The New York Times: A Prime Example of Poor Reporting

Posted April 27, 2009

ResearchBlogging.orgSome may criticize me for nit-picking, but given that atheism is so hated and distrusted that nearly 48% of Americans would disapprove if their child wanted to marry an Atheist (Engell, Gerteis, & Hartmann, 2006), I think it’s kind of important to get this right…

A New York Times article which appeared in print today and on their website yesterday discusses the growing voice of atheism, referring to a recently released survey (Kosmin & Keysar, 2009). The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) documented an increase in the proportion of the American population who do not identify with a religious group from about 8% in 1990 to 15% in 2008. Although the NY Times author described this 15% accurately in her article, the image that accompanies the article is not just misleading — it is wrong.


As you can clearly see, the legend clearly states that the increases illustrated represent “change in the percentage of atheists” and the caption states that “15% of Americans now identify themselves as non-believers”. Neither is true.

Although the definition of atheism is sometimes argued, it is very clear that the 2008 ARIS finding of 15% refers to “Nones: no stated religious preference, atheist, or agnostic”. I think it is fair to say that some of those people who did NOT say “atheist” might be offended by this error, don’t you?

Engell, P., Gerteis, J., & Hartmann, D. (2006). Atheists as “Other”: Moral Broundaries and Cultural Membership in American Society American Sociological Review, 71 (2)

Kosmin, B. A. & Keysar, A. (2009). American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2008 (PDF). Hartford, Connecticut, USA: Trinity College.


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