Turkish Atheists and Snowy Eskimos

This quote strikes me as sort of the reverse of the old story about Eskimos having a bazillion words for snow, but it’s still worth noting:

The fact is, analysts say, that for all that it has a secular constitution, Turkey remains a relatively conservative country. The word atheist has only recently appeared in Turkish, but “godless” still remains an insult here. “Only 2% of the people we interviewed said they didn’t believe in God”, says Ali Carkoglu, co-author of a 2006 study of religious attitudes.

“Given that we had a 2% margin of error that could mean nobody”, he added. “In any case it takes considerable courage for a Turk to admit to a stranger that they are atheists.”

The London Independent
30 November 200


  1. the “old story” about eskimos isn’t true btw

  2. Sanjong Thapa says:

    Bishop: Extremism Creating ‘No-Go’ Areas for Non-Muslims in Britain

  3. I know. I was being ironic.

  4. I wonder what the exact Turkish words used were. The words “ateist” and “ate” have been used for at least 25 years each, so they are not necessarily new. For “godless” there are a few words one could use and it’s true that some are common insults. If the point of the story is that only %2 of Turks consider themselves atheists, I think that would be a low estimate.

  5. As far as I know, the error margins in sampling statistics become smaller the smaller the proportion of the population is – i.e., if you are trying to determine whether someone has a 48% or 52% share of something, you have to sample a lot more than if you are trying to determine whether they have 2% or 6%. Hence, a statement that “Given that we had a 2% margin of error that could mean nobody” doesn’t really make sense, since the error margin would be a lot smaller than 2% if they have a 2% error margin overall.

  6. @Espen: No. That’s not how standard errors work. Standard error is a function of how much is sampled vs. the overall population size, no how much is sample vs. some sort of prior estimate of what the results will be.
    SE in a simple random sample is SQRT(Population) * Standard Deviation.