Thursday, July 7, 2016

22 pushups for the Vets

I know someone who is doing 22 pushups every day, and posting it to Facebook to raise awareness for the 22 veterans a day who commit suicide. I have several problems with this.

  • The excuse of "raising awareness"

    I'm suspicious of anything for the cause of "raising awareness". What they're doing makes much more sense as a means to attention grabbing. Giving pretty much any % of your income to a cause is guaranteed to do more good than raising awareness. And most of the time you're raising awareness for something people are already aware of. Did you already know that veterans are a lot more likely to commit suicide? I sure did before anyone started doing pushups.

    Raising awareness is probably better than nothing, but very very close to doing nothing at all. So incurring costs to raise awareness is likely motivated by other than stated reasons, even if subconsciously.

  • Raising awareness doesn't fix anything.

    Awareness by itself just makes people feel bad about a problem, not solve it. Naturally you want raised awareness to lead to people actually doing something about the problem, but in fact what happens with these sorts of things is it just leads to more people raising awareness.

    So you do pushups on Facebook for the veterans and then tag 3 friends who now have to do it too. Now quadruple the people are raising awareness. This is great if you have a secret motive of getting people to do pushups, but I don't see it doing much for the veterans.

    And if there's a substitution affect than raising awareness can be worse than doing nothing. It used to be that showing you care meant doing something about it, but if you can show you care for cheaper then you just may do pushups instead.

  • The "X people a day" illusion

    You can make anything sound big by citing how often it happens a day because there are so so many people in the world who could possibly do it! 62 people a day move to Nashville. 20,000 people a day visit Hawaii. There are 2 new contestants are on Jeopardy at least every weekday.

  • We think there are a lot fewer veterans than there are, so we intuitively do the wrong division

    There are 21.8 million veterans, 7% of the entire population of the U.S., out of those 22 committed suicide today. This means the 22 a day is out of, take another believable number - 1 million, then the degree to which being a veteran is leading to suicide is being severely miscalculated.
  • Misinterpretation of the statistic

    If your concern is about how many people are becoming veterans, then you'd want to cite how many veterans are committing suicide. If your concern is about how many people are committing suicide, then you wouldn't put veteran suicides in a special category.

    We may think that veteran suicides are especially tragic because with them, we think we can identify the reason for the suicides; the trauma of war. Other categories of suicide almost certainly have trauma related reasons, but we don't know exactly what they are whereas we can imagine the bombs going off and the friends being lost.

    The trauma of war doesn't even seem to be what's causing the disproportionately high rate of veteran suicides. according to the LA Times the rate of suicide is, “…slightly higher among veterans who never deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq"
  • The last thing is the vets aren't heroes.