just have been cursing their orthodox Christian footwear, and found a fountain of lovely irreligious shoes.

    I bet you can read “Darwin Loves” in the dust all over their faciliities.

  10. Vastly greater numbers of religious people in the US are evangelistic than in Europe. I live in the US, and many of the religious people I meet truly believe atheists are bad people and a threat to their religious security.  It is common sense that, working in the post office–a job that requires little education to attain, so it’s a good job to go after for a person who, say, has only read the Bible—they do things to mess with packages that have such tape, and in doing so they think they are making a little blessed evangelistic act.
    Now, someone needs to mail shoes with “atheist” tape, “Jesus Loves You” tape, and tape that says “package,” and see what happens.

    1.  Having at one time applied for postal work, and having several friends who’ve made a career of the USPS (Hi Chort!) I can attest that it’s actually pretty hard to get a job there (unless you’re a veteran).  They aren’t making a habit of hiring people who have no education beyond reading the Bible.

  11. And when there was only one pair of shoes at the post office, my son, that was when I carried you.

  12. Has anyone considered that the problem may lie within the shipping department at Atheist Shoes and not the USPS?  Perhaps the individual preparing the package labels has dyslexia, hence the difficulty in delivering on time.  Awww…who am I kidding?  God doesn’t want them delivered on time. 

  13. Anyone interested in replicating this? Shouldn’t be hard with a bunch of postcards, in identical pairs sent from the same mailboxes at the same times, each with nothing but the addresses and the words “ATHEIST” or “CHRISTIAN” written carefully in large letters. We could collect each others’ addresses by e-mail, and each of us agree to send a dozen postcards to a random subset of the others.

  14. If you want your mail to be seriously messed up, emblazon it with stickers saying “fragile.” A statue I mailed to someone recently — packed in foam peanuts, inside a box which was itself packed in foam peanuts, inside a second box — arrived damaged at both the top and the bottom, with something having penetrated all the way to the inside. 
    Of course the outer box said “buddha statue” so that might have been a factor as well. 

    The replacement has been sent with insurance.

    1. I had to chip in on this one… My first job was on the counter at the Post Office, (one of the diligent, customer-focused, polite ones I hasten to add!), and now run a couple of online businesses.  My recommendation:

      NEVER draw attention to any package in any way whatsoever, whether that be via branding, fancy handwriting, etc. …and ESPECIALLY fragile stickers!! Anything other than a plain package risks it being a trigger for some Neanderthal to vent their ignorant frustrations on! (n.b. No disrespect intended to our Hominid cousins).

      n.b. I can well believe Atheist Shoes have experienced a problem! I shall not consider it proved until I see the data… but my money is on there having been a problem!

  15. On a similar note, my Amazon account name is something to the effect of: warrior4christ.

    Honestly, I should record some of the insanely polite customer service calls I’ve had.

  16. It would be interesting to run the A/B test against privately run shipping companies vs government run mail. I bet the profit motive outweighs people’s irrational discrimination in the private sector.

  17. I meant to add that other destinations need to be tested, say Kazakhstan or North Korea.  But, then, that highlights another variable!  We’re testing only English speakers!!!  We’d have to have the label in all languages….?!

  18. Don’t complain!  PROFIT !!

    For packages you want your customer to receive, send them in unadorned packaging.

    But FOR ADDED INCOME, sent each actual customer an Atheist-Tape box with a cheap thank-you gift inside — but insure the box for BIG $$$.

    Your customers will appreciate the gift if it reaches them, and you reap the $$$ when it doesn’t.

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