Some thoughts on what these data might -or might not- mean

As of this morning there have been nearly 7500 respondents to the survey representing every state in the US and dozens of nations around the globe.  Canada, Australia and the UK are very well represented, fairly predictable since the survey is in English, but there are pockets of responses from Brazil, Germany and South Africa, among others.

But what, if anything, can be taken from these data?  Those that responded to the survey are demonstratively not a random sample of atheists world-wide, but rather very much a self-selected array of folks that most likely look somewhat different from the entire population of atheists.  But is a truly representative global sample of atheists possible?  I tend to think not, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I suspect that there are many, many atheists who are very closeted (even to themselves?) and that these individuals would never find the survey in the first place since visiting sites that might have a link to the survey (most prominently, Atheist Nexus) would be socially dangerous.  It is my position that exploratory data is better than none, though I am aware that some will disagree with this stance.

In the end, I feel that the narrative, qualitative data that is generated by the open-ended responses will be of the greatest value to those that are interested in moving forward issues of interest to atheists worldwide, especially in the United States.  The statistical, descriptive data will be interesting, to be sure, but I will be very mindful to stress that since the sample is not representative of the population of atheists any generalizations and/extrapolations must be critically examined.

As for the many “mini-polls” that accent this blog, everything above applies as well.

So, what are your thoughts?

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Some of the questions were quite weird for me, as I have never been confronted with such an anti-atheist society as the USA. This is why I answered no to all the questions about being in an organization. It’s just not that big a deal over here. Many people here, though, are of the “there must be something”-persuasion, which is as irrational as God. Hope tohave helped a bit.