Thursday, December 1, 2016

You can’t tell what people in the city are eating for lunch from an aerial photo

A good speech, article, or blog post calls for detailed, careful research. You always should go back to primary sources. If instead you just depend on superficial secondary ones like a brief magazine or newspaper article, then you can miss important details.

I just ran across a September 28, 2016 article by Fredrik Haren at his Lessons from the World of a Global Keynote Speaker web site titled The most dangerous job in the world (just kidding). Mr. Haren had based his article on a single-page one in the September 19, 2016 issue of Bloomberg Business Week. That article by Evan Applegate was titled Obamacare scares more people than a nuclear attack. It was the print version of an infographic I blogged about on November 7th. The article and infographic begin with the same sentence:

“Chapman University asked 1,541 American adults what they fear most, then ranked the answers by the share of respondents who indicated “afraid” or very afraid” for each.”

Then the print article lists 50 fears (a Top 50 out of 89 they surveyed) without showing the percentages, while the infographic lists 42 fears but shows each percentage when you mouse over an image.

In his article Mr. Haren commented that:

“On a plane from Omaha where I had just delivered a speech I read an article in Business Week where they reported on a study by Chapman University about the things that Americans feared the most.

It was a long and depressing list of threats, from fear of corruption (number 1) to fear of cyberterrorism (number 2) and fear of personal data tracking (number 3) to fear terrorist attacks (number 4) and so on. (Americans are afraid of a lot of scary things that are statistically very, very unlikely to hurt them.)

What I found absolutely amazing is that the ONLY thing on this list that was actually a choice – meaning something that a person can choose to do or not do to! – was ‘the fear of public speaking’! (and perhaps also ‘heights’.)

‘Fear of public speaking’ came in at place 26 just after ‘fear of robots replacing the workforce’ and just ahead of ‘fear of property damage’.

The more I look at this list the more amazed I am by it.

There is this saying that people are ‘more afraid of public speaking than they are of dying’ – something I always thought must have been an exaggeration – but according to this survey it turns out to be true! (Fear of dying came in at 43…)”

Results from the Chapman survey were reported on October 13, 2015 in a blog post titled America’s Top Fears 2015. What simple question should have told Mr. Haren he was not seeing the whole list? Where was the fear of flying? It is 61st.

Is Mr. Applegate’s title Obamacare scares more people than a nuclear attack correct? Well, sort of. Obamacare was ranked 13th and feared by 35.7%, while nuclear attack was ranked 16th and feared by 33.6% - a difference of 2.1%. Based on the sample size of 1,541 the Margin of Error for the survey is plus or minus 2.5%, so the difference is not significant.

In my November 7th blog post I pointed out that the Chapman survey questions really were “How afraid are you of...?” not “What do you fear most?” and, there were four possible answers:

1 Not Afraid

2 Slightly Afraid

3 Afraid

4 Very Afraid

What do Americans really fear most? Back on October 30, 2015 I blogged about how According to the 2015 Chapman Survey of American Fears, adults are less than Afraid of federal government Corruption and only Slightly Afraid of Public Speaking. In that post I showed how to calculate a Fear Score from the percentages for those four possible answers shown in the detailed results from the Chapman survey:

Fear Score = [ 1x(% for Not Afraid)
+  2x(% for Slightly Afraid)
+ 3x(% for Afraid)
+ 4x(% for Very Afraid)]/100 

For Corruption the fear score was only 2.7, which isn’t even at Afraid (3.0). For Public speaking it is 2.022, almost exactly 2.0 (or just Slightly Afraid). For Zombies it was 1.308, and the very lowest for Gender was 1.201 (not far above the 1.0 for Not Afraid). This analysis fits with what Mr. Haren said in another article on Nov 6 2015 titled The world is less dangerous than we think.

How about the comparison between the fears of public speaking and death? Many people know about it based on a Jerry Seinfeld joke that I last blogged about in October. 

An image of New York City in 1977 by Derzsi Elekes Andor came from Wikimedia Commons.

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