Monthly Archives: May 2010

We’re Famous through Switch!

Let the word go forth, even if I don’t make any money on it, as long as the word is good!

Chip Heath and Dan Heath write best selling books about what they call Ideas That Stick or Switch while I write non best selling books about the Elaboration Likelihood Model and the Theory of Reasoned Action.  I wonder why they do better?

Seriously, folks, Heath and Heath do a nice job of taking a research project I worked on with many others and blending our findings into their own ideas.  And, here’s the Big and Important News:  They get it right.  So, let me congratulate them for reading a fairly technical report and getting the Main Point.

The specific project they reference is from the “1% or Less!” nutrition campaign I helped with.  While the Heaths only mention one paper our team wrote, there were actually several people involved in the work in a multi-year, multi-city, and multi-experiment project.  Bill Reger-Nash, a colleague at WVU, brought me in as a persuasion and statistics guy.  Bill was also collaborating with Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington DC.  Also working hard on the project were Holli Smith, a public health educator now in private practice, and Linda Cooper, a recently retired program administrator at WVU.  We spent several years on this project and it’s rather complicated compared to most public health behavior change campaigns.

The Main Point of the paper that Heath and Heath discuss in Switch is:  the Cascade Works!  Through several field experiments we manipulated the amount of Reception people got through various combinations of paid advertising, free media coverage from PR events, and classic public health education outreach.  We also used the Theory of Reasoned Action to guide our messages to generated the correct Response (change behavior beliefs rather than normative beliefs).  And, finally, we provided many opportunities for people to engage in High WATT processing of our arguments.

Using the Cascade we were able to generate some of the largest behavior change ever reported in the peer review literature and get mentioned in a New York Times best selling book.  Hubba-hubba!  And, if you want to die on the details, I’d be happy to talk with you about them.

What’s a Good Argument?

Three Musketeers Persuasion

Aristotle started this mess when he observed the three ancient routes of persuasion, logos, ethos, and pathos (names I often confabulate as the little brothers of the original three musketeers – Athos, Porthos, and Aramis).  Logos, meaning “the word,” translates into modern persuasion lingo as Central Route processing.  Aristotle provided many examples of effective logos (my favorite is the enthymeme – look it up – the fundamental persuasion tactic), but glossed over the most important element:  How do you create effective logos before you encounter the listener?

Aristotle provided a list longer than a mountain man coming to town before winter, so it looks like a lot of practical advice.  However, when you actually read the list you realize you’re still stuck with the fundamental problem – which one do you select and why?  He’s smart enough to tell us that logos, Arguments, the Central Route, is real important to persuasion and then goes on to characterize it in that familiar Aristotelian way, but behind that massive accomplishment, where’s the beef?  Like a lot of experts, Aristotle knew how to sound smarter than he was.  He thus took his shot at being the Queen of Tomorrow who knows the Laws of Persuasion, but missed, just a bit outside.

Hit the fast forward button two and a half millennia.  Stop.  Read.  If you know persuasion theories you realize that all of them are suspiciously quiet about cooking arguments before the guests arrive for dinner.  Dissonance . . . nope . . . that’s motivation and processes that operate on knowledge structures.  Attribution . . . nope . . . that’s cognition and processes that operate on knowledge structures.  Social judgment . . . hey, there’s nothing in my Primer Pages about that . . . so you’re not responsible, but it too is quiet.  Hey, what about those beautiful dual process models, the ELM or the HSM?  They specifically talk about those “crucial bits of information” and that’s Arguments.  Sorry, the best contemporary persuasion theories talk about cognitive processes that operate on knowledge structures called Arguments, but they don’t explain how to make Arguments in advance.

Looks hopeless, doesn’t it?  There is nothing remotely approaching scientific evidence that tells you how to make a strong Argument before you actually use It on someone new. This fact suggests three things to me.

First, once again recall the first Rule:  There Are No Laws of Persuasion and If There Were Why Would Anyone Tell You.  You just have to know your limitations along with Dirty Harry and get along with the great uncertainty of Life.

Second, we’re back to the Garden of Eden and studying the Serpent.  As near as I can tell the only character in text who knew the Arguments before the delivery, was Satan with Eve.  Satan is an angel and thus just a little bit more than Woman or Man and it would appear that little bit is knowing the Arguments before the argument.  But, since you and I are not angels and never will be, alas we are again stuck in the middle with Dirty Harry and our limitations.

That leaves us with P.T. Barnum and modern Madison Avenue.  Pretest your Arguments on the gang of usual suspects before you turn them loose in the world.  That’s the best we’ve got today.  Sure, you can use persuasion theory, the seat of your, mine, or Melanie’s pants, or somebody’s gut feeling to get started, but before you bet the ranch, start the fire, or light the fuse, the best advice is:  Pretest.

And, again, let me warn you.  Don’t trust anyone who has an Argument Machine.  That means she’s the Queen of Tomorrow who knows the Laws.  And you know about Her.

A Persuasion Analysis of Osama bin Laden’s Communication Campaign

Osama with MicrophoneFor the past several years I’ve been a regular reader of blogs like Small Wars Journal, Long War, and MountainRunner, plus the Usual Gang of Media Suspects, then following their links to where it leads.  From this reading, I’ll now commit to a generalization that is untrue in many specific instances, but generally true which is why I generalize.  Many of the posts I read tend take a negative critical stance against US communication efforts while taking a positive critical stance on Bad Guy communication efforts.  We’re culturally insensitive, blundering, confused, and expensive; They are savvy, resourceful, nuanced, and effective.

I disagree.  And not just by degree, shade, or tone.  Osama’s crew is simply awful at strategic communication or brand marketing or psyops or IO or, for me, persuasion.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I fear them.  I recognize the destruction they create.  I want them stopped.  But, I don’t want to lose sight of their success and their failure.

For me the failure is most glaring: They want a global Islamic state.  You can state this TACT with your preferred Who does What When and Where, but it’s got to include Global Osama and it’s obvious that they are farther away from this TACT today than they were 10 years ago.  Think about it more broadly than Osama’s latest YouTube jihad rock video shot on a Flip Mino.  Think about the whole thing.

We’re nearly 10 years into bin Laden’s self declared war against the US and other assorted infidels.  While some of that war involved direct aggression and killing as in the September 11 attacks, similar ones in Madrid, London, Bali or small unit fights in Afghanistan and Iraq, a large part of his war has been based in a communication campaign.  He uses words and images to change the way other people think, feel, and behave.  Sometimes his messages are aimed at reassuring the faithful or attracting the interested; sometimes they are aimed at his Crusader enemies, warning them of coming attacks, explaining his rationale for declaring war, and just plain taunting.

Consider, too, his communication machine.  By all accounts the man has a large amount of money (probably in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars), sufficient access to communication technology (recording devices, Internet, ready connections with journalists), and many people to assist (delivering messages, gathering information on infidel efforts).  Perhaps, most importantly, he can design events to suit his purposes and he is not limited by normal civilized constraints (he can choose when to cut off an infidel head then choose when to release the tape of the beheading).  He’s a man of the people with long and wide experience in recruiting warriors and supporters and he’s connected to other men and organizations with similar goals and experiences.  While he can create great harm and damage with a well planned and executed attack, a much greater concern is his potential to attract millions of active supporters (the “Arab street”).  We’ve seen the devastation he managed with attacks on the USS Cole, African embassies, the 9/11 attacks, and others.

Now, put these resources into the hands of gifted persuaders and you can expect clear, obvious, and countable changes.  Guys like Lenin, Hitler, and Mussolini were able to accomplish more with less in a shorter period of time than Osama.

The best observable evidence we’ve got is that bin Laden is doing surprisingly poorly at roiling the Arab street.  This is not to saw that he’s not getting recruits.  Every honest source that tracks this reports a pipeline is still running.  But, the larger point is how small that pipeline is.

Certainly, the military and police operations conducted by the US and it allied infidels plays a major role here, but if millions of Arabs wanted to take up arms against a desert of unbelievers, the rush would make the US immigration problem look like a failed block party by comparison.

Consider it as a diffusion of innovation problem or to cast it in contemporary terms, the tipping point.  For more than 10 years bin Laden has been trying to create a mass movement that will actually produce the restored Islamist umma he desires.  Thousands of warriors cannot accomplish this goal.  He must generate an organized and extremely large population of millions of believers.

If you read the older diffusion literature (how a new idea goes from small to large acceptance) or the current tipping point popularization, in every observed case of a New Thing, there is a process of moving it through a population.  At first only a small group of innovators know about it, then a slightly larger group of early adopters accept it, then onto early majority, next the late majority, and finally the laggards.  The size of these five groups varies with each New Thing and its particular circumstances (adoption of the iPod in the 2000s versus adoption of the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany), but a key point is that there is almost always an inflection point on the adoption curve where suddenly the rate of adoption dramatically increases (the tipping point in pop parlance) and the New Thing takes off with an irresistible momentum.

Only the most paranoid advocate for the Long War thinks that the larger Arab world is marching as a result of Osama’s communication campaign.  A clear eyed review of the evidence indicates that the Bad Guys are failing badly at hitting a tipping point and have been failing since September 12, 2001.  Don’t misunderstand.  Even a few thousand fanatic militants are incredibly dangerous, but they haven’t hit the Big One, the Main Point, the Primary TACT Osama seeks:  the Totalitarian Islamic State.

Why?

I’d argue that the Osama persuasion machine is not very good.  It reeks with sincerity, authenticity, and deeply felt beliefs meaning that its messages tell you everything about them, but doesn’t really address you.  Thus, the persuasion machine is not a persuasion machine – seeking change in others – but rather an attraction machine – seeking to magnetize similar believers.  From a Standard Model perspective, Osama seems to think that if he just gets his message out (Reception and Exposure) the world will turn in his direction.  This is a classic hallmark of the zealot’s persuasion attempt.  They do all those noisy and colorful things to get you looking, but then they don’t have much of a message for you to think about.

Think about this failure another way.  What TACTs does Osama target?  Who does What When and Where?  His ultimate TACT has to have just plain folks marching in the streets demanding a new Islamicist state Osama-style.  Sure, he want Believers to give their money or their bodies to the Cause.  That’s good for the immediate struggle.  What about Believers marching in the streets of Cairo or Istanbul or, better still, Chicago or Bonn or Shanghai?

It’s clearly not happening despite all the money and Osama’s alleged information superiority.  The fact is, Osama is just bad at persuasion.  Consider the Rule:  Power Corrupts Persuasion.  Osama uses a gun to get where he’s going and if he cannot persuade you then he will kill you.  He gave up on persuasion a long time ago.

Update May 2012. Just a few months after this post, the Arab Street did finally erupt, just not to bin Laden’s planning or liking. It’s called the Arab Spring and is a popular uprising against Arab dictators with little evidence of support for or from bin Laden. You cannot Count this Change in bin Laden’s column. Further, one year ago the US Military raided bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, killed bin Laden, and collected a trove of documents. Declassified, these documents reveal serious persuasion problems for bin Laden up to the time he was killed.

I’ll stand by my original persuasion analysis.

FauxItAlls

Consider those who say more than they know:  FauxItAlls.

FauxItAlls presume for themselves a credential of knowledge, insight, or perspective that passes Low WATT or Biased High WATT inspection, but not Objective High WATT.  Many are bright, have good undergraduate educations, and probably had a respected professor tell them they’d excel as scholars or scientists, poets or politicians.  That puts you in the Club, right?

FauxItAlls beguile with expressiveness that passes for knowledge, talking the talk, but not walking the walk.  FauxItAlls may also be deceptive, rhetorical frauds covering ignorance with illusion, but generally they are justified.  They believe themselves.  And, they are also able to convince others, mainly other FauxItAlls, who don’t want to die in a lab or library or garret or election.  It’s just so much more rewarding to write for the New Yorker or appear on Charlie Rose or simply bedazzle the boys and the girls around the bar.  Consider this exemplar.

Steven Pinker provides a takedown of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book and, along the way, Gladwell’s approach.  I cringed while also agreeing with every vowel and consonant Pinker wrote.  And, of course, Gladwell is only a poster boy for those who say more than they know.

FauxItAlls pretending to elevation in scientific fields like Malcolm Gladwell are not reliable for one great reason:  They do not write for peer review.  If you are a scholar, a researcher, a scientist, one who lives on, by, and with the Edge of Truth, you must survive peer review.  FauxItAlls never write for peer review, but only for editorial review, market review, or legal review, certainly external standards of judgment, but standards aimed at style sheet, popularity, or lawsuits, not the anonymous approval of proven peers.

Peer review is a brutal process wherein you submit your writing to a proven, competent, and trustworthy peer chosen from a large, cantankerous association who then passes it on to several other proven peers for their anonymous opinion.  If the editor (the first peer) and the reviewers (the other peers) accept your writing, it goes into print as both a statement of possible truth and a statement for further consideration.  Other peers may then cite your writing as authority, take it as a launching point for further development, or laugh you out of the field.  Peer review does not guarantee the Truth.  But it is the closest thing to a guarantee we’ve discovered to date.

Pinker crushes Gladwell on one word, “igon.”  Gladwell uses the word in the authoritative manner of a FauxItAll in describing a mathematical concept and procedure of importance in one of his articles.  Gladwell clearly implies in his writing that he understands the igon, grasps why it is important to the people in his article, and that he could have done this himself if he wanted.  He implies, too, that he learned this from reading about it which is impossible if you know what an “igon” is.

See, it is “eigen,” which is pronounced in conversation as “i-gon.” If you only hear it (as Gladwell probably did when he interviewed people for his article) and don’t read it (which Gladwell may have, but did not realize that “igon” is “eigen”) then you can confidently write about igons.  If you are a top drawer FauxItAll, you can drop it meaningfully in conversation with other FauxItAlls, and no one will be the wiser all the while approving of your wisdom.  Thus “eigen” becomes “igon.”

Except for anyone who has survived peer review in a field that uses eigenvalues as part of its vocabulary.  Pinker knows about eigenvalues because he’s trained as a quantitative, experimental psychologist.  Eigenvalues are useful statistics for understanding factor analysis, interpreting brain scan data, and just plain fun for those who like to invert matrices in their heads rather than solve crossword puzzles in ink.  Otherwise, Igon’s may be interpreted as the name of Igor’s twin brother.

In this instance, the word “eigen” functions like Hitchcock’s McGuffin or the one mistake a killer makes on CSI.  You don’t need to know anything about eigenvalues yourself.  You just need to understand that this McGuffin reveals the point of the story, that it accuses and convicts the guilty party.  A FauxItAll hears an unfamiliar word, but rather than admit ignorance and ask for help, the FauxItAll turns a vast, but undereducated,  intellect upon it, determines its true meaning, and pronounces it loudly to the world.

Of course, this coinage reveals my envy and indirectly the envy of other suffering souls dying over data or metaphors or votes.  FauxEnvy, perhaps.  FauxGreen . . . but isn’t that Tom Friedman?

But, note:  no post in this blog has survived peer review.  I know the experience, but I provide here what I think I know without the benefit of the scalding you get from peer review. I just hope that Dr. Pinker approves!

P.S.   While planning this post, I asked Melanie to help me think of a word to describe those who say more than the know.  She thought about it and reeled off a couple of failures, then burst out, “FauxItAlls.”

Fooled by Randomness with Big Apple Crime

Big Apple GunThe New York Times headlines a story as,

“A Rise in Violent Crime Evokes City’s Unruly Past”

The article then winds a well written piece around recent increases in Big Apple crime and takes every opportunity to worry that it presages a return to the bad old days when crime rates everywhere in America reached peaks not seen in generations.  They even include numbers, statistics, and percentages, but no exclamation points.

Any one with any sense, even those of us lacking in formal statistical analysis, would be reluctant to draw such conclusions, yet journalists and advocates not only make a living with such fortune telling, but also actually seem to believe the tea leaves.  Just watching children or pets day by day teaches you about natural variation so that you don’t get fooled with minor fluctuations.  If you get trained in statistics, one of the first things you realize is that the Normal Curve is just a mathematician’s way of saying something varies a bit.

Yet, some folks, most notably in this instance, journalists and advocates, see Change where the rest of us see Personality.  Part of this is due to the fact that journalists and advocates are notorious number-knuckleheads.  Numbers are like quotations from people.  Just quote accurately and you understand.  You don’t have to actually think about the number or the quote and try to understand it.

It’s hard to figure who’s more antsy over this crime calm:  Criminals or Journalists.

If journalism is persuasion, then of course, these stories are just stories, little verbal strings of clever inSincerity.  But, journalism isn’t only or primarily persuasion, nor is advocacy.  They are supposed to be Sincere and when they are proven InSincere, they suffer badly, often fatally.

Scaredy Cat

FB Scaredy CatA few days ago I posted on an interesting error at the Wall Street Journal that revealed their Man Behind The Curtain.  The Journal is providing a Facebook box in their stories that lists which current WSJ entries are getting FB hits.  It’s like those boxes that have Most Emailed or Most Popular or Most Blogged on them.  That’s nothing surprising, but the error one day replaced that fairly innocuous information with something much more interesting:  My Facebook page.  Right.  Instead of just following links from Facebook to WSJ pages and aggregating that information, the Journal clearly has access to my personal page information (how else could they replicate it exactly?).  Stated another way, they have my complete data file that includes everything I’ve posted, plus whatever my Friends have posted.

Melanie visited WSJ that day with her computer and found the same thing occurring.  Even though she is not a subscriber and is not even a registered user at WSJ, her Facebook page also appeared in various WSJ articles.  In the following several days this has not happened again.

I found this curious so I contacted some tech bloggers about it and also posted at my Psychology Today blog, Persuade Me.  Now, most of my PT posts get under 500 hits, but popular ones will easily go over 1,000 in a few hours.  I expected a post that combines Facebook and Fox News (Fox owns the Journal) and this interesting access to personal FB information should have lit up my PT blog and email inbox.

It didn’t.

In what is now a window of seven days, that post has attracted under 500 hits.  I received not one follow up email from tech bloggers.

Color me both surprised and confused.

Without question, Facebook has sold my complete file to another source and that source is using my FB information to persuade me.  I don’t particularly care that the source is Fox and Rupert Murdoch.  I’d have the same concern with any other group.  Facebook is the rat in all this with a massive demonstration of Great and InSincere Persuasion that fooled me into providing a lot of friend-level information about myself that they then used for marketing purposes.

As a persuasion guy, I recognize and applaud their initial skill.  Mark Zuckerberg and his VC partners quickly realized the implication of the mass popularity of Facebook and they moved silently and effectively to secure a huge new database of marketing information.  Nowadays, they’ve clearly shifted from persuasion guys to power guys.  I think they’ve Jumped That Shark and are now just playing Bare Knuckle Business that would make a 19th century robber baron proud.  It’s rather like that old Sicilian proverb:  Behind every great fortune is a crime.

Just think about this.  Mark Zuckerberg can access the global Facebook database composed of millions of people with thousands of bits of personal information.  Any time he wants, he can view all of your information and do with it what he wishes.

As a citizen I’m surprised that Facebook is getting away with this and that there’s little more than flaming email, blog posts, and comments from people.  Virtually no one sees the Digital Danger that I perceive making me a Scaredy Cat or Cassandra or perhaps Just Another Fool.

Obama’s Over the Top

West Wing WeekWhen the press are complaining about access to the President, you know the President is doing something that is probably effective persuasion.  And, the press are complaining that they can’t get much time to ask him questions whether in large, noisy session or in a much desire exclusive interview.  But, if the President doesn’t talk to the press, how does he get the word out?

Here.

Whitehouse.gov has always been a great source of direct from the horse’s mouth information about the President, but during the Bush Administration, that website tended to be inert persuasion.  Not so with Mr. Obama.  If you haven’t visited Whitehouse.gov, I highly recommend you take the time to peruse it.  Obama is not simply posting up position papers, he’s persuading.  And, he’s using the Internet to jump over the traditional media sources just as others are using the Internet to jump the media in other ways (Craiglist!).

Shakespeare for Persuasion III – Dissonance

MetaphorProfessor Harold Bloom observed, “Shakespeare will go on explaining us because he invented us,” in his book, Shakespeare:  the Invention of the Human.  Bloom’s argument is that Shakespeare understood and represented human nature better than anyone before or since and thus gave us the image of ourselves.  If we study his images, we study ourselves.  Today, let’s consider a persuasion force, dissonance, that drives one of Shakespeare’s largest images:  tragedy.

We’ll pivot from Dr. Bloom to Professor A.C. Bradley and his analysis of Shakespeare art of tragedy.  [FauxItAll Sidebar:  If you like Shakespeare, you'd enjoy reading Professor Bradley's comments which you can acquire for free at Gutenberg.  Even though Bradley was a 19th century academic, he writes with a modern style and an eternal insight; he is sharp.]  Bradley explains how Shakespeare went about creating tragedy, how it was different from other tragedians before and after the Bard, and how Shakespeare made it happen.  Consider this string of quotes.

“The centre of the tragedy, therefore, may be said with equal truth to lie in action issuing from character, or in character issuing in action.”

“‘A tragedy is a story of exceptional calamity leading to the death of a man in high estate,’ . . . that the story is one of human actions producing exceptional calamity and ending in the death of such a man.”

“There is the standard dramatic conflict of a clash between two competing individuals or groups.  Shakespeare adds an additional conflict:  a clash of desires, values, spirits within the hero.  Call this the outer and inner conflicts.”

“. . . a fatal tendency to identify the whole being with one interest, object, passion, or habit of mind. This, it would seem, is, for Shakespeare, the fundamental tragic trait.”

“He errs, by action or omission; and his error, joining with other causes, brings on him ruin. This is always so with Shakespeare.  As we have seen, the idea of the tragic hero as a being destroyed simply and solely by external forces is quite alien to him; and not less so is the idea of the hero as contributing to his destruction only by acts in which we see no flaw. But the fatal imperfection or error, which is never absent, is of different kinds and degrees.”

Taken in summary Bradley argues that Shakespeare creates tragedy from an internally directed person who strives greatly in great circumstances, but through the flaws of human nature, chooses a course of action that will produce suffering then catastrophic failure.

Othello kills Desdemona in cold justification, driven both by jealousy and pride as manipulated by Iago.

Macbeth joins with his wife to murder his way to the throne, justified by prophecy, vaulting ambition, and a prideful wife.

Richard II thinks poetry will lead a country and scans English verse to his death.

Richard III murders to the throne and explains it with his strength of character formed from his misformed body.

Hamlet broods and kills to no end at all, justified with his exquisite ability to find and value nuance of thought.

In all Shakespearian tragedies, the hero deliberately chooses in ways that cause him great suffering – existential doubt, murder, usurpation – yet he persists to his doom only occasionally realizing at the end that he was fortune’s fool.  How can any human persist in such suffering and still be human?

Dissonance.

Shakespeare’s tragic characters all suffer for what they love and that suffering serves to intensify their drive, their choices, their actions and motivate the movement of the play to the ultimate disaster.

As readers or viewers of these plays, we can observe the errors, but it is up to the actor to sell the dissonance that must drive the suffering.  If you see a performance of a Shakespearian tragedy and don’t feel compelled, you probably saw an actor who could not convince you of the psycho-logic dissonance causes.  As a great example, I’ve seen King Lear both live and in films, but it wasn’t until I saw Laurence Olivier’s interpretation that I finally believed Lear and understood the play.  Olivier made Lear’s suffering seem not honorable or foolish, but just Lear’s character, a man who loved his power more than his ability to understand it or use it wisely.

Shakespeare as near as I can discern did not understand dissonance in an overt and clear way and he certainly never tried to explain it.  He just seemed to understand human nature and in particular this most strange thing called dissonance.

Spotting InSincere, but Persuasive Science

QuackeryQuackwatch.org provides reliable knowledge and comment on health and safety claims functioning somewhat like the popular Snopes.com that debunks urban legends.  Quackwatch ferrets out the weasels who pitch snake oil to distressed town folk warning you in time to spare you wallet and maybe your health.  One nice feature at Quackwatch is the Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science by Robert Park.

1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.

2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.

3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.

4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.

5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.

6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.

7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

As you scan over these Seven Signs (which sounds more than a bit Biblical, doesn’t it?), you can surely remember claims you’ve seen on the web employing exactly one or more of the Signs.  And, if you think just a bit more, you can see the hand of persuasion moving under these Seven Signs.

Most particularly, they require Low WATT processing from the consumer.  As long as you don’t get too thoughtful about anything, the Bogus Scientist has a chance for the sale.  The central claim in the Seven Signs is the Lonely Genius Fighting The Establishment which is basically the Authority Cue combined with the Scarcity Cue.

The largest threat to your persuasive freedom is your own human nature and your tendency to go Low WATT.  Education in the form of this blog and various reliable readings provide some relief, but while you should trust everybody, always cut the cards.