Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A phony greeting card from DirecTV

To be credible as a speaker,  you need to show the audience you are authentic rather than phony. 

In the mail last week I got an envelope that looked like it might be a greeting card from a real person, since it had a return address label and a stamp rather that a postage meter mark.

When I opened it, I found it was yet another ad from satellite TV provider DirecTV. They already send me ads by mail in coupon packs, and inserts in the Sunday newspaper. 

DirecTV got my attention for about five seconds, but I got the impression they are bigger jerks than their competitors. Satellite TV providers already have offers and deals even more complicated than airline fares.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Watch Jeremy Hunt’s great keynote speech at the Health Foundation’s conference on safety.

Recently I searched for keynote speeches and found a hopeful, thoughtful, 22-minute one on YouTube that has been almost completely ignored. It is well worth watching - up there with any TED talk I can recall seeing. That speech was given by the Rt. Hon. Jeremy Hunt, the UK Secretary of State for Health, at a Health Foundation conference on safety in early December. He has been in charge of the National Health Service (NHS) since September of 2012.

His speech is about changing that huge organization (~1.3 million people) over to a learning culture that will eliminate avoidable death and harm. Near the beginning he says:

“But, I want to try and prove to you this morning that the biggest thing that’s happening in the NHS is actually something that the newspapers aren’t talking about at all.

There is a quiet revolution going on, in terms of attitudes to safety, which history will judge, I think, to be the moment where the NHS resolved and, in fact became the first healthcare system in the world to develop airline, oil industry, nuclear industry levels of safety.”  

There are no slick visuals here, neither videos nor PowerPoint animations. It’s just an experienced speaker engaging with an audience via stories and some humor.

Mid Staffs also is known as the Stafford Hospital Scandal, which is discussed in a Wikipedia article. BBC news has a time line for it.

You can download and read a 20-page book chapter titled Safety Crusade about the Virginia Mason Medical Center at the web site of the Washington State Hospital Association.

There also is a 20-minute presentation from that same conference by Professor Mary Dixon-Woods on Understanding the challenges of improving safety in clinical systems.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Netweaving versus just networking

Are you tired of networking? Would you agree with the Onion’s parody article from January 27, 2011 Study: 89 Percent of Networking Nonconsensual.

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about it only for yourself and how you connect with the world, as shown above. Maybe you have believed that it’s a game whose score is based on how tall a stack of business cards you collected each month. 

There is another pay-it-forward approach known as netweaving that began down in Atlanta, Georgia. That term was coined by Bob Littell way back in 2000. He discussed its history here. In netweaving you weave a web of connections, by introducing those who you know (as is shown above). The crucial difference can be explained using the TV sitcom, How I Met Your Mother. Networking is:

“Hello, I’m Barney.”

while netweaving instead is, as shown in this brief video:

“Have you met Ted?”   

The art of netweaving was discussed in an article by Janet Hagerman in the October 2003 issue of RDH (a magazine for registered dental hygenists). Sales guru Jeff Gitomer also has discussed How to turn networking into netweaving. There was a detailed discussion by Robin Hensley in a 2011 article on Getting new business with Netweaving vs Networking. Another variation was discussed by Barry Glassman in a May 2014 Forbes article, Networking is Not Working: The Secret to Making Meaningful Connections.

This April Georgia even celebrated Netweaving Pay-It-Forward Week

By the way, David Cutler’s 2010 claim that he came up with the term netweaving is just nonsense. His blog post about it was in 2007. Bob Littell published an article  NetWeaving: More Than Simply Networking in the February 16, 2001 issue of National Underwriter (Life& Health/Financial services Edition) pages 21 and 24.
The image of A Live Wire woman came from a 1914 Puck magazine.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Have fun making up new words!

 Earlier this week TED posted an amusing seven-minute talk by lexicographer Erin McKean encouraging us to Go ahead, make up new words!

She mentioned six different ways:

Stealing from other languages
Functional shift
Back formation

Satisfice is a prize-winning compound word coined by Herbert A. Simon to describe the idea of bounded rationality. A sports analogy is that optimizing is like the high jump, while satisficing is like the hurdles. 

Glossophobia might as well mean the above, since it will lead you down blind alleys.

I made up hoplocynohydrophobia to go with an XKCD cartoon, but so far it hasn’t caught on.

On the web I found an acronym meaning for the word THEY.

I also made up the acronym YAKWIRM, which hasn’t caught on either.

The hurdler and roast turkey images came from Wikimedia Commons.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Medical advice from the Land of Oz

The Dr. Oz Show is an hour-long afternoon week-day medical TV talk show. (There is another show called The Doctors). This month there was an article in the British Medical Journal titled Televised medical talk shows - what they recommend and the evidence to support their recommendations: a prospective observational study. You can read it all here at PMC. The results were discussed in the Los Angeles Times Real-world doctors fact-check Dr. Oz, and the results aren’t pretty and at TIME Here’s what experts say about the advice on Dr. Oz and The Doctors.

In that study a group of Canadian physicians looked at 78 episodes of Dr. Oz from January 7th to May 1st of 2013, and looked at 80 of the stronger recommendations that were made on them. They found that:

“Believable or somewhat believable evidence supported 33% of the recommendations on The Dr Oz Show and 53% on The Doctors. We found believable or somewhat believable evidence against 11% and 13% of the recommendations on the The Dr Oz Show and The Doctors, respectively.”

What does that look like? You are getting a fabric of nonsense with only patches of reality, like the checked cloth shown being woven. Yesterday at Forbes there was another article titled The Best Medical Advice? It May Be To Stay Away From Dr. Oz’s. (I had considered giving this post the tongue-in-cheek title I Saw It On Television, So It Must Be True).

The poster from the 1902 musical of The Wizard of Oz came from The Library of Congress. The loom image was derived from Scientific American, as found on Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Nuts! A very brief reply to a surrender demand

Today is the 70th anniversary of a very brief military communication during the Battle of the Bulge. On December 19, 1944 the 101st Airborne Division of the U. S. Army hastily took up defensive positions in Bastogne, Belgium. On December 22nd their commander received the following written demand from some German emissaries:

"December 22nd 1944

To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.

The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Ourthe near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands.

There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the  presentation of this note.

If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours' term.

All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well known American humanity.

The German Commander."

Brig. Gen. Anthony 'Tony' McAuliffe commanded the 101st Division during the defense of Bastogne. His famous terse reply was typed and centered on a full sheet of paper. It simply read:

"December 22, 1944

To the German Commander,

N U T S !

The American Commander"

The German officers who had delivered that demand were very confused by the reply. Reportedly an American who was escorting them back, PFC Premetz, elaborated that it really meant:

"Du kannst zum Teufel gehen. (You can go to the Devil)."

The 101st held on, and December 24th General McAuliffe included both the German demand and his reply in a Christmas message to his troops that opened with:

“What's Merry about all this, you ask? We're fighting  it's cold  we aren't home. All true but what has the proud Eagle Division accomplished with its worthy comrades the 10th Armored Division, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion and all the rest? Just this: We have stopped cold everything that has been thrown at us from the North, East, South and West. We have identifications from four German Panzer Divisions, two German Infantry Divisions and one German Parachute Division. These units, spearheading the last desperate German lunge, were headed straight west for key points when the Eagle Division was hurriedly ordered to stem the advance. How effectively this was done will be written in history; not alone in our Divisions glorious history but in World history. The Germans actually did surround us. their radios blared our doom. Their Commander demanded our surrender in the following impudent arrogance....

....Allied Troops are counterattacking in force. We continue to hold Bastogne. By holding Bastogne we assure the success of the Allied Armies. We know that our Division Commander, General Taylor, will say: ‘Well Done!’
We are giving our country and our loved ones at home a worthy Christmas present and being privileged to take part in this gallant feat of arms are truly making for ourselves a Merry Christmas.

A.C. McAuliffe”

On December 26th the 4th Armored Division broke through and began the relief of Bastogne. The heading from that Christmas message is shown at the top of this blog post. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Camouflage and why you shouldn’t copy anyone’s slides without thinking first

Three years ago I blogged about how ‘Tis the season for Christmas Camouflage in graphics. About ten percent of men, and thus five percent of people are red-green color blind. To them both Santa and his elves look like they joined the army and (as is shown above for deuteranopes) are wearing almost identical olive drab uniforms. Changing the image to gray scale reveals that the brightness for Santa’s suit is very similar to the elves. If you thoughtlessly use red and green with similar brightness in images, then you confuse and lose those 5%.

What’s it like to be color blind? In his autobiography Models of My Life  a famous university professor, Herbert A. Simon, described a childhood memory:

“....Whether during his fourth summer or on some later occasion, the boy was among a party picking wild strawberries. The others filled their pails in a few minutes; there were only a few strawberries in the bottom of his. How could the others see the berries so easily amid the closely matching leaves? That was how he learned that strawberries are red, and leaves green, and that he was color blind.”

In my senior year I had him for a psychology course, and never learned that he was color blind. Six years later, while his title was Professor of Computer Science and Psychology, he won the Nobel Prize in Economics. After he died in 2001, one of his colleagues, Omer Akin (professor of architecture), reminisced that: 

“Over the 27 years that I have known him, and hundreds of encounters with him, I never saw him angry except for perhaps once and for a brief moment. I had plotted out some results of the chunking experiment that I had done with architectural subjects. I brought in the piece of paper with me to our meeting. He looked at it and his face changed. I thought at that moment that there was something wrong with my data or its analysis. He said ‘You people never think of the color-blind.’ “

In December 2013 Angela Martin blogged about Now you see it, Now they don’t: Designing for the color blind. There is a more detailed discussion of Color Universal Design here.
A post by Matteo Cassese on December 16, 2014 in his La Fabrica Della Realta blog discussed Why I love tech presentations but hate these 5 mistakes. Near the end he recommended reading Garr Reynold’s book, Presentation Zen (as do I) and said:

“When in doubt, copy Garr’s slides.”

Please don’t do that without thinking. Some of Garr’s examples have red-green problems, like the one shown above from page 136.

In 2009 I blogged about another example he used in his blog (shown above), where a salmon color and green also were indistinguishable if you were a deuteranope. Everyone has his blind spots, and this is one of Garr’s.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A completely generic spam blog comment

A few days ago I found this gem in my spam comments folder:

“Excellent post (It could equally well be: Great blog, Superb blog, Wonderful site, Awesome web site) you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any forums that cover the same topics discussed in this article? I'd really love to be a part of community where I can get suggestions from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Thanks! Also visit my site ...”

This isn’t real feedback. It’s completely canned. There is no relation with my content. You could apply it anywhere (and already have). I am not going to post your empty comment and let you get a link to your silly web site. 

If you really want to know about other forums, then look at the Other Sites of Interest list at the top right corner, and click on one of those eight. Or click on the label (feedback) at the end of this post to see other posts about that topic on this blog.  

Last month there was a whining comment in the spam folder from a guy claiming that American men should boycott American women. This jerk has been wandering around for years, and his rant already has been flipped over.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How many Americans are afraid of deep water or drowning?

Perhaps not as many as you might think. Recently I saw an article titled How to Overcome Fear of Water by Patty Chang Anker dated December 9th at Psychology Today. On December 4th she had posted it on her own blog.

Her second paragraph began:

“Look at these statistics:

Two-thirds of Americans are afraid of deep, open bodies of water and 46% are afraid of the deep-end of a pool. 37% of Americans are unable to swim, and almost 4000 people a year in the United States die of drowning.....”

One thing that stuck me was that she had not mentioned statistics about fear of drowning. Perhaps she missed that this October page 65 from the Chapman Survey on American Fears had reported results from having asked 1573 adults:

“How afraid are you of the following? Drowning, water.” 

Just 7.5% said they were Very Afraid, 11.8% said they were Afraid, 28.5% said they were Somewhat Afraid, and 49.0% said they were Not Afraid At All. (The remaining 3.3% Refused to answer). I blogged about that survey here. Fear of drowning ranked third or sixth.

Back in 2000 the Discovery Health Channel also did a survey of 1,000 people that included fear of drowning. I blogged about it in a 2009 post titled U.S. residents are slightly more afraid of public speaking than of hell or fire. Just 14% were afraid of drowning (17% of women and 11% of men). Fear of drowning ranked fourth or fifth.  

Where did the statistics Patty quoted about fear of water come from, and how do they compare with other results? Also, where does fear of water rank in comparison with other fears?

A 2012 post by Thomas Lachocki on the National Swimming Pool Foundation blog said:

“A study performed by Gallup (n=815) and presented at the 2008 World Aquatic Health™ Conference by Melon Dash indicates that 64% of Americans are afraid in deep, open water (lakes, rivers, ocean,…). Forty six percent are afraid in deep water in pools. Even 39% are afraid to put their heads under water.”

When I looked further, I found that Melon is the nickname of M. Ellen Dash of Miracle Swimming Institute (MSI), and reportedly that survey really is a decade older:

“To develop a better picture of how fear and anxiety factor into adults’ ability to learn to swim, in 1998 MSI commissioned a Gallup poll to survey nearly 1,000 American adults. The results support Dash’s theory that adults who can’t swim are blocked by emotions. Gallup found that 46 percent of American adults are afraid in deep water in pools, 64 percent are afraid in deep open water, and 39 percent are afraid to put their heads underwater.

‘Nobody has ever done a poll like that,” Dash says. “It’s the only statistics we have [of that kind].’ ”

Actually there are at least six other surveys including fear of water. I have linked to my posts about five of them in a July 30, 2012 blog post titled Is fear of public speaking the greatest fear in the entire galaxy? In the following discussion I will list them in chronological order, and also for perspective will include the most common fear and its percentage (and the ranking for fear of water).

The 1973 Bruskin survey with 2,543 people (popularized in the 1977 Book of Lists) found that deep water was feared by 21.5%, which was ranked 5th versus speaking before a group at 40.6%.

The Epidemiologic Catchment Area study done in the early 1980s looked at fear of water using a huge sample (n=14,263) and reported anxiety symptoms of 9.2% for non-severe and ranked 3rd (with Bugs, mice, snakes, bats most common at 16.3%. For severe anxiety, water was 3.3% and ranked 3rd. Combining severe and non-severe, water was feared by 12.5% and ranked 3rd vs bugs, mice, snakes, bats at 22.4%.    

The National Comorbidity Survey done in the early 1990s also looked at fear of water under specific fears using a another huge sample (n=8,098). Water was feared by 9.4%, which was ranked 9th versus public speaking at 30.2%.
The 1993 Bruskin-Goldring survey of 1,000 people found that deep water was feared by 33%, which was ranked 4th versus speaking before a group at 45%.
The 1996 Roper survey reported in American Demographics found that swimming in the ocean was feared by 39%, which was ranked by a tie for 6th versus public speaking at 56%.

In 2010 Dwyer and Davidson repeated the questions from the 1973 Bruskin survey using  a sample of 815 students at a midwestern university. They found that deep water was feared by 27.2%, which was ranked 7th versus speaking before a group at 61.7%. For women, deep water was feared by 34.8%, which was ranked 7th versus speaking before a group at 65.9%. For men, deep water was feared by 19.5%, which was ranked 7th versus speaking before a group at 57.2%.

These percentages are lower than those reported in the Gallup poll, and water never was the most common fear - it ranked 3rd to 9th.

In a 2011 blog post, I discussed What’s the difference between a fear and a phobia? For the previously discussed National Comorbidity Survey, both specific fears and phobias were tabulated. In a 2012 blog post about fear of flying I discussed how only 3.4% had a phobia of water (which ranked 6th), versus 9.4% who had fear. The most common specific fear was of animals at 22.2%, but only 5.7% had a phobia of them.

The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions examined a huge sample of 43,093 people. Just 2.4% had a phobia of being in or on water, which ranked 5th relative to the 4.7% with a phobia of insects, snakes, birds, or other animals.

In that same blog post I also discussed how a survey of 7,076 Dutch people found that 7.1% had a fear of water and just 2.2% had a phobia. The most common fear (19.1%) was of heights, and water ranked 5th. Heights (4.9%) also was the most common phobia, and water tied for 7th.        

The image was cropped from a 1913 painting by Laurits Tuxen.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Don’t paint yourself into a corner

Plan ahead so that your options are not limited to a bad one, like walking on the wet paint you just brushed on the floor.

If you are using note cards to help remember your speech, number them, punch holes and fasten them together so you won’t get lost when you accidentally drop them.

Last night my local PBS station reran Rickover: The Birth of Nuclear Power. They told a story about Hyman Rickover, who had a reputation as a troubleshooter of naval machinery. That story also was told by Gwyneth Cravens, on page 237 of her 2010 book, Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy

“Once he got a late-night call from a skipper about to depart on a long voyage who was frustrated because a tiny screw had fallen into the turbine, which would have been a huge job to disassemble. Rickover directed him to remove a small inspection plate at the bottom of the turbine casing that had been installed for just such emergencies. The screw was sitting on it.”

Engineers sometimes do badly too. Design News has a blog called Made by Monkeys with gems like Malibu Headlamp Replacement Necessitates Bumper Removal and Tricky Spark Plugs Take Hours to Replace.

The first image was derived from one of a room in the Presidio at Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What is jockey boxing?

Is it when disagreements are settled by fist fights following a horse race? Perhaps. But, I heard that phrase mentioned yesterday on the radio, in a local news story about crime. They had talked with a county deputy sheriff. 

In Idaho and Montana, the glove compartment of an automobile or truck is sometimes referred to as a jockey box. Jockey boxing is a crime of opportunity. Some teenage kids walk around trying doors on parked vehicles. When the find an unlocked one, they fill their pockets with whatever valuables are in the glove compartment.     

Historically, a jockey box was mounted on the front of a covered wagon to hold the driver’s valuables, as shown above by an arrow. The modern glove compartment inherited that function and name.

Jockey box also is used as slang for an ice-filled insulated cooler with a tubing coil for chilling keg beer outdoors. That cooling process also is jockey boxing, so the phrase has at least three very different meanings.

An image of the Hollywood Gold Cup came from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Motivational speech versus reality - the tale of the ship and the lighthouse

 Motivational speakers seem to live in a different world than the rest of us. They tell us Great Stories containing Underlying Truths and Universal Principles. We should be able to get the world by the tail, wrap it around, pull it down, and put it in our pocket. But, we’re more likely just to live in a van down by the river.   

On October 31st Rich Hopkins blogged about Another Visit to Speak & Deliver’s Story Graveyard. In that post he listed several motivational stories that should never be used again and buried. One was The Ship and the Lighthouse. It was popularized by Stephen R. Covey in his 1989 book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Supposedly it came from an article written by Frank Koch that was published in Proceedings, the magazine of the Naval Institute. The version on  page 33 of the 2004 edition of Covey's book goes like this: 

“Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.

Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported,
‘Light, bearing on the starboard bow.’
    ‘Is it steady or moving astern?’ the captain called out.
Lookout replied, ‘Steady, captain,’ which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.
    The captain then called to the signalman, ‘Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees.’
Back came a signal, ‘Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.’
    The captain said, ‘Send, I’m a captain, change course 20 degrees,’
‘I’m a seaman second class,’ came the reply. ‘You had better change course 20 degrees.’
    By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, ‘Send, I’m a battleship. Change course 20 degrees.’
Back came the flashing light, ‘I’m a lighthouse.’
    We changed course.”

His takeaway was that:

“Principles are like lighthouses. They are natural laws that cannot be broken.”

The story is considered to be an urban legend that is discussed both on Snopes and Wikipedia. There are more recent versions, including an April 8, 2008 speech published in the September 2011 issue of Morning in America where the opening line now was that classic literary cliche that:

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

Also, the battleship went from generic to the mighty U.S.S. Missouri (BB-63), as shown above. There also is a YouTube video. Rich Hopkins lamented that:

“True or not, I've heard this so many times I'm now rooting for the ship to plow right into the lighthouse.”

Well, it already has. On December 23, 2000 the motor vessel Janra, a 100 m long, 3,999 ton container ship with an 18 m beam was bound from Rauma, Finland to Bremerhaven, Germany. It collided with and completely destroyed the 20 m (66 ft. high) unmanned Troeskeln Vaestra lighthouse. The Janra began to list, and two hours later it turned upside-down. The crew all got out safely. It was towed to a safe anchorage, some containers were removed, and after two salvage attempts it was righted and towed to the Finnish port of Turku (near Rauma). It was renamed the Atlantic Comet.

The BBC story about this accident was titled Lighthouse Lost in Boat Drama, and the CNN story was titled Stranded Cargo Ship Towed to Safety. It wasn’t the first time that lighthouse had been hit. You can download and read the detailed 81-page marine investigation report. Unfortunately there was not enough light for solar panels to recharge batteries, so the lighthouse was dark when it was hit. Damages were at least 12,750,000 Euros. The moral just was to watch where the heck your ship is going.    

 An image of the U.S.S. Missouri came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Statistic Brain is just a statistical medicine show

You might want to open a speech with a startling statistic, and you could do a quick web search to find one.  

Are you looking for a way to get amused rather than informed? Are you tired of reading fear news from The Onion, or hearing fairy stories at Coast to Coast AM? Just head over to the Statistic Brain web site, who claim on their Cite Statistics page that you should grandly refer to their stuff as being from Statistic Brain Research Institute, publishing as Statistic Brain. You will find startling statistics there. Are they real? Are they up to date? Did they just make them up? Sometimes it is hard to tell. It’s just like going to an old time medicine show.

Back in the March 2014 issue of Information Today there was a database review article by library director Mick O’Leary titled Statistics Sites Good and Bad. (You can find the full text in an EBSCO database like MasterFILE Premier at your friendly local public library.) One of his section headings is Statistic Brain: Do Not Use, and he grumbled:

“Statistic Brain is thin, erratic, out-of-date, and full of errors. If you come across it, immediately shift over to Statistica, or indeed to any other statistics purveyor.

....Statistic Brain is full of errors. Some are minor: Statistic Brain states that there is a large oil company named Exon and a city in eastern Pennsylvania named Redding. Others are serious: According to Statistic Brain the U.S. has the world’s second largest GDP.

Each individual statistics record has a data table, with a source and release date...most of the time, that is, since this essential fact is sometimes omitted. The source information does not link to the original.”

Statistic Brain sometimes has out of date statistics, vaguely identified sources that can’t be verified, and even internal inconsistencies (and nonsense). Here are three examples from specific pages there.

Out-Of-Date Statistics

The Rabies Virus Statistics page at Statistic Brain says their source was the Center for Disease Control, which actually is called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the research date was July 12, 2014. The second part of their table is headed Rabies in Wild Animals. You might assume that they used the latest CDC data, since they checked just this summer. But the data they listed actually came from an article titled Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2001. That basic title is used for a whole series of annual articles. The CDC publications page on rabies has links to the full text for an entire decade of those articles covering 2002 through 2012. The table shown above compares the 2012 CDC statistics with the 2001 statistics listed at Statistic Brain. Bats flew up from 17.2% to 27.3%, and from third place to second place.  

Vaguely Identified Sources

The Attention Span Statistics page at Statistic Brain says their sources were the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), and The Associated Press, and their research date was January 1, 2014.

Those three Nebulously Authoritative Places (NAP) may be meant just to put your critical instincts to sleep. National Center for Biotechnology Information is the folks at NLM responsible for databases like PubMed. PubMed contains over 24 million citations or abstracts of magazine articles and other sources. That’s a huge haystack, so it can be very hard to determine if something really came from there. (Earlier versions of that Statistic Brain page only had listed The Associated Press as their source). 

The first half of their table shows attention span statistics from those vague sources, which includes human attention spans of 12 seconds in 2000, 8 seconds in 2013, and 9 seconds for a gold fish. Back in April Ken McCall tried to find the goldfish data and couldn’t.

The second half of their table shows internet browsing statistics from a magazine article by H. Weinreich et al, which I’ve blogged about recently. The median was 9.4 seconds, so we really are about even with goldfish. But, the histogram (shown above) has such long tails that the alleged drop from 12 to 8 seconds likely would be insignificant.   

Internal Inconsistencies and Nonsense

The Fear/Phobia Statistics page at Statistic Brain says their source was the National Institute of Mental Health, and the research date was July 8, 2014. The lower half is a Top Phobias list (really a fears list). Back in 2012 I blogged about how it was just A bogus list of top ten phobias. They didn’t give a clue about where that list really came from.

I previously blogged about Putting the fear puzzle pieces together: social and specific fears in the National Comorbidity Survey. That mental health survey was sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health. As shown above, there is a crucial difference between that list and the one at Statistic Brain. Social fears are a broader term, so a larger percentage (38.6%) fears them than fears public speaking (30.2%). The list at Statistic Brain inconsistently shows 74% fear public speaking and only 7.9% fear people or social situations.    

As shown above in a bar chart, the more recent National Comorbidity Survey - Replication also shows social fears are a broader term, so a larger percentage (24.1%) fears them than fears public speaking (21.2%). Another fears list on a page at the Speech Topics Help web site has the same problem Statistic Brain does.

As is shown above, the Speech Topics Help web page lists the same top ten as Statistic Brain does, with the first seven in the exact same order. The percentages on that page are shown in a pie chart. Since they must add to 100% the top three are quite a bit lower than those at Statistic Brain. Where did Statistic Brain get their percentages? I don’t know, and neither do you. So, please don’t quote their numbers as having come from the National Institute of Mental Health

Update on March 14, 2017

The BBC World Service radio program More or Less had a nine minute long story  titled The Attention Span of a Goldfish debunking the Statistic Brain claim. 

Update on July 15, 2017

I forgot to mention that  on February 6, 2014 I had emailed NIMH Info to ask about the Fear of Public Speaking Statistics and Fear/Phobia Statistics pages at Statistic Brain.

The reply from the NIMH Information Resource Center began as follows:

"Dear Mr. Garber:

Thank you for your email to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).  The NIMH is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  The NIMH conducts and supports research on the brain and disorders of mental health.

You requested assistance refuting or confirming statistics on the prevalence of various phobias from the website.  The statistics you are asking about did not come from the NIMH.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Never say never

Many absolute statements are nonsense. Back in February I blogged about One-track minds: exactly, absolutely, always. Negative absolutes are as bad or worse. For example:

“Without exception, you should never start your speech by telling a joke.”

What if it was for a Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest? Never does belong in warning statements where there are lethal consequences. Avoid it otherwise.

Using never (or not any) may inspire contrary behavior. On page 93 of his autobiographical 1989 book, Chuck Amuck, famous animator Chuck Jones described how producer Eddie Selzer had led him and Mike Maltese to create animated cartoons:

“He once appeared in the doorway of our story room while Mike Maltese and I were grappling with a new story idea. Suddenly a furious dwarf stood in the doorway: ’I don’t want any gags about bullfights, bullfights aren’t funny!’ Exactly the words he used to Fritz Freleng about never using camels. Out of that dictum came Sahara Hare, one of the funniest cartoons ever made, with the funniest camel ever made.

Having issued his angry edict, Eddie stormed back to his office. Mike and I eyed each other in silent wonderment. ‘We’ve been missing something,’ Mike said. ‘I never knew there was anything funny about bullfighting until now. But Eddie’s judgment is impeccable. He’s never been right yet.’ ‘God moves in wondrous ways, his story ideas to beget,’ I replied.

Result: Bully for Bugs - one of the best Bugs Bunny cartoons our unit ever produced.”

Monday, December 1, 2014

Celebrating 1000 blog posts

Yesterday’s post was a big milestone for me after over six years of blogging.

Is 1000 difficult to imagine? Not really. There are 1000 little face icons in the image shown above. (Click on it for a larger, clearer version). It was created in PowerPoint by typing ten rows of ten (alternating smiley, neutral, and frowny ones) using the Wingdings font, copying that slide, changing the color, and then saving those two squares of 100 as Pictures (.png). Then those squares were shrunk down and assembled to form the final tiled image. 

What’s the strangest story I’ve ever seen in researching to write this blog? On page 68 of the November 21, 1846 issue of Scientific American (Volume 2, Number 9) there is a brief story simply titled Mount Hand. It claims:

“The above engraving represents a watering place for travelers on the road from the City of Mexico to Santa Fe.

In the distance is seen the celebrated Mount Hand, so called from the fact that its wonderful apex is the exact profile of a hand.

It is considered one of the most extraordinary natural curiosities, known to exist on the Western Continent, and excites the astonishment of all. 

The Mexican muleteers are said to fall on their knees and cross themselves immediately on coming in sight of EL MANO (THE HAND) which their superstition teaches them to regard with awe.” 

I came up empty when I tried to find more about Mount Hand by searching on Google. Maybe that story should have been in The Onion.