Sunday, October 7, 2012

Did National Public Radio really do a survey about fear of public speaking?

In a web page on How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking, Nancy Daniels stated that:

“According to a study conducted by National Public Radio, 43% of Americans say their greatest fear in life is public speaking. In fact people who responded to the survey said they fear public speaking more than death.”

That undated page seems to have gone up on March 15, 2007. The first sentence from that quote popped up again recently (without attribution) on September 5, 2012 at a blog called Communication Weekly. Last year it also has been linked to from Merk Zone, and quoted without attribution by the RepMan blog.  

I went looking for that survey, and could not find a source for it on the web via a Google search, or in newspaper and magazine databases. As far as I can tell it’s  just a legend. At the National Public Radio (NPR) web site I found a two-part story on fear of public speaking from November 5th and November 6th 2007, but no survey was mentioned there.

There is an infamous satirical newspaper called the Onion, which on September 24th ran a story titled Gallup Poll: Rural Whites Prefer Ahmadinejad to Obama. Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency (FNA) fell for it, reran it, and wound up looking very silly.  

Also, not everything you hear on NPR is meant to be taken seriously. There is a quiz show on that network called Wait wait...don’t tell me! which contains a segment called Bluff the Listener. In it they tell several “news” stories - only one of which is true. Perhaps that's where Nancy heard about the survey. 

The legendary survey is yet another example showing why we always should trace a quote back to its source before spreading ignorance by repeating it.

Images of Cedric Hardwicke and an onion both came from Wikimedia Commons.

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