Junk science

No, 13 Reasons Why Is Not Making Tons of Teens Commit Suicide

Surprise: A viral study is junk science.

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Last week, the internet had a collective freakout over a viral study that purportedly  claimed the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why was "associated with a 28.9 percent increase in suicide rates."

13 Reasons Why is a teen drama based on a book of the same name by Jay Asher. It's about a female high school student who kills herself, leaving behind cassette tapes for her various friends and enemies that elucidate her motives. Controversy has always surrounded the show: Some mental health experts believe that exposure to media portrayals of suicide can have a "contagion" effect that make people more likely to commit suicide themselves.

"Research shows that exposure to another person's suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide," said the National Association of School Psychologists in a statement released in March 2017, when the show debuted.

A team of researchers have now produced a study that supposedly shows a correlation between increased teen suicide and, specifically, the release of 13 Reasons Why. It was recently accepted for publication in Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and has generated significant media coverage. "Suicides spiked in the months after Netflix released 13 Reasons Why, study finds," warns The Washington Post. "'13 Reasons Why' hurts teenagers and Netflix should drop the show," insistsDallas Morning News writer in an earlier piece that was republished "in light of the news" about the study. A Daily Mirror piece that explicitly links the death of a British teenager with the show also cites the study. The New Yorker suggests that 13 Reasons Why was associated with increased teen suicides but ultimately capitalism is to blame for giving us Netflix in the first place (cue Dr. Ian Malcom).

Unfortunately, the study is bunk. It does not even begin to demonstrate that 13 Reasons Why is the cause of the phenomenon the researchers are documenting.

The problems are myriad. The study shows a rise in suicides in the months following the release of the show. But researchers have no proof that the teenagers who committed suicide over the observed time period had watched the show, or that they heard about the show, or that their deaths had anything to do with the show—this is all purely theoretical.

Moreover, while April—the month immediately following the release of 13 Reasons Why—did contain a spike in teen suicides, so did March. The researchers theorize that these suicides might be associated with the the release of the trailer for the show, but that's quite a stretch. (In any case, a teaser trailer was released all the way back in January.) Later in 2017, June and December also have higher-than-normal teen suicide rates. Is this also the fault of 13 Reason's Why, or are researchers just playing with numbers in order to manufacture a result that sort of fits their hypothesis? I, too, have a theory!

Another fatal cut: Researchers only observed an increase in male teen suicides, even "though previous studies indicate that suicide contagion disproportionately affects those who strongly identify with the person who died by suicide." But 13 Reasons Why is about a teenage girl's suicide. Why didn't female suicides spike as much as male suicides—or, like, at all? "Reasons for this finding are unclear," the study's authors concede.

Andrew Gelman, a Columbia University statistician, writes, "I can see the logic of the argument that a dramatization of suicide can encourage copycats; more generally, TV and movies have lots of dramatizations of bad behavior, including horrible crimes. I just don't think there are any easy ways of cleanly estimating their effects with these sorts of aggregate statistical analyses, and this particular paper has some issues."

Yes, and that's being charitable. Libertarian writer Daniel Bier, whose Facebook post first drew my attention to the glaring flaws in this study, makes note of the researchers' baffling conclusion, which reeks of an agenda. "There is no discernible public health benefit associated with viewing the series," they write. This is, of course, ridiculous. Lots of activities have no discernible public health benefits, but are enjoyable nonetheless. Who cares? If the activity in question is harmful, that's worth taking into account. The burden of proof, though, is not on the consumer of an activity: The burden is on the researchers to prove it's bad, which is something these folks manifestly failed to do.

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  1. I’ll be happy to go back to hating on the show for being a petty piece of shit. It is nothing more than a hatefuck. Someone masturbating in a room saying, “Yeah, they’ll be sorry once I kill myself, heh, heh.”

    It’s pure spite porn.

    1. “In every suicide, there’s an element of revenge.”

  2. Listed here I counted three reasons why it’s not making teens commit suicide. Where are the other ten reasons?

    1. R-O-B-B-Y S-O-A-V-E

    2. Read the title again, carefully.

  3. It’s easy to say don’t worry about this tv show or that video game causing violence or suicide, because the studies are fake or flawed.

    What I’d like to see is one of the writers on Reason say, “Yeah, sure watching The Big Bang Theory really is bad for you, and I don’t dispute the evidence. But that’s the price we pay for living in a free society.”

    1. Seriously.

      I find it entirely plausible that a popular show in which people reexamine their lives and are “moved” as a result of a teenager’s suicide would make teen suicide more likely. But even if that’s the case, the alternative–government censorship–is worse.

    2. Not to defend the writers at Reason, but you’re assuming there’s no TV in the free world that’s worse than a communist dictatorship.

      I’m gonna assume nobody stood in a bread line for 90 min., got a loaf of moldy bread and said, “Welp, there’s 90 min. of my life I’m never gonna get back.”

      Not that I’d force anyone, but 103 min. in a Gulag would probably be far more culturally enriching to far more people than The Last Airbender could possibly hope to achieve.

    1. ^^Are these spambots one of the reasons?

  4. What I’ll never understand:

    Art is supposed to make people and society better. But the concept that it might do the opposite is just assumed false.

    Why?

    If something can uplift you, it can also tear you down.

    1. Yes, indeed. I don’t know about this particular show, but one can imagine a series which can be demoralizing to viewers.

      If I had my tinfoil hat on, I’d think the role of the authors of these bogus “studies” is to discredit the very concept of entertainment affecting people – that they’re basically hired by the entertainment industry to make any criticism of their product look retarded.

      1. The “violence studies” tend to fall flat on their faces, indicating that maybe bad music and TV, etc. *doesn’t* cause a spike in homicides, and suicides. But it can still promote bad attitudes and bad relationships, just as on the oppsite end it can inspire helpful attitudes.

    2. Art is supposed to make people and society better.

      Says who?

      Why can’t art just be art?

      Sometimes art just is art.

      What is the sound of art being art?

      1. Art is more than just some guy named Art.

    3. @Eddy

      I generally notice a subtle difference in the two types of arguments.

      People who argue that art can be uplifting tend to argue that art has a powerful effect on your conscious mind. It makes you think and give you examples to live by.

      People who argue that art can be harmful tend to argue that it has powerful unconscious effects. Art that portrays violence, even if the violence is portrayed as negative, makes people violent by influencing their subconscious.

      The fact that art can have strong conscious effects on people is observable through simple introspection. The idea that art can have strong unconscious effects is not well-supported. In fact, recent research seems to indicate that the power of the subconscious is highly overrated.

    4. Because when you’re not a libertarian or classical liberal, like most people aren’t, if you admit art can harm, you suddenly have to justify not censoring it.

      Which is icky when you’ve devoted lots of time and energy to pretending art is Pure Goodness.

      (As suggested below, the problem really is with the assumption that “art is Good per se”, not “art can be good to make and consume, or not”.

      Which is why every “eARTh” bumpersticker makes me prefer the “fART” ones.

      “Lighten up, Francis!”)

      1. “Because when you’re not a libertarian or classical liberal, like most people aren’t, if you admit art can harm, you suddenly have to justify not censoring it.”

        I do not feel that need. It is in the same vein as plenty of other things.

        I find smoking rather nasty — but the world is not made to make ME personally happy, so if you want to smoke, fine. Leave me out of it. If you want to allow smoking in your establishment, also fine. You should be permitted to.

        Bad stuff exists in the world. There isn’t a need to protect people from bad things all of the time. Some things (i.e proper labelling of medication, etc) seems pretty vital to do, but if a TV show makes one commit suicide — then maybe they shouldn’t watch said TV show.

  5. Funny how this comes back around. When I was younger it was Ozzy Osboure’s Suicide Solution and Judas Priest backwards masking making kids do it.

      1. “This is Tom Krautenegger calling from Rolling Stone magazine. Can I speak to someone in Negativland?

        Tell me, off the record, is there any backwards masking in the song Christianity Is Stupid?”

  6. “cassette tapes”

    Anybody know what these are? And how do they relate to suicide?

  7. “13 Reasons Why Reason Is Making Tons of Teens Commit Suicide”
    Sudermann and Dalmia articles.

    1. Hey, hey.

      Sudermann’s not nearly that bad.

      Dalmia’s articles would be a war crime if you made POWs read them, though.

  8. “was “associated with…””

    Was ‘linked’ with…
    IOWs, no connection was found, but I’ll try to make it look like it anyhow.

  9. Jessica Scatterson. But no, it certainly hasn’t inspired any uptick in female suicides, right?

  10. BTW:
    “The New Yorker suggests that 13 Reasons Why was associated with increased teen suicides but ultimately capitalism is to blame for giving us Netflix in the first place.”

    So Trump, right?

    1. Well, duh!
      It’s Trump!

  11. “Suicides spiked in the months after Netflix released 13 Reasons Why, study finds,” warns The Washington Post. “

    And no one bothered to point out that the owner of the Washington Post also happens to be a direct competitor of Netflix, in the form of Amazon Prime Video????

  12. the idiot author is comparing apples to oranges….acknowledges the study concerns correlation.. but then states there is no mechanical “why”….study never made that leap ..only the idiot at Reason did

    1. Yeah, and every media outlet that covered it, because it was designed to produce that effect.

      A serious study would have seen “only in males, started before release, and immediately skipped a month, and then several” and said “okay, our hypothesis of a connection is bullshit, find something else”.

      (Pro tip: If you’re going to call someone else an idiot, maybe don’t abuse the ellipsis FOUR DIFFERENT WAYS while doing so?)

  13. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

    Like debunking fish in a barrel.

    1. “Like debunking fish in a barrel.”
      OK, that’s GOOD.

    2. Debunking the study will require yet another study, And if it’s to have authority it will have to be bigger and more expensive than the first.

  14. “which reeks of an agenda”

    I bet those psychiatrists are firmly in the anti-teen suicide camp.

    1. Or more seriously in the “control media for our own good” camp.

      If they’re seriously against teen suicide (as is right and proper and fine), they should do better and more useful science than this pathetic hack-jobbery.

      1. Psychiatry is not a science. Science is the study of phenomena which are observable, repeatable and measurable.

  15. Regardless, I recommend that everyone here binge-watch the series, just in case.

  16. I can think of a hundred reasons why it sux to be young today. My top six: Leftist indoctrination, the very top of the list. Followed by: too many contradictory and foolish rules, low expectations, garbage entertainment, cell phones and last but not least: social media.

  17. […] A viral study is junk science. No, 13 Reasons Why Is Not Making Tons of Teens Commit Suicide “Unfortunately, the study is bunk. […] The problems are […]

  18. I watched the series. It was stupid and glorified suicide. It totally validated the idea of suicide as a way to really “get back” at all those people who hurt your feelings or your body and finally “show them.”

    The show supposes that all of the people in your life will be haunted and pained by your suicide, and forced into excruciating introspection and penitence for every minor or major wrong they may have committed against you, as well as facing other more serious consequences such as criminal and civil liability.

    You’ll not only exact revenge; all of your feelings will be vindicated (in many cases those feelings being histrionics over perceived social slights and typical trivial high school stuff).

    This supposition is in contrast with the much more likely reality that your high school classmates will just be somewhat shocked and saddened for a time, assume you were deeply mentally ill, and gradually move on without ever assigning blame to themselves (regardless of you blaming them in some communication left behind).

    The show was engaging enough to watch and my spouse was especially into it so we watched it. I just didn’t like the message.

    So what? I’m not saying the government needs to ban the show. But why can’t we admit that some ideas are bad, or incorrect, or some messages misleading, or some art morally objectionable in some way?

    Having that discussion is the whole point, it seems. We can observe that this show glorified suicide, and presented a very unrealistic scenario where a person achieves all kinds of postmortem revenge and vindication through suicide (even over mere typical teenage angst).

    Yet some people whine and complain endlessly if anyone tries to point out the bad ideas in art and the harmful effects they may have. This is presented as a sort of intellectual worldliness, sophistication, and supposed opposition to censorship. But actually it’s a thinly disguised defensive mechanism for those who embrace moral relativism and therefore bristle at any moral critique of art.

    You’ll NEVER prove that a TV show actually CAUSED people to do x y or z. A study shouldn’t attempt it, nor should a study be criticized for failing to show causation. This study is probably reaching, but the criticism of it here is reaching even more.

    How can Reason back up the headline? What evidence do they have proving this negative assertion? None at all, of course. The headline should be “No, this study isn’t good evidence that 13 Reasons Why is making tons of teens commit suicide.”

    1. ” But why can’t we admit that some ideas are bad, or incorrect, or some messages misleading, or some art morally objectionable in some way? ”

      Because someone, maybe even a writer at Reason, will say we have an agenda.

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  20. This is an amazing series. Yet some people whine and complain endlessly if anyone tries to point out the bad ideas in art and the harmful effects they may have. This is presented as a sort of intellectual worldliness, sophistication, and supposed opposition to censorship. But actually it’s a thinly disguised defensive mechanism for those who embrace moral relativism and therefore bristle at any moral critique of art.
    You can watch it on cinema hd apk

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