Monday, October 12, 2015

Using the wrong definition can make you look like a stubborn donkey

Back on September 1st I blogged about the importance of careful research in a post titled Don’t open your mouth until you’ve done your research. I just found a great example of what not to do. On August 3rd at his A Daring Adventure web site Tim Brownson blogged about What is social anxiety? And 7 ways to cure it. His highly profane post opens by claiming:

“According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America about 15 million adults in the US suffer from social anxiety.  
I say that’s a total crock of shit.
In my rather arrogant opinion, it’s way, way, higher.
In fact, I’d go as far to say it’s at least 100 million.
You may think that it’s highly arrogant of me to suggest a professional body that’s only purpose is to study anxiety can get it so hopelessly wrong.
But bear with me, and see if you agree when I explain what social anxiety actually is.”

Then he goes off on a tangent about having been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Next he gets back to discussing What Is Social Anxiety? and says:

“Rather than give you my opinion of what social anxiety is I’ll quote directly from the Social Anxiety Institute website.

‘Social anxiety is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression.
If a person usually becomes (irrationally) anxious in social situations, but seems better when they are alone, then ‘social anxiety’ may be the problem.’


Think about it for a second.
How many people do you know who aren’t bothered about being judged?
Donald Trump maybe?
After that I’m struggling.
And if it bothers them, then by definition that must mean at least one of the above symptoms comes into play.”

What did Tim miss? He skipped one crucial word on that Anxiety and Depression Association of America web page. Their heading says Social Anxiety Disorder (which used to be called Social Phobia), and then lists 15 million, 6.8%. The definition Tim quoted referred just to “social anxiety” which is not the same thing (just about social fear rather than phobia).  

That 6.8% comes from a web page about Social Phobia Among Adults at the National Institute of Mental Health web site. A footnote reveals it is one result from the very detailed National Comorbidity Survey - Replication. That percentage refers to the 12 month prevalence - the answer from asking people if they had a social phobia during the last year. If you had instead asked them about if they ever had a social phobia, you’d get another larger percentage for the lifetime prevalence.

Back in October 2011 I blogged about What’s the difference between a fear and a phobia? In that post I described the DSM-4 definition for social phobia. The Social Anxiety Institute web site has a web page on the newer DSM-5 Definition of Social Anxiety Disorder, which is very similar.  

After that Tim has a section about public speaking fear titled Would You Rather Be Dead?:

“When surveys are done on what people’s greatest fears are, guess what almost always comes out on top? Public speaking.
There was one survey that put public speaking at number one and death at number seven, which lead to an awesome joke from Jerry Seinfeld when he astutely pointed out that most people at a funeral would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.
The fear of public speaking is classic social anxiety and if the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s figures are correct, that means just over 19 out of 20 people in the USA are happy to give a talk in public.
Like fuck they are!
I think it’s closer to flip those figure and say 19 out of 20 people would be anxious at the thought of standing up in front of 100 people and giving a talk.
When you look at it like that, perhaps my figure of 100 million is actually a conservative estimate?
If you are scared of speaking in public, then you have social anxiety.
If you get anxious at the thought of going to a party where you don’t know anybody, then you have social anxiety.
If the thought of of meeting a person of authority worries you, then you have social anxiety.
If being watched while you undergo a task, even something benign as eating, makes you highly uncomfortable, then you have social anxiety.”

That section about public speaking is nonsense. Before Halloween in 2012 I blogged about how Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not our greatest fear.

In my post titled What’s the difference between a fear and a phobia? I included a bar chart with percentages for lifetime prevalence of both fear and phobia from the National Comorbidity Survey - Replication for various situations including public speaking/performance, meeting new people, talking to people in authority, going to parties, etc. For any social fear the lifetime prevalence is 24.1%, and for any social phobia it’s 12.1%.That’s real data, unlike the 100 million that Tim, to put it politely, pulled out of thin air. 

Rather curiously on October 1st he blogged about how If you don’t think you’re a dumbass, you maybe a dumbass.

An image of a donkey by Carol Highsmith is from the Library of Congress

No comments: