Was there a study finding that being an atheist is viewed on the level of being a rapist in the US?
Everything I have been able to find points to a single study. Restricting the search to before the study was published results in nothing interesting. Similarly restricting the search to about a year after the study was published results in a few late comers. Everything seems to point to one paper.
The paper is composed of 6 studies. The first of which surveyed US citizens, comparing how they reported their feelings about gay men in contrast to atheists.
The remaining five studies used a sample from a pool of psychology students from University of British Columbia (Canadian). Of these studies the only one that used the group "rapist" was study 2.
So already, our answer seems to be no. (though, of course you can't prove a negative) But let's go ahead and take a look at the study anyway.
One hundred five UBC undergraduates (Age 18-25, M = 19.95; 71% Female) participated
for extra credit.
Participants read the following description of an untrustworthy man who is willing to
behave selfishly (and criminally) when other people will not find out:
" Richard is 31 years old. On his way to work one day, he accidentally
backed his car into a parked van. Because pedestrians were watching, he got out
of his car. He pretended to write down his insurance information. He then tucked
the blank note into the van's window before getting back into his car and driving
Later the same day, Richard found a wallet on the sidewalk. Nobody was
looking, so he took all of the money out of the wallet. He then threw the wallet in
a trash can. "
Next, participants chose whether they thought it more probable that Richard was either 1)
a teacher, or 2) a teacher and XXXX. We manipulated XXXX between subjects. XXXX was
- a Christian (N = 26)
- a Muslim (N = 26)
- a rapist (N = 26)
- an atheist (someone who does not believe in God) (N = 27)
The only difference in descriptions across targets was that the Muslim target was called "a man" rather than "Richard".
So the conclusions were drawn based on how often the conjunction fallacy was committed with a 31 year-old teacher named Richard who committed insurance fraud and stole the money from a found wallet, since no one was looking (and threw the wallet away).
In sum, participants frequently committed the conjunction fallacy when given a description of an untrustworthy person and a target who could be an atheist or a rapist, but not for targets who could be a Christian or a Muslim.
It's not mentioned how the authors think Richard being a teacher would have affected the likelihood of the conjunction fallacy with atheist among these college students; or what affect him sharing his name with one of, if not the, most prominent atheist might have.
As hypothesized, participants were significantly more likely to commit the
conjunction error for an atheist target than for either a Christian target or a Muslim target, odds ratio = 22.29 (95% C.I.: 3.82, 427.10), b = 3.10, p = .004 and odds ratio = 5.11 (95% C.I.: 1.48, 21.13), b = 1.63, p = .01, respectively. The atheist target did not significantly differ from the rapist target, odds ratio = 1.27 (95% C.I.: .43, 3.79), b = .24, p = .67.
You can see the proportion of individuals committing the conjunction fallacy above this can be multiplied by 26 (the number of individuals in each group, 27 in atheist) to get the approximate number of individuals committing the fallacy in each group.
The pool the students were drawn from was a bit interesting as well.
Christian (34%), None (16%),
Nonreligious (12%), Agnostic (11%), Atheist (9%), Other (7%), Buddhist (7%), Muslim (3%),
and Jewish (1%)
(49%), Caucasian/White (30%), Other/mixed (7%), South Asian (6%), Southeast Asian (4%),
Middle Eastern (2%), Hispanic/Latino (1%), and African (< 1%)
One last thing of interest:
In an additional analysis, we examined whether atheists distrust other atheists. We isolated a subsample of 49 individuals from the total sample who indicated that they do not believe in God (based on the binary Yes/No belief question). Atheists Distrust within this subsample did not significantly differ from zero, t(48)= -.08, p= .94, indicating that whereas religious people strongly distrust atheists, atheists neither trust nor distrust atheists, relative to people in general.