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Why Did the Pew Research Center Edit Out All Mentions of Americans' Apocalyptic Beliefs?

It looks like somebody put Jesus in the corner!

When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer interviewed me for our “Countdown to Backpedaling” back in May, I mentioned to the article’s author, Amy Rolph that the belief in the eminent Second Coming wasn’t limited to groups like Family Radio. I cited a Pew Research survey conducted back in early 2010 that mentioned that 41% of Americans polled said that they “definitely” or probably” believed that Jesus Christ would return to Earth by the year 2050.

As Harold Camping’s second biannual failed end times prophecy rolled around, I decided that I needed to write one last piece on that hateful kook and put the whole thing to rest. So I revisited the website for the Pew Research report…

…only to find all mentions of Jesus’ return had been edited out of the page.

This was especially odd, since when I started citing this page back in April, the page was already nearly a year old. I can only speculate the reason why this was taken off of the page, but I know that the information was removed from the report sometime between Amy Rolph’s article in late May — which references and links to the survey  — and late October when I visited the site again so that I could re-link to it.

Even weirder is that Jesus’ return is still mention in the report’s online url:

(I’ll forgive the fact that Pew misspelled “terrorist.”)

I can only guess that sometime this year, Pew saw through their own internal analytics that the page was getting a rash of new attention and decided to edit out all references to the fact that nearly half of all Americans think we’re living in the end times.

Pew did miss a spot, though. They still have the results of the 2010 survey listed on a Daily Numbers page, so that you can see in black and white that a majority of American protestants and nearly a third of American Catholics believe that Jesus will return to Earth in the next 40 years. And they certainly can’t use their whitewash on the hundreds of other websites — both secular and religious — that wrote about the study on their own web pages.

So, what gives here?


EDIT: Listener Brad found a copy of the full Pew Research report here. The results on Jesus’ return are on page 14.

About the Author: Mike Gillis

Mike Gillis is co-creator, and co-host of Ask an Atheist. He hosts the Radio vs. the Martians! and Mike and Pól Save the Universe! podcasts. He also enjoys comic books, the Planet of the Apes, and the band Queen.

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Tim Riches

Funny thing is that I was there last night for a different reason and also noticed an omission of data. I chalked it up to a revamp of the site, but now that you bring up the issue I am not sure. Specifically, I was looking for the data on Jehovah’s Witnesses that showed their retention rate was the lowest of any American religion and was unable to find it.


That’s really odd… it does seem that they changed it because you linked back to it…


I just checked the Wayback Machine and couldn’t find any reference to the “Jesus returns” thing on the archived versions ( Is that the right page?


Did the Church of Scientology buy Pew?

Why not email Pew and ask for comment? You might get another full episode out of their answer, like you did for the Cancer Society.


The page indicates the last update was on May 9th, 2011. If that date is correct at least it wasn’t due to you mentioning it to the reporter.


Found it

It still exists in the full report. I would recommend saving this file just in case.

Henry (from San Jose)

Mike — You missed the most obvious explanation. According to Camping, the Apocalypse happened on May 21 up in Heaven. It would make no sense for Pew to continue to cite people’s expectation about an event that has passed. Maybe when you contact Pew you should suggest they ask “Why isn’t the post-Apocalyptic world anything like we’ve seen in the movies?” in a future survey.


No Henry, I don’t think that’s reasonable at all. You don’t remove historical survey data when the event discussed has passed. And you especially don’t do it when the question was about Jesus coming back over the next few decades, which are definitely not over yet.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x