One common thing that AAs do who enter the effectiveness of AA debate, is cite ridiculous sources, or information they do not fully understand. This is the case today with a regular reader of the blog, McGowdog, who cut and pasted from a paper that was written by three AAs, including Glenn Chestnut, who once wrote this about AA:

“…unbelievers will quickly start running you around in logical circles which you will never get out of — so I don’t even try to defend it rationally and logically.”

He was not kidding, either. He and his two cohorts came up with this review of AA’s triennial survey’s. Logical, it was not. It was obviously not written by academics who understand how to interpret the data properly. When I first read this, its conclusions were so far off base, that I gave it to some cohorts of mine at Harvard who specialize in such things. I thought maybe I was missing something. They dismissed it as “junk science”, and we actually wrote about this here last April: How Alcoholics Anonymous Lies With Statistics. It summarizes the way the data in this review was manipulated.

Most of what McGowdog wrote below is plagiarized from this paper. This is another piece of fool’s gold for someone who desperately wants to believe the steps are effective. One rule to remember in reading this: academic language does not make a paper academic.

Here is what McGowdog cut and pasted:

Like it or not, there were a couple of reasons for the survey, which started back in 1968.

1. “To enable A.A. to furnish more accurate data about the Fellowship and its effectiveness to the growing number of professional – doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, law enforcement officials and others – who are working today in the field of alcoholism.”

2. “To provide A.A. with more information about itself so that members can work more effectively in helping the many millions of alcoholics who still suffer throughout the world.”

This was back when we had PI (Public Information) committees, but no C.P.C. (Cooperation with the Professional Community) representation.

The C-1 graph data was never intended to be retention percentages in the first place and has been the fodder for reckless antiAAer claims.

Each of the 5 Triennial Surveys is a cross-sectional study – a snapshot at one point in time for 1977, 1980, 1983, 1986, and 1989. Assume that the same number of new people have been attending their first meetings every month. That is how many will be in their first month when the observation is made. Or as the chart says, “% of those coming into A.A. within the first year that have remained the indicated number of months, with the y-axis going from 2 to 22, expressed as a %, in two % increments, then the x-axis going from 1 month to 12 months in 1 month increments and the data depicting the average of the 5 surveys starting at 1 month and going to 12 months…

1 month; 19%
2 months; 13%
3 months; 10%
4 months; 9%
5 months; 8%
6 months; 7%
7 months; 7%
8 months; 6%
9 months; 6%
10 months; 6%
11 months; 6%
12 months; 5%

Rounding error shows 102% or 103%.

The ratio of the second month people in the survey to the first month people is the retention rate between the first and second months. In that same way, it is possible to find the retention between any two sampled months.

In the actual data presented: Month1 = 19% does NOT mean that “81% (i.e. 100% – 19%) dropped out in a month as some sources claim.

Month3 = 10% does NOT mean that “90% (i.e. 100% – 10%) leave within 3 months and Month12 = 5% does NOT mean that “95% (i.e. 100% – 5%) stop active participation in AA inside of a year.

Instead, what the data does show is that for every 100 people surveyed with under a year since first attendance:

19% of that population were in their first month
13% were in their 2nd month
9% were in their 4th month
7% were in their 6th month
6% were in their 8th month
6% were in their 9th month
6% were in their 10th month
6% were in their 11th month
5% were in their 12th month

What is actually shown in the C-1 graph is that 56% of those who stay beyond three months are still active in AA at the end of a year. Other Survey results show even better retention rates after the first year.

You’d have to see the graph for each individual graph for the respective surveys to understand. For example, the one shown is the distribution for all months. The 1st month distribution starts at 100% and goes down to 26% after 12 months. The 2nd month distribution goes from 100% at the 2nd month and goes down to 38%, 3rd month from 100% to 50%, 4th month from 100% to 56%…

The normalizing factor, that which you multiply everything on the distribution by, is 5.25. So Tony J is correct in saying 26.25% after the first year.

Now, two more points the Triennial Survey points out;

As mentioned above,

• 56% of those who stay beyond 3 months are still active in A.A. at the end of a year and other surveys show even better.

• Another important consideration for data interpretation and context is that not everyone who attends A.A. meeting is an alcoholic.

They have graphs in there that show from 77’ to 80’ the percentages of different age groups have come into A.A. Less than 21 years of age, for example rose from 1% in 77’ to 3% for 83’ through 89’, less than 31 years of age rose from about 12% to 22% from 77’ to 89’, 31-50 year olds have been a pretty steady 55% from 77’ to 89’, and 51 years + declined from about 37% in 77’ to about 24% in 89’.

Random suggests imprecision rather than the opposite, but in actuality, when it comes to voting polls, for example, comes to mean “absence of bias). Just because you have a larger sample, doesn’t make it more accurate. That’s what they’ve done with the above survey and it’s good enough for me.

Here’s two statements from A.A.’s Triennial Surveys that show progress in the fellowship;

“About 40% of the members sober less than a year will remain sober and active in the Fellowship another year.”

“Similarly, of the members sober five years, about 90% will remain sober and active in the fellowship another year.”

No prediction is made for those that do NOT remain active.

Length of Sobriety (Data of 1989 survey)

Sobriety Range_________% of Sample
1-2 years______________13.3%
2-3 __________________9.8%
No response____________0.4%

Another bit of wonderful data; across the board, from less than a year sober to 45+ years sober, average meetings per week is 3.

I think I’m gonna go on a 36 meetings in 90 days campaign.

Or how about this? 90 meetings in 90 years? You like that?

Line for line from that review have written about before, and to which we have posted a link. Anyone who read through that nonsense should read the original post we made on this thing.

Also, I omitted the link McGow provided us with a study showing that AA reduces depression in individuals (as well the comment he made calling us “fuckin’ dick nose fucks”). The full comment is in the comment section here. I have not read the study yet, but I did get a chance to read the abstract, and it looks like there is a correlation between AA attendance and reduced depression. I don’t doubt this, but I wanted to comment it on it in blog post next week after I have read the study.