Monthly Archives: September 2011

NonProfit Science

Marion Nestle is a bona fide public expert on nutrition with an earned doctorate in molecular biology no less.  She’s also an academic in good standing.  She writes this review of a JAMA study in the Atlantic magazine:

The latest issue of JAMA has a paper on a “portfolio” of dietary means to reduce blood cholesterol levels.  The paper is likely to get lots of press because it concludes that consuming the “portfolio”–a combination of plant sterols, soy protein, viscous fibers, and nuts–does a better job of lowering LDL-cholesterol (the “bad” kind) than does dietary advice to reduce saturated fat.  The paper is unusually difficult to read. I interpret the study in part as a drug trial.

If you follow the link (pdf) Nestle provides, you can read this unusually difficult drug trial for yourself.  The paper reports the outcomes from a randomized controlled trial where volunteers were assigned into one of three diet advice programs, followed for 6 months, then measured on a wide variety of indicators, but most particularly on LDL cholesterol.  The main finding was that dietary recommendations to eat plant sterols, nuts, and soy proteins led to healthier LDL scores at a Small Windowpane effect size.  Thus, making a change to one’s diet makes changes in LDL scores.  That diet affects LDL is not news; the news here is that plant sterols, nuts, and soy proteins accomplish this and at about the same effect size as taking a pill.  Some people have high LDL, but react badly to medication; some just don’t like pills, but want to lower LDL.  Here’s a pill-free method that appears to work in the short term about as well as the pill.

The more interesting element of this rather commonplace event is Nestle’s description of the research as “unusually difficult” and as a “kind of drug trial.”  If you are in good standing in the peer review literature there’s no way this report is Unusually Difficult or even Usually Difficult.  The researchers do an excellent job describing both the methods and the results and I feel pretty confident that workers in this area could replicate this study without much difficulty.  It’s all there.  It actually over-reports by the usual JAMA standards, making it both easier to replicate, but also more detailed.  Certainly, there’s a lot of stuff in there, but each piece is quite simple and straightforward.

And a “kind of drug trial?”  Why would anyone, but most particularly a nutritionist with a doctorate in molecular biology call a food study a drug trial?  There’s a huge scientific and legal difference between a Food and a Drug and to see them as similar is to note they are both 4 letter words.  The active ingredient in this drug trial was dietary advice – what an expert told a volunteer participant to eat.   Even the JAMA editors and reviewers saw this as a communication intervention for dietary change.

We can understand why Nestle might see this paper as an unusually difficult drug study when we note that she notes,

One look at the Abstract and I immediately suspected that this study must have been sponsored by a maker of plant sterol margarines.  Bingo!

Another way to say, Bingo, is Ding-Dong!  Either term denotes the process.  Automatic.  Thoughtless.  When a for-profit group funds the science, you get a food study that is actually an unusually difficult kinda drug trial.  Those lying liars at Big Food bought a team of scientists, then bought the reviewers and editors at JAMA, and snuck this unusually difficult, kinda drug trial in the peer review literature.  Those biased, greedy, but effective bastards.  (As we’ve studied before on “ghostwriting” scientific reports.)

You see the problem here.  JAMA is a peer review research journal that for all its flaws is one of the stronger examples of this form of scientific communication.  The scientific community has decided that full disclosure from authors is the best way to handle scientific and ethical challenges.  The scientific community does not automatically Ding-Dong and exclude research submissions because of these concerns.  Disclosure of bias, real or potential, is how science proceeds.

But, not the NonProfit Science of Nestle.  She spots the raccoon in the Abstract.  Thank goodness, we have NonProfit science to save us.  Real scientists who don’t have financial incentives that bias their work . . . like writing for the Atlantic magazine.  Nestle doesn’t get paid through those ads on her Atlantic page?  And, writing in the Atlantic doesn’t have any other benefits, does it?

And because my book on calories is coming out next March, I must point out that the study groups reported losing small amounts of weight, which means they must also have reduced their calorie intake. Weight loss alone should help with blood cholesterol.

Hey, scientists, if you want the Truth, don’t read those biased peer review reports with Full Disclosure in JAMA, just wait until March for Nestle’s pop press book!  You read about it in the Atlantic magazine!  With all that advertising and self promotion.  That affects no one’s judgment!

And, yes, as her last quote carefully observes, the research did report that all three groups ate less and lost weight.  But only the diet advice for sterols, soy, and nuts led to weight loss and the lower LDL.  I guess that’s what makes this report unusually difficult.  When the lying liars who are Big Food lackeys say only one group lost weight and lowered LDL, that’s not what it really means.  You can see that if you are reading the lines between the lines and not the lines themselves.

Nonprofit science.  No bias.  Bingo!


Progressive Dissonance, the Contradiction in Terms

If you read the Dissonance literature you unfortunately tend to find examples of its operation in political, social, and ethical applications from the Right – Republicans, conservatives, faithful, military, right wing authoritarians, F-scale fascists,   and on and on.  Dissonance and its Reduction explain George W. Bush and the Iraq War (and the Global War on Terror), Mrs. Creech and her Doomsday Cult of True Believers, as notable examples.  For a more detailed illustration you can read this book on Dissonance which seems to explain that the Right operates primarily and apparently exclusively on Dissonance.  I call this commonplace “unfortunate” because it reveals a surprising bias in people who are supposed to be scientific and because it limits our understanding of the general phenomena of Dissonance, and especially Its Reduction.

Consider today, the Left, Mr. Obama, and one specific example.  After repeated failures to enact any meaningful legislation that increases taxes on The Wealthy, Mr. Obama persists in his dogged pursuit of that much failed idea.  Among voters, his Party, and his Base Mr. Obama’s standing is better understood as his falling – no one loves the One any longer.  And, on this tax issue, while it is standard progressive policy, even among the smartest political scientists and operatives within the Left, there is dispute about its current utility.

Yet, Mr. Obama persists.  And most importantly for Dissonance Theory, Mr. Obama suffers for his persistence.  Ralph Nader is urging competitors to enter Democratic primaries to challenge Mr. Obama.  Editorials from Elite Media sympathizers now dismiss Obama’s skill and accomplishment when offering any praise.  Talk of One Term is now a commonplace and not a violation.  And, then, the inevitable comparisons to Jimmy Carter.  Remember, Obama won the Nobel Prize in a vote taken before he even swore the oath of office without curing cancer, uniting Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land, and inventing a good five cent cigar.

If the Tax The Rich Obama is not the walking and talking embodiment of Dissonance Reduction, the theory has no meaning.  Yet, I do not find examples of Left observers making this obvious observation.

Now, chew on this.

The Cool Table spotted the Dissonance raccoon with Mr. Bush and the War on Terror in a flash.  Why does Bush persist with this hated war?  He suffers for what he (stupidly) loves.  Dissonance Reduction, baby.

Now, Mr. Obama pursues the War on Terror with new brand names, but essentially the same policy as Mr. Bush.  So.  Is Dissonance Reduction with the War on Terror contagious among Presidents?  Or, perhaps, the Cool Table misdiagnosed Bush’s motivation as Dissonance when it was simply the best option on the policy table, as Mr. Obama discovered.

Persuasion theory applies to all faces and places, times and rhymes or else it has no meaning.  Party affiliation or political philosophy create different Persuasion Boxes, but the Persuasion Play is still the same and applies equally.

Nuanced! Complicated! No. Just Science!

Two years ago I reported the terrible persuasion, but fabulous science, news about calorie restricted diets.  Monkeys who ate a lot less lived longer than monkeys who ate a normal primate diet.  The zealots and pop press FauxItAlls fell for this, while, of course, the science is a bit more unsettled.  Today consider this interesting update on diet and mortality.

Please try and chase down this perspective piece published in Cell Metabolism.  The authors provide a great overview of this research and demonstrate that the simple Eat Less, Live Longer!!! headline is nowhere near true.  They review experimental studies that manipulate not total calories, but types of calories, carbs and proteins for example, in varying proportions with different species and find very different mortality (and fertility) outcomes.  I’m going to show you a fascinating contour graph that illustrates this complexity.  Take a minute to look through this.  Click to enlarge.

If you’re trained as a behavioral scientist, this graphic is a bit confusing because it displays an enormous amount of information in a highly compressed format.  It depicts two independent variables on the X and Y axes with the dependent variables in the body shown with color and contour lines as an implied Z axis.  Let’s get oriented, big picture first.

Realize that the left column looks at Mortality while the right column looks at Fertility.  As you look at each row, you see that each is for a different species, Drosophila, Crickets, and so on.  Within each Figure, the X and Y axis corresponds to the amount of Protein (on the X) and Carbs (on the Y).  The color contours within each Figure show the average survival in days of the insect given the various combinations of Proteins and Carbs.  Think of the colors as contours of a mountain with the red indicating the longest survival and the blue as the shortest.  Thus, these contour maps are 3 dimensional.  You have to imagine the Z axis as a flagpole coming straight out of the page and those different colors as rising “elevation.”  Can you see the different “mountains” of survival or fertility now and how they vary with different combinations of Carbs and Proteins?

Look at the contours for the last two rows corresponding to female and male field crickets.  See that different combinations of Proteins and Carbs produce greater survival depending on sex.  Females live longer with more Carbs and less Protein.  Males live longer with more Protein and less Carbs.  And realize that this is NOT a calorie restricted diet.  It only varies the proportion of nutrient types.

The authors of this paper also note a variety of new studies, most published since 2009, that have found harmful effects to restricted diets.  These directly contradict the Headline of Eat Less, Live Longer.  Now, add in what these color contour Figures show:  Proportion of nutrients determines mortality.  Simpson and Rabenheimer have proposed a Geometric Framework that goes beyond the earlier and simpler models of Eat Less, Live Longer.  GF can explain why calorie restriction works and why it doesn’t work with this balance or proportion framework.  Arguably the positive effect of calorie restriction arises from the fortuitous impact of calorie type – even with fewer calories the critters were getting enough in proper proportion.  And, when calorie restriction is harmful, it arguably arises from a bad proportion.

Now, the GF framework does not work only with Carbs and Proteins and in fact argues it might be a good idea to look at another kind of nutrient, Fat, and work with even more complicated diet proportions.  Like any good theory, GF stimulates as many interesting questions as it does good answers. Shootfire, if you get this kind of variation in survival with just Carbs and Proteins, imagine if you add Fats? More variety expected. And this is with bugs. Do you think it’s going to be less complicated with monkeys and chimps? Humans?

What are the persuasion implications of this science?

Hey, there are a lot of suckers out there and more are born every minute.  With the Drum and Bugle Corps of pop press and health and safety zealots, you can find a lot of ways to make money on simple Headlines.  As long as the FauxItAlls are pitching Eat Less, you can Make More.  Jeepers, the US spends nearly 20% of GDP on health, plans to spend $1 trillion on Health Care We Can Believe In that will make a 1% impact on mortality, passes national laws requiring calories counts on menus that has no impact on eating, and, well, if you read the Persuasion Blog you know the litany. With news like this you have even more plausible confusion. Ratios, baby, ratios. And it’s different for women than for men. And for fertility compared to life span.  It’s a gold rush, so expect a lot of gold digging and gold diggers.

Of course, if you actually want to Make The World A Better Place, you need to think more carefully about your persuasion.  Clearly all the simple Food Police exhortations are not based on Falling Apples.  Eat Less, Ban Fat, Kill Salt, Count Calories are just plain persuasion applesauce aimed at personal and political agendas.  And, I’m not criticizing anyone who’s getting ahead on Simple Science for Simple Minds.  That’s persuasion, baby, and I’ll tip the persuasion hat in your direction.  If that’s how you get tenure, fame and fortune, film at 11 with Charlie Rose, then you are a maven.

But, you’re also a scientific sheep in the persuasion wolf’s clothing.

Piper MD, Partridge L, Raubenheimer D, Simpson SJ. Dietary restriction and aging: a unifying perspective. Cell Metabolism. 2011 Aug 3;14(2):154-60.

PMID: 21803286

P.S. Okay, Steve where are the effect sizes and tests of statistical significance? Why only graphic information? This is a perspective paper that does not report such information, but rather points the interested reader to the original work. I chased down a couple and found effect sizes that range from Small to Large to Ginormous. Each contour graph here shows the results of huge experiments at least by persuasion standards. There are 24 cells in some of these panels with 10-20 “participants” (insects) per cell. The “effect” depends upon what you are looking for and can be played like the statistics guitar, but these are not those trivial observational exclamations of 116%!!! And, they arise from true experiments with replications across species. The numbers look solid to me. But you can chase the references yourself and correct me as needed.

Small Effects, Social Problems, and Change

Divorce kills!  Bad mothers breed killers!  Really!

The experience of divorce is associated with a statistically significant increased risk for early death from all causes. Quantitative synthesis of 32 prospective studies involving more than 6.5 million adults and over 755,000 divorces yielded an overall (multivariate adjusted) mean RH of 1.23 for the association between martial separation/divorce and early death . . . For men, the divorce–mortality effect approximates the meta-analytically derived risks for all-cause mortality associated with two important public health outcomes: having an elevated body mass index (McGee, 2005) and failing to get regular aerobic exercise (Nocon et al., 2008).

Now bad mothers and their bad kids.

The infants’ observed aggressiveness was significantly correlated with mothers’ mood disorder during pregnancy and with mothers’ history of conduct problems.  Infants’ observed aggressiveness was correlated with parents’ ratings of infants’ anger and aggression, which were also predicted by mothers’ mood disorder and history of conduct problems.  Our findings indicate that infants at risk for serious aggression can already be identified when the motor ability to use physical force first enters the human repertoire.

Here’s the Table that displays the results to back that.  Click to enlarge if needed.

The divorce study is a well done meta analysis while the bad mothers study is a well done longitudinal observational study.  The divorce meta contains studies similar in method to the bad mothers research.  The meta authors thoughtfully and carefully selected only particular, high quality studies for the meta.  Let me highlight just 3 of the 8 selection criteria that I think are most compelling.

  • Prospective cohort design involving a community sample of healthy adults.
  • Exclusion of cross-sectional studies (that use discrete-time modeling procedures and typically rely on the odds ratio statistic to quantify a cross-sectional association).  !!!!!!!
  • Exclusion of overlapping studies that report data from the same samples. In the case of redundant samples, the most comprehensive papers on marital status were selected.

The nature of these topics precludes experimental methods, but at least we’re dealing with strong longitudinal (prospective) designs, specific exclusion of those one-shot cross sectional designs, and carefully inspected publications to spot repeated use of the same dataset for different purposes.  So, this is about as good as the science of divorce and bad mothers is going to get.

Now realize the Small Windowpanes here.  In the divorce meta, that RH of 1.23 is less than half of a Small Effect.  The bad mothers outcomes are Smallish Windowpanes, in the neighborhood of 43/57.  And realize that these are observational studies with uncontrolled assignment to the assumed independent variables.  Sure, we’ve got large samples, but that invents statistical significance which is not the same thing as clinical, practical, or even scientific significance.  Yet, the authors of both reports argue as if we are dealing with a major threat to health and safety.

But both as a scientist and a persuasion guy, I see these outcomes as No News while the authors try to make something closer to a Doomsday Defense.  All Bad Science Is Persuasive!  Just that comparison to obesity and exercise in the divorce meta makes the thing overwrought for me.  Let’s spend billions of dollars on a National Divorce Intervention the same way we’re spending billions on Lifestyle and getting nothing for it.  When even good Observational Research is delivering Less Than Small Effects, it’s time to move on.

Just think like a persuasion maven for a minute.  Are there any proven interventions that reduce divorce rates at a national level?  How about this one:  Tough divorce laws.  Hey, remember the Bad Old Days when no one got divorced (the kids, baby, the kids).  Were we living longer back then?  Of course not.  And remember the carnage of all those lives lived in Quiet Desperation?  Laws don’t seem to be the answer here.

And with bad mothers who smoke, suffer mood disorders, and find themselves in a bad social index, what shall we do?  Mandatory anti-psychotic drug therapy?  Reversible sterilization for women who smoke?  Perhaps a swell persuasion campaign about Do It For The Kids?

We’re in the days of Hope and Change, so you could do that wide-spectrum policy thing, also known as the Kitchen Sink at the Table of Brotherhood, wherein you contact all the factions for their preferred Intervention, put them all in the Law, and away we go to re-election, if not the Shining City on the Hill.  We’ll even include more funding at NIMH for observational studies and for training APA and APS certified marriage and family counselors.  If your science isn’t getting where you want to go, get a law passed.  That’s what the Food Police do.

Thinking through these studies with a persuasion orientation reveals serious problems in their conclusions.  So even if a Little Small Effect is real, there’s little we can do to moderate it.  Which points me back to my old professor admonition that if you think you understand it, change it.  And if you can’t change it, then maybe you don’t understand it.

David A. Sbarra, Rita W. Law, and Robert M. Portley.  (2011). Divorce and Death: A Meta-Analysis and Research Agenda for Clinical, Social, and Health Psychology.  Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 454-474.


Hay DF, Mundy L, Roberts S, Carta R, Waters CS, Perra O, Jones R, Jones I, Goodyer I, Harold G, Thapar A,  and van Goozen S. (2011). Known Risk Factors for Violence Predict 12-Month-Old Infants’ Aggressiveness With Peers.  Psychological Science, Aug 18. [Epub ahead of print].

No doi available.

Papa’s Persuasion or Sincere Biography

Persuasion mavens do not show their hand during the play which is another way of saying you never know the heart of a maven.  You never know exactly how a maven perceives the Other Guy, or precisely which Other Guy a maven targets.  You can’t be sure the TACTs the maven seeks and ultimately, you don’t know the Strategy, the final goal a maven seeks.  Persuasion’s motivation is known only to the maven because disclosed motivation reveals too much.  To criticize any maven during a play is a fool’s game.  And, perhaps, even after the play with all the interviews and confessions, any criticism must look over its shoulder, wondering whether even in death the maven pursues persuasion.

I shuddered with this observation when I read Fame Became Of Him, a 1984 biography of Ernest Hemingway as a public writer by an English professor, John Raeburn and a related 2006 book, Hemingway and the Mechanism of Fame, edited by Matthew Bruccoli.  I picked up these books thinking they would provide another view on an artist using persuasion as with Richard Wagner.  A unique case from a distant corner that reveals the art and science of persuasion, the place you’d never look to understand eternal principles, so I thought.  And Raeburn and Brucculi do provide some illumination here, but mainly they show their slips to reveal a disdain of persuasion when it appears with an object of admiration.  Start with Hemingway.

Of course he persuaded for his art and his success.  He did not throw his manuscript out from a garret window, then move onto the next book with no more regard for the past effort just tossed on the street.  He did not awaken one day to a pounding on his door, then open it to find a mob of adoring fans shouting quotations.  Publishing a book is an inherently and unavoidably social enterprise that requires a stable network of cooperating players.  That anything identifiable as Art emerges from this is a happy, but unpredictable outcome.

Raeburn provides an extensive, coherent, and orderly timeline of Hemingway’s activities as a public writer.  What emerges most strongly for me is the contrast between Wagner and Hemingway rather than the comparison I had expected.  In the mid 1800s, Wagner helped invent modern persuasion through a communication network.  By the time Hemingway came along in 1920 as a public writer that network was in full swing.  Hemingway invented no new persuasion tactics as Wagner did, but rather Hemingway simply used the communication network differently.

By all accounts, Ernest Hemingway struck most people as a compelling, fascinating, and powerful source.  As one easy illustration, when Hemingway returned to the US in 1919 on a troop transport following his military service in World War I, he was interviewed dockside by two different newspaper writers for two different newspapers.  Hemingway was 19 years old at the time and just another doughboy among the hundreds of others on that troopship.  Yet, two different reporters who talked with certainly dozens of different soldiers, decided to write headlined articles only about Hemingway.  They described him as the most wounded soldier in the war with over 200 injuries from his service.  Even before he became Papa, Hemingway commanded attention and comment.  Thus, it is highly likely that Hemingway would have been famous even without writing For Whom The Bell Tolls.

Furthermore, Hemingway combined art and life in ways that violate the stereotypes of many people, including English professors.  Playing Freud only briefly, his parents show his dichotomy.  His mother loved art and culture; his father loved the out of doors.  Hemingway grew up with an affinity developed by both nature and nurture that combined qualities often viewed as antagonistic.  He combined them into his charismatic personality and followed a life that is today sweetly played in The World’s Most Interesting Man ad (YouTube) campaign for the beer, Dos Equis.

Now, focus those attributes on a writer who could create great fiction and great nonfiction with an eye towards hitting the standards of an art audience and the mass audience.  Hemingway managed, I think, to lead an interesting life and create different kinds of written achievement along the way.  Combine Hemingway’s apparent charisma and you’ve got the prime ingredients for a massive success, artistic and popular, fame and fortune.  Hemingway appears to have just plugged into the mediated persuasion machine with his skills rather than inventing a new kind of machine as Wagner did.

Pivot here to the more interesting persuasion news in these two books.  Both Raeburn and Bruccoli seem to know that Hemingway should have produced several more great works, but because he pursued public fame, he squandered his talent.  Such thinking seems plausible enough – Hemingway produced less great fiction as he became more famous – but deeper reflection renders it as a convenient fiction people use when evaluating others.  Consider two challenges to the hypothesis that fame kills talent.

First, as William Goldman observed in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade about making movies: Nobody Knows Anything.  That’s how he explains the seemingly random variation from flop to hit to flop to hit the movie industry produces.  Certainly no one in the movie business wants to fail, but fail they do and because as Goldman notes:  Nobody Knows Anything.

Second, consider my first Rule of persuasion:  There Are No Laws (and If There Were Why Would I Tell You).  Anyone who knows the Laws of Persuasion is my Queen of Tomorrow fiction and would run the world just as anyone would rule Hollywood is they Knew Anything.

Now, if people like Goldman and me are wrong and people like Raeburn and Bruccoli are right, there’s an easy and obvious test to prove it.  Raeburn and Bruccoli should be able to identify current writers who are squandering their talent on fame (i.e. the persuasion media machine) and explain this to those writers who will then produce more and better art compared to those current writers Raeburn and Bruccoli don’t warn.

When you take such thinking and apply this kind of testing to it, I think its fallacy becomes obvious.  Raeburn and Bruccoli could not change the future with their assertion about the inverse and perverse relationship between fame and output.  They can only use it to explain what cannot change:  The past.  Thus, their criticism is truly and only counterfactual, a rewriting of a life and a history that is dead and unchangeable.

Which leads me to rhyme on my prime Rule.

All Bad Biography Is Sincere.

Smoke and Mirrors with Tipping Points and Nudges

John Dvorak writes a premature, but probable, obituary for Research In Motion, better known for its Blackberry device.  Remember when it was All That and called the CrackBerry?  Now, Research In Motion is a poor imitation of a me-too company that cannot compete with Android or Apple.

BERKELEY, Calif. (MarketWatch) — I’ve been reluctant to write a column declaring that it’s over for Research In Motion Ltd. and its BlackBerry, but with this week’s numbers and forecasts I cannot see the company making another comeback, ever.


So, persuasion mavens.  Use that fabulous Tipping Point theory to explain it.  Once Blackberry tipped into CrackBerry and now it has tipped again into ByeBerry.

Do you only tip up?  Isn’t tipping down the same thing as tipping up, but in reverse?  How could RIM be smart enough to tip up, but not smart enough to avoid the tip down?  How could Malcolm Gladwell see only the sky above and not the earth below?

No.  No tipping points here.  Nudge.  Nudge to the stars, then nudge to the ground.

Or maybe Tipping Points is just an old version of Nudge and Nudge is just the new version of Tipping Points, pop persuasion without any persuasion science.  There is a difference between Footnoting and Footnotes.

The Rules (amended):  There’s a Difference between Smoke and Mirrors, and Persuasion Science;  with Persuasion Science, the Illusion Persists.


Storming Wall Street with twitter – Update

Recall Kalle Lasn’s twitter assault on Wall Street. Smell Arab Spring in the Manhattan air! So, how’d it go?

At the main website for this persuasion event, the promoters assert that five thousand people have participated in the protest on Wall Street over the past week.  At least three hundred people have pitched tents in a nearby park and maintained a constant physical presence through the week.  Here’s one for the better photos from the event.

Great shot.  Fabulous flag with all those corporate logos as the stars on the blue field.  Great size on the flag, too.  And, maintaining the Arab Spring motif, note the protesters waving their shoes in the air.  Finally, note the fabulous cropping job so you see only a vibrant, enthusiastic shot that reveals nothing of the actual crowd size.

Of course, if you look carefully at the shot, you realize that it is Photoshopped to within an inch of its life.  There’s no way they got that flag up and wrapped around those columns in such a nice snug fit.  The immediate foreground is all out of perspective and shading.  It appears they just took a standard shot of the building and added in the rest.

Man, and they used twitter!  How can the People remain deluded?

Consider persuasion lessons.

All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.  I don’t doubt the authenticity of the people in this event.  Some got arrested for protesting in the nude and for wearing masks (kinda like trying to be the Good KKK).  They are really trying.

It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid.  As I’ve repetitively noted with protest persuasion, nothing with the Other Guy changes.  The only thing that varies is the costume.  If you want to change the world, you have to change the Other Guy, not your outfit.

Ahh, twitter.  Arab Spring.  Occupy Wall Street.  Save ObamaSave Troy Davis.  Change the world as we know it.

Mavens of the world unite!  You have nothing to lose but your success!



Persuasion Perils of Famous Friends

One of the most common persuasion strategies for selling anything is to associate that anything with famous people.  You simply Ding-Dong the anything with the fame, let the Comparison Cue do its work, and away you go to your own fame and fortune.  But this simple, traditional persuasion tactic doesn’t always work.  We noted earlier the unfortunate business failure of Maria Pinto, a fashion designer who had the affection of that famous person, Michelle Obama.  Refresh your memory with a picture.

Despite the unsolicited and unpaid participation of Mrs. Obama in Maria Pinto’s work, all that fame and accompanying Exposure and Reception could not save Pinto’s business.  It appears that Pinto got overwhelmed with the attention and simply could not grow and manage her business to handle the fame.  As the Great Gatsby cautioned, be careful to what you aspire.  Obama’s massive fame overmatched Pinto’s business ability.

Now, Mrs. Obama is again providing unsolicited and unpaid participation in a new designer’s work.  Katie Decker makes jewelry and Mrs. Obama wore a fabulous diamond cuff at a recent soiree.  Both Obama and Decker are getting a lot of buzz about the beautiful piece.  (Please don’t tell Melanie about this.  She loves diamonds almost as much as Structural Equation Modeling.)  Take a gander.

Now.  Once again we have a persuasion case of a standard tactic in operation.  Ding-Dong anything with a famous people and away you go.  With Maria Pinto, away she went with her business over the cliff.

Katie Decker?

With a wary glance at F. Scott Fitzgerald, we’ll wait and watch to see how Decker responds to the rewards and punishments of successful persuasion.  You usually fail at your TACT because your persuasion fails.  But realize you can still fail at your TACT because your persuasion succeeds.

Fox and Google Republican Primary Debate

Well.  That’s was interesting.  Here I do not care who won or had the best night.  Persuasion for mavens, not advocates.

I watched the event through YouTube rather than Fox.  Fox cut to commercials while the YouTube broadcast used that time to include an incredible amount of detail in real time that can only arise from the Internet.  Compared to the Obama twitter events, this production actually made an interesting use of old and new communication technology.  Consider the format.

The debate looked like a made for TV event just like every Presidential type debate you’ve seen since Kennedy-Nixon in 1960.  (You have seen that, like I did, right?)  The stage is jazzier than the black and white TV studio from 1960, but it is the same thing.

But through the YouTube channel the event gets transformed.  For example, you got the real time word cloud of content from questioners for the next debate segment.

And during those Fox TV commercial breaks the YouTube presenters talked more details about online comment.

And you could click onto other real time features.  Like the kind of questions people were asking and in what proportions.

And, as interesting to me was that during the debate Mitt Romney’s staff was actively twittering while the main contenders (Rick Perry!) left the instant communication possibilities inert.

What else is interesting is that the event did not get the stovepiping treatment other news media demonstrated with the Obama twitter Town Hall.  You’ll recall that virtually no news source covered that.  As this graph demonstrates, hundreds of sources reported on the Fox/Google debate.

Thus, this debate not only generated Exposure and Reception through live channels of Fox and Google, but it also got amplified through other sources.

What are the immediate lessons for persuasion mavens?

Combination of Old and New Technology.  Figure out how to mix the best features of broadcast TV and Web 2.0 for your goals.  Fox and Google clearly worked closely together to play to each other’s strengths and in so doing made the joint venture stronger for both.  The combination also benefits the Republican contenders who got their message out to more people in a wide variety of channels that provided both push and pull of information between the candidates and viewers.  Everyone had more commitment here.  Don’t you expect the Presidential Debates between the Republican and Democratic nominees next year to look more like this than that insipid twitter Town Hall?

Mitt Kept Closing.  During the event the Romney campaign continued to live twitter and attract tweets from anyone interested.  Does this violate the persuasion Rule, Never Always Be Closing?  Rick Perry, Romney’s strongest competitor now maintained a blank slate during the event.  We get into interesting Attribution Theory dynamics here, especially with the Actor-Observer difference. What happens when Romney is both an Actor in the debate but is also an Observer with his tweets (even though his staff actually tweeted). To the viewer, the Attribution elements can get complicated. Does Romney’s persistence look desperate?  Did Perry miss a main chance?  Will Batman escape the Riddler’s trap?  Stay tuned!

I actually enjoyed an early primary debate.

Persuasion Analysis of Climate Change 2.0

I appreciate that the insiders at Facebook, twitter, and that gang of 2.0 suspects are making money from Social Media, so there’s definitely some there, there. However, for the great remnant of those left behind, I remain unconvinced of the New New Thing. Look now at Al Gore and his latest mediated 2.0 foray into the Climate Change Wars.

At, Mr. Gore is running a 24 hour 2.0 telethon to save the Earth, but instead of Jerry Lewis and panels of phone banks with retirees waving at the camera, he’s using all the spells and incantations made possible through the wizardry of the world wide web. It is a cool web site. Here’s the landing page on September 15, 2011 at 4:50pm Eastern.  (Click to enlarge all the CRP images.)

Look at all the great features. The page design is clean and even with a great deal going on, the page is easy to understand and navigate. There’s a continuous twitter feed box on the right, a live video of the current presenter, that top line with 24 hour increments for the various presentations, and great action buttons at the bottom of the screen shot, Join Us, Take Action, Donate. If you hover on one of those buttons, you get more info on the screen, like this for Join Us.

All those 2.0 platforms including doggy old email for all those Father’s Oldsmobile drivers. And just a click, baby, just a click connects you. Consider here the Take Action options.

That “donate your Facebook page” option is an interesting wrinkle. You can give access to your Facebook page to the ClimateReality effort which means they can push their content through your page and you don’t have to do anything technical to enable this. Man, talk about immediately and wildly increasing Exposure and potential Reception here. Wow. In real time, the ClimateReality website can broadcast out through literally thousands of Facebook pages. ClimateReality notes that this option reaches nearly 4 million Facebook friends.  Thus, ClimateReality reached people well beyond their website and pushed their message in real time to several million potential viewers through their Facebook friends.

So, ClimateReality dances along the cutting edge of Web 2.0 with a topic obviously aimed at persuasion and behavior change. The design and content of the site shouts its expertise. And, they kicked the digital bar up a notch with that groovy Facebook donation. Does it get any better than this?

At first pass, I’d guess many observers think Gore and ClimateReality hit the mark, but let’s think about it with a maven’s skepticism.

How much Exposure/Reception did they really get?

Al Gore is an automatic Exposure Machine for Climate Change. He can grab a podium anytime and any place and get attention. In part he has built a PR echo chamber that reflexively covers him which in turn attracts more attention from other relatively independent sources. Thus, because the Activist Green Machine dotes on Gore, they fire up their networks which attracts Mainstream Media. That’s good.

What’s bad about this, however, is that Gore and the Green Machine have been crying Weather Wolf for so long, all that Automatic Exposure tends to get dismissed quickly. Oh, Him Again. An old Petty and Cacioppo study manipulated frequency of viewings and found that boomerang effect occurred fairly quickly. Mr. Gore clearly understands this, which explains in part that brilliant Facebook donation play. Consider it.

Sure, many people who donate their FB page are committed Green and all their friends know it and it’s also likely that many of those friends are also true Green. But realize that even within the well established Interpersonal Similarity Effect (birds of a feather flock together), those Facebook networks must include additional non-Green friends. Thus, Gore enhances his Automatic Exposure (and Oh, Him Again) machine with a pushed message through Facebook to friends of friends.

This is fabulous persuasion. The best way for a stranger to reach other strangers is through the friends of those strangers. Gore is getting his message out to non-Green strangers, but moderated and mediated by those intervening FB friends. Imagine that you opened your Facebook page and read on the Wall an Al Gore Climate Change message through one of your friends. You may have some kind of biased response (that Oh Him Again), but there’s a reasonable chance you might have read it with that general friendly openness you typically feel when reading the Wall. Hey, how are your friends doing today? From such a perspective, you tend to have a more relaxed and open mind. Gore’s message is more likely to slide in here and motivate some kind of favorable Reception from you.

But, just to stay skeptical, how much more Reception? On the day of the big event, the ClimateReality website figured that 4 million FB friends got a message on their Walls. According to official Facebook statistics, the average user has 130 friends. That means about 30,000 people donated their page to Gore. Out of 750 million available accounts, Gore got 30 thousand, or expressed as a percentage, 0.004%! Stated another way, 99.996% of Facebook accounts did not donate for an Al Gore message. And, let’s get even more depressed. Facebook is the home of the young, the hip, the technological; it should be pretty Green compared to the nonFacebook world. So even in a barrel full of fish, Gore’s message is only shooting 0.004%.

Here’s another way to think about Exposure and Reception. The following graphic shows the Google Trends for three topics, Mr. Gore’s Climate Reality Project (blue), Palestinian Statehood (red), and the TV Emmy Awards (yellow) over the past 30 days.

The two panels provide comparison of the amount of searching and the number of news stories on these three issues. Clearly the Emmy Awards dominate and the other issues, not so much. Now, you can go to Google Trends and compare other issues against Climate Reality Project for your own delight. Mr. Gore claims that his issue threatens life as we know it, yet he can’t beat an awards show and a recurring geo-political hot button for attention. Again, please pick other topics that you think provide appropriate control for comparison. It appears that Gore can make noise that gets some attention at a fairly high level in the iceberg of public awareness, but he’s pretty much sitting on top of the peak with the vast amount of attention devoted to issues that by Gore’s definition are trivial.

Now, as a maven I ask, what’s this event done for Facebook?

Three elements trouble me. First, why is Facebook itself allowing this? Facebook has fought to restrict the use and content of its platform for people trying to do things like this. The obvious motivation is the technological complication such combinations create – they have the potential to wreck normal Facebook operations through overloaded servers. And, less obvious is the motivation that somebody takes over the Facebook network for their own purposes, in essence putting up a new poster on the Facebook billboard. Facebook had to cooperate very closely with ClimateReality on this one.

Second, they will now confront a new day when other Do Gooder types clamor for this clever trick for their advocacy. How will Facebook resist this, especially without offending people on a hot button issue like Global Warming or Abortion or Guns or Gay Rights or on and on with the litany of burning injustice.

Third and finally, Facebook has now made a major political stand on a specific issue and taken a specific position on that issue. Facebook is Progressive Green. That is groovy in many quarters, if only as a cultural truism along with brushing your teeth, looking both ways, and calling you in the morning. As long as the opinion really doesn’t count and requires no consequence, most people are Green, but when you start talking money, time, or abuse, the long Green line suddenly gets shorter than the autograph queue for Heidi and Spencer.

So, Facebook made a major change in its usage agreement and jumped the broom on a hot button issue, and in return got, what? Not even 1% of their account holders donated to that hot button issue. Here’s (YouTube) what that looks and sounds like.


Is that going to help their IPO when and if that day ever arrives?

Note that on September 14, 2011 Facebook announced yet another delay in their inexorable march to the Big Pay Day, putting off their IPO for some time later in 2012. This follows a long string of delays. Maybe, they’ve decided they will never go public and will now become authentic in their politics.

Let’s get out of here.

Mr. Gore is clearly failing to save the planet. He can’t even play big through Facebook, that barrel of supportive fish, much less be more than a dot on an iceberg of awareness. Thus, as a persuasion maven, I think Mr. Gore fails with the public TACTs he seeks (global behavior change with energy and environment). He’s certainly the most famous source here, but he’s also not close to achieving his publicly stated goals.

Of course, it is possible that Mr. Gore is persuading a different set of TACTs with his Green Machine. Gore estimated his net worth as between 1-2 million dollars on his required Federal government disclosure forms in 2000, the year he lost his bid for the White House. Ten years later it is estimated he’s worth over $100 million. If Mr. Gore’s strategic persuasion plan aimed him at earning a fortune, then I would revise my evaluation of his status and class him as a serious maven. His Web 2.0 efforts, while failing at the global standard he publicly declares, certainly hit the mark for the more prosaic benefits of wealth.

Past Mr. Gore, consider the communication and persuasion lessons with Facebook. That 750 million accounts with half active on a daily basis sounds like the channel with the biggest megaphone in the history of human civilization. But when you look at, rather than listen to, all the noise, you don’t see much persuasive impact, most particularly on downstream behavior change for the public Green agenda. Realize too that Green has been operating in the most favorable national political context with President and both Houses of Congress controlled by the most sympathetic Party for two years and still dominated by that Party today. Whatever Green victories you may count, they amount to little more than spitting into a very cold wind despite all the obvious advantages.

Regardless of the Truth here, the persuasion facts argue that there’s something different going on with Facebook, Al Gore, and Climate Change advocacy. The surface looks bright, but then you realize that it reflects; it does not reveal.