Monday, March 30, 2015

Floating fear statistics with no visible support

On March 16, 2015 at Psychology Today Beverly D. Flaxington blogged about Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking. She gave six good tips to build self-confidence.

But, I wish she had omitted her first paragraph which said:

“Afraid of speaking in public? If so, you are in good company. Statistically speaking, 3 out of every 4 people fear public speaking, and women are susceptible to it more than men, with 75% and 73% of self-identified sufferers respectively. Speech anxiety is so common that there is a formal term for it – glossophobia.”

I cringe every time I see phrases like:

“Statistically speaking...”
“Statistics say...”
“Statistics tell us...”

because they are followed by nebulous numbers floating above us with no visible support. Typically there is no explicit reference we can check on to see whether they are real or just nonsense. But, in this case I already know where those numbers came from  - a page at the Statistic Brain web site. In 2014 I blogged about how Statistic Brain is just a statistical medicine show, and that those numbers are not from where they claimed. There is no information about the sample sizes, and therefore no way to determine the margin of error, and to decide if the gender difference between 75% and 73% is significant or not.  

Back in 2013 I blogged about How scary is public speaking or performance? A better infographic showing both fears and phobias. I noted that for U.S. adults 21.2% have a fear and only 10.7% have a phobia, which are drastically lower than the ~74% Beverly mentioned.

In another blog post on December 11, 2013 I discussed why glossophobia is not a useful formal term for describing speech anxiety.

The image was adapted from one of Thurston the magician at the Library of Congress.

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