Monthly Archives: December 2011

Who Is Sincere? Who Is Persuasive?

Consider these two statements.  First . . .

On December 10, 2011 at 5:00 AM #OccupyBoston’s Dewey Square encampment was raided by the Boston Police Department and other officials. Thirty-five peaceful protesters were arrested on the Rose Kennedy Greenway just two days after Mayor Thomas Menino issued a notice of eviction.  Eight others were arrested in the streets and sidewalks surrounding Dewey Square, and three were detained in South Station.  Throughout the two-hour period in which the arrests occurred, #OccupyBoston members remained resolute and non-violent in the face of a disproportionately large police presence: at least 100 officers were counted inside Dewey Square at 5:30 AM, some estimates place the count at greater than 200.  Credentialed press, citizen journalists, academic researchers, and #OccupyBoston media members were repeatedly corralled and moved to surrounding areas 50 feet away or more, prohibiting many from thoroughly covering the raid.  From pointing lights in photographers’ lenses to targeting the two official #OccupyBoston USTREAM live videographers for removal, officials went to great lengths to block media access.

Second . . .

“There’s a great group of kids down there at Occupy Boston,” said Boston Police Superintendent William Evans. “When we needed help, I called them, they called me, and together we were able to get situations that could have gotten out of control back to normal.”  Evans gave his personal cell phone number to some of the group’s core members to use the past two months, and even as police moved in this morning, arresting about 46 protestors who refused to leave, their aim was to keep the bond alive.  “A lot of them we became very friendly with and a few we pleaded with them to not go in the wagon, but unfortunately some of them wanted to get arrested down there,” Evans said.

Apparently Boston’s finest are reading the Persuasion Blog and the (modified) Rule:

You Can Get Farther With A Compliment and A Raid Than You Can Get with Either Alone.

A Peitho nomination!

the Test is not the Thing – General Semantics!

The Polish Prince, Alfred Korzybski, invented General Semantics and branded it with The Map Is Not The Territory which also means the Word is not the Thing or as I huff more concisely, Eating The Menu. Words deceive your perception of reality. As with Screening Tests to Prevent Mortality and Morbidity. If you think the words, “Screening Test,” make you healthier, you are Eating the Menu because as noted in the December 1, 2011 issue of Journal Watch:

No Mortality Benefit with Annual X-Ray Screening!


Odds of False-Positive Mammograms During 10 Years of Screening: 60%!

Really. The X-Ray unBenefit is demonstrated in a study at the Journal of the American Medical Association and the False-Positive Mammogram study is in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Gee whiz, a 60% probability of a false-positive mammogram over ten years. I’ll bet that second one surprises the hell out of you. Hey, it’s a Mammogram! It works! It’s scientific! And a statistical guarantee that about 50% of women will get a wrong result over ten years!

Sure, call it a “Screening Test,” and if you get it, you’ll live longer because of early detection, early treatment, longer survival. Natch. Easy-peesey. Not even rocket science.

Yeah. Not rocket science, but General Semantics. Even scientists, whom you’d think would know better, confuse the Map for the Territory, the Word for the Thing, and find the Menu, Tasty. Who’d guess that something called General Semantics would make you safer and healthier, physically and psychologically, than medical science?


Small Effects with Observational Research don’t make something, Something. Yet, if you want a contemporary lesson in applications of General Semantics, of confusing the Word for the Thing, just look at how the Word today arises from Small-Effects-Observational-Research.

Most ironically, p<.05 is not the Thing!

P.S. Korzybski’s book, Science and Sanity, used to make all those Cool Table lists of Most Influential Books way back in the day (along with Thomas Kuhn’s, Structure of Scientific Revolutions). You don’t see either title mentioned much nowadays, doubtless because there’s no WATtap App for them. Of course Web 2.0 has rewired our brains and evolved us Lamarckian style way past all that Father’s Oldsmobile human nature from the time when you held paper in your hand to see words that expressed an idea. And, of course, words written in digital ink are different from words written in printer’s ink.

P.P.S. What happened with SSR and Kuhn? Jeepers, I know the man has passed on to his reward, but must that reward include everyone else falling in the River Lethe?


Fame and Fortune in Film

I’ve disclosed in prior posts and revelations, my illustrious acting career, and while I wish in my Garbo way only to be left alone, the career continues to tug at my sleeve.  I received a residual check from the Screen Actors Guild.

Grossed $0.79.  They withheld $0.19 for Federal Income, $0.03 for Social Security, and $0.01 for Medicare.  Three sheets of paper with a detachable check for $0.56.  The Screen Actors Guild must be close to broke on my account.

I vant to be ah-lone.

Persuasion versus Fantasy in Occupy Wall Street and Media Fascination

Let’s begin with a quote.

“If you’re able to come up with a very sexy sounding hash tag like we did for Occupy Wall Street, and you come up with a very magical looking poster that seems to have something very profound about it, these devices push these memes, these meta memes, into the public imagination in a very powerful way,” he said.

This from a NYT article and Kalle Lasn, the public face of the match that lit the OWS fire. Lasn claims that he invented a twitter hashtag, #occupywallstreet, an image of a ballerina on the Wall Street bronze bull, and the rest is persuasion history surfing on the ocean of change with a meta meme. Sexy hashtags . . . Magical posters . . . Meta memes.

You should never underestimate the Humpty-Dumpty facility people possess with their ability to name things whatever they choose. Lasn believes he motivates meta memes (mere memes move away!) with photoshop and hot hashtags while he’s only attracting black shirt puppet master anarchist adolescents who then present a photo op for eye-and-ear hungry journalism, traditional or digital, zealot or profiteer and talking points for professional political agitators.

Where’s the beef with meta memes? Clogging local courtrooms with nuisance arrests. Banging drums to annoy nearby adults. Sharing a Cheese It The Cops! App on iGizmos. This is so transparently goofy one wonders why the New York Times wasted the time on a phone interview with Lasn.

The persuasion consequence of peace and prosperity is that nowadays Everyone’s A Maven. The living is so easy that even lamers, lightweights, and weasels like Lasn can fail and still make money, attract attention, and maintain delusions. What’s the worst consequence Lasn in particular and OWS in general sustained? A clogged 4G network.

No. The worst consequence is being played as a Useful Idiot for real mavens. Journalism gets to play Eyes n’ Ears R Us and actually make some money for a change. The Professional Left and the Professional Right both receive large stockpiles of cannon fodder for their stage managed zealotry. Meanwhile any chance for practical change get killed.

If You Can’t Succeed, Don’t Try.

Do you see how bad persuasion kills useful change? In all the zealot cries you can hear the faint strains of Truth or Justice. We do have lifestyle problems in the US that harm health, but the Food Police make it much more difficult to solve them. New sources of energy beyond carbon would be a huge boon to civilization, but the Greens block useful progress with their persuasive science and sincere desire for power. A persuasion analysis of ardent advocates in lifestyle, energy, economics, and environment demonstrates not only their continuing failure, but better still, explanations for that failure.

All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.

It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid.

If You Don’t Count It, You Haven’t Changed It.

Great Persuaders Don’t Need Rich Uncles.

And on and on.

But, mostly it is that Sincerity thing. When your self concept includes the change, change is the last thing that will change because your self concept will not.

Counting and Changing with Life and Death

The Rule States:

If You Can’t Count It, You Can’t Change It.


Simply Because You Can Count It, Doesn’t Mean You Can Change It.

Consider the interplay of these two Rules in this terrible story about family members of September 11, 2001 victims.

The Sept. 11 memorial has been open two months, but another type of remembrance is being performed each day at the office of New York City’s medical examiner, where scientists have been laboring to link nearly 22,000 human remains to the 2,747 people killed at the pulverized World Trade Center. The byproduct of that sobering math has been a series of unpredictable and heart-rending phone calls over the last 10 years to notify family members that yet another fragment of their child, spouse or parent has been identified, followed by the wrenching question of what to do with remains that, in some cases, are no more than particles of bone.

The technology of modern science can count DNA chains to make unique identifications. On September 12, 2001, this counting helped family members achieve some kind of closure on the loss of a loved one killed in the WTC attacks. But, then, the counting continued and continues ten years later. Now, simply because you can count it, what are you changing?

In this instance, the science of counting is no aid to change in any positive meaning of the word and instead the counting is a means to continuing grief and sorrow in an open-ended and never-ending reminder of the loss.

Sometimes counting divides the muggles from the mavens, marking those sincere persuaders who shout for a change they know but cannot even count with ones and zeroes. Counting can be the mark of the master.

But, counting can be the mark of a fool. Those who think themselves scientific who can count like this are that proverbial accountant who knows the price, but not the value. The Rules bear repeating and reconsideration.

If You Can’t Count It, You Can’t Change It.


Simply Because You Can Count It, Doesn’t Mean You Can Change It.

Life Copies Art or Butch Sells the Nest

In the fabulous movie, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, Butch cases a bank he and the Kid have robbed before, noting with alarm several changes in the beautiful building.  Stunned, he questions a bank guard.

“What happened to the old bank?  It was beautiful.”

“People kept robbing it.”

“Small price to pay for beauty.” Butch counters.

Recall now the Nest.  It is a new thermostat that will revolutionize home energy consumption.  David Pogue tests the Nest in a What I Did With My New iGizmo Report in the NYT.  Pogue extols the virtues of the Nest.

RADICAL CHANGE 1 The look. The Nest is gorgeous.

RADICAL CHANGE 2 The Nest has Wi-Fi, so it’s online.

RADICAL CHANGE 3 Learning. The Nest is supposed to program itself — and save you energy in the process.

RADICAL CHANGE 4 Energy savings. Let’s face it, $250 is a lot to pay for a thermostat. But Nest says that you’ll recoup that through energy savings in less than two years.

Hey, the Nest will rob you of $250 while providing all the attributes of existing technology (learning, programming, wired or wireless access, long term savings if you do a lot of extra work and don’t consider your labor cost in the savings), plus that greatest of all benefits for a thief:  Beauty!

It saves!  It learns!  It Nets!


A thief’s value for beauty over function is funny, of course, while a technologist’s value for beauty over function is funny, too, but in a different key.  The persuasion key.  Maybe Pogue has a piece of Nest or maybe he’s just part of that Easy, Ripe, and Luscious Web 2.0.

P.S.  You can catch that Beautiful Bank scene in this YouTube.  If you’ve never seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, do so!  Even 40 years out it still compels.


BCS Bias

Here’s a graphic, but not vulgar, take on Bias.  Begin with Objective Processing.

Start with a simple 2 way ANOVA experimental design with WATTage manipulations on the X axis and Argument Quality in the body of the table.  The Y axis holds the attitude scores.  Dual Process Models predict that lovely fan shaped interaction between WATTage and Argument.  Under Low WATT, the Other Guys lack willingness or ability to think, so they don’t use Argument Quality to determine attitude.  But, under High WATT, Other Guys seek Args, then elaborate over them in that Long Conversation in the Head along the Central Route.  Argument Quality is decisive with Strong Args producing positive change and Weak Args producing negative change.

Now.  Let’s Bias this experiment.  Make the attitude object self-relevant, self-defining, self-loving.  What happens with our 2 way ANOVA now?

See the fan shift up with this (positive) example.  See that Weak Arguments produce more positive change.  That fan shift between the two experiments is the DNA, the hominid bone, the crucial difference that marks two breeds in the same species.  Both show the impact of High WATTage.  Both show the impact of Argument Quality.  But see how Bias, biases that Long Conversation in the Head with Weak Arguments in this example.

Now realize that this is exactly what’s going on with college football coaches who vote each week on the rankings of teams that determines BCS bowls and championships.  They see the weaker argument as the stronger under the stimulus of a biasing treatment like financial incentive.  Consider this press report on the study.

Research conducted by Yale University economist Matthew Kotchen and University of Calif.-Santa Barbara political scientist Matthew Potoski, which covers the USA Today coaches poll administered by the American Football Coaches Association from 2005 to 2010, shows that coaches rank their own teams, teams in their own conference, and teams that they’ve defeated more favorably than merited. The researchers argue those biases skew the results of the poll, which is one of the components in the system used to determine which teams get to play in major bowl games, and what two teams go to the national championship game.

The abstract of the study admirably explains itself.

This paper provides a study on conflicts of interest among college football coaches participating in the USA Today Coaches Poll of top 25 teams. The Poll provides a unique empirical setting that overcomes many of the challenges inherent in conflict of interest studies, because many agents are evaluating the same thing, private incentives to distort evaluations are clearly defined and measurable, and there exists an alternative source of computer rankings that is bias free. Using individual coach ballots between 2005 and 2010, we find that coaches distort their rankings to reflect their own team’s reputation and financial interests. On average, coaches rank teams from their own athletic conference nearly a full position more favorably and boost their own team’s ranking more than two full positions. Coaches also rank teams they defeated more favorably, thereby making their own team look better. When it comes to ranking teams contending for one of the high-profile Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games, coaches favor those teams that generate higher financial payoffs for their own team. Reflecting the structure of payoff disbursements, coaches from non-BCS conferences band together, while those from BCS conferences more narrowly favor teams in their own conference. Among all coaches an additional payoff between $3.3 and $5 million induces a more favorable ranking of one position. Moreover, for each increase in a contending team’s payoff equal to 10 percent of a coach’s football budget, coaches respond with more favorable rankings of half a position, and this effect is more than twice as large when coaches rank teams outside the top 10.

You can read the gory details in the extended paper (pdf) if you like, but that Abstract gives it up.  Financial incentives bias coaches and you see it in how they express their attitudes on Argument Quality (their ratings of college football teams).  Every way you can identify self relevance – whether My team, My conference, My opponent versus Their team, conference, or opponent – the researchers document the Biased outcome.  When it is Mine, it is Better and when it is Yours is it Worse.

In this instance we can interpret the computer rankings of football teams as the Objective Processing version of this experiment.  Given no self interest, where do the different Arguments take you?  Now.  Compare the computer Objective side of the experiment to the human Biased side.  If, indeed, there is no Biased Processing in coaches with financial incentives then there should be no differences between the attitudes for “computer voters” versus human voters.

While the careful quantitative analysis reveals the markers, it is the persuasion theory that predicts, describes, and explains the results.  Bias alters how you process Arguments, making the Weak seem Strong, when it favors you, and the Strong seem Weak, when it doesn’t.

P.S.  One of the oldest attitude experiments ever published (pdf) was entitled, They Saw A Game, and it studied the attitude differences between fans at a college football game.  Here’s a nice description of the study if you don’t want to read the pdf.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

P.P.S.  Of course, since this was published in 1954 and only available as a weird looking scanned PDF, you know it’s not true.  We need an MRI replication to prove it, right?



Persuasion and Science for Universal Cholesterol Screening of Kids

The scientific devil is always in the details and those details typically involve math and simple, but hard, thinking. To illustrate these perils, consider this expert report that recommends universal cholesterol screening for children 9 to 11 (page S27 in this pdf). You need to read the report carefully to see the scientific science despite the fact that virtually everyone involved in the report would call themselves scientists. When you see the bad science, you then can begin to see how persuasion principles explain the outcome better than math and simple, but hard, thinking.

First, read the damn paper, most particularly Section 9 on Cholesterol. Think carefully and skeptically about it. In other words, think like a scientist and not a member of a high prestige group. Meanwhile consider this quotation from an expert not on this particular expert panel.

Rita Redberg, a cardiologist at University of California, San Francisco, expressed skepticism. “I don’t know of any data that screening children ages 9 to 11 is of any benefit to them,” she said. “We don’t need to do cholesterol tests to advise children to eat fruits and vegetables, watch their weight and get regular physical activity.”

Or this from an expert from a different expert panel on the same topic of cholesterol screening.

. . . the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, concluded in 2007 that not enough is known about the possible benefits and risks to recommend for or against cholesterol screening for children and teens. One of its leaders, Dr. Michael LeFevre, a family medicine specialist at the University of Missouri, said that for the task force to declare screening beneficial there must be evidence that treatment improves health, such as preventing heart attacks, rather than just nudging down a number — the cholesterol score.

Maybe Redberg and LeFevre are idiots who don’t read the relevant research literature. They are in that terrible position of claiming there is no needle in the haystack. Asserting Nothing against a group that asserts Something is a losing persuasion proposition. Of course, it is easy to prove Redberg or LeFevre the idiot. Just produce the evidence of science. You have to do that heavy lifting for yourself.

Still, those two quotations permit a shortcut if you don’t want to read the report and figure it out for yourself. Some experts claim there is no good scientific evidence to support the recommendation for universal screening with 9 to 11 year olds. Yet, this NIH panel of experts made such a recommendation. How is this possible?

I think persuasion answers the question better than science.

Realize the social context of the panel. Appointment to the panel is a huge status hit; you have to be well connected to get there and you are a big deal to earn this merit badge. The panel has no power; recommend at your pleasure and nothing will change as a result, a case of the politics of the unelectable or actions without consequences. There are no agreed upon standards of judgment; bring your expertise to the Table of Brother and Sister Hood. Majority voting applies, so coalitions are more important than, say, scientific evidence.

If you read section 9 on cholesterol screening you see an incredible amount of detail, expert quotation or citation, elaborate decision trees, and tables and tables of topics, criteria, and evidence summaries. The report looks serious, scientific, and objective when it is only the majority report of a faction with self interest, exactly what the Federalists warned about in their Papers. It is the text version of a high color figure of a brain scan: Lots of misleading detail that hides more than it reveals.

Now, make the contrast between this process and the one involved in the US Task Force on Preventative Health for prostate cancer. You might recall that another group of health experts reviewed the scientific literature on prostate screening and recommended against it. Other experts howled. Why the difference?

Realize that the US Task Force operates more like a jury with a predefined set of rules and procedures. They operate under the same standards for all issues. Now, compare this to the operation of this NIH panel on screening kids for cholesterol and the howling prostate cancer experts. The other experts employ something quite different from that jury metaphor. They review and evaluate different kinds of evidence with different kinds of standards, then make a public declaration that has absolutely no legal or practical impact.

You see the same kind of outcomes in the peer review literature. Even if you are not that kind of researcher or scientist, you’ve read enough examples in the Persuasion Blog to know that peer review does not ensure any kind of Truth much less consistency. Standards of judgment vary with the reviewers, the writing style, the trendiness of the topic.

Thus, you are always still dealing with Experts, but how they decide is very different. A process like the US Task Force on Preventative Services operates under a very different kind of WATTage compared to the other Expert groups whether in panels, committees, associations, or just individuals trying to get published in peer review. Everyone always has some kind of Bias operating on them. That’s why external rules, procedures, and standards are so useful and effective. The problem isn’t with the science – it’s with the scientists.

And, yeah, just to stay consistent . . . see how this inflates the Bubble.

Mr. Ripley, the Talented Attribution Maven

You’ve probably read the books or seen the great Matt Damon movie, so you know the Talented Mr. Ripley.  Ripley is an earnest, eager, and bright young man who understands Attribution Theory.  He seizes what the Local gives him then from that Box he constructs an Attribution Play to move the Other Guys minds where Ripley wants them to go.

Consider this honestly dishonest example (YouTube).  Ripley is earning the friendship of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) and his girlfriend, Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow).  They are playing the getting to know you game of What Are You Good At?  Marge goes first.  Then Tom Ripley.

Within the context of a social game and Getting To Know You, Ripley appears to be playing along in the appropriate ironic way by speaking poorly of himself and his social skills.  Rather than saying he’s polite, restrained, and interested in other people, he calls himself a liar, a fraud, and an impersonator.  To a spoiled rich kid like Dickie Greenleaf this is jazz music jarring against the conventions of the 1950s, the time of the story.  Ripley’s in like Flynn with Dickie.

Yet, Ripley’s description is a true disclosure and not a jazz riff for Dickie’s entertainment.  Ripley lies, pilfers, and steals identities.  He is Oscar Wilde’s perfect persuader who employs persuasion inSincerity with personal Sincerity in his persuasion and his crimes.

Ripley’s adventure begins with misAttribution, deliberately provoked.  Ripley accompanies a lovely soprano singing a classical aria at a wedding of filthy rich people.  An older woman compliments Ripley on his artful accompaniment and the older man with her remarks on Ripley’s blue blazer and its Princeton crest.  The old man blathers on as people do in these bustling social events about Did You Go To Princeton, and Do You Know My Son, Dickie, and the Talented Mr. Ripley, the bright, earnest, and eager young man in the presence of great wealth and older men, merely smiles and nods a broad toothy grin, saying nothing, but only listening attentively.

The older man makes the Attribution and gives Mr. Ripley all the benefits of a blue blazer and a Princeton crest.  Ripley earns an invitation to visit the older, wealth man, a titan of 1950 industry and the Attribution Arrow has found its mark.  Immediately later we see Ripley running down a Manhattan avenue tearing off the blazer and handing it back to a young man in a car with a cast on his broken right arm.  Beside him is the soprano.  The young man thanks Ripley for filling in for him on such short notice and Ripley thanks the young man for the use of the blue blazer with the Princeton crest.

The remainder of the movie dazzles a persuasion maven with deft and quick applications of Attribution.  Ripley always understands how the Other Guy is thinking and Attributing which is only another way of saying Explaining.  Ripley merely restates an earlier observation the Other Guy made to mislead into a misAttribution of intent, cause, or outcome.  He polishes the restatement with simple smiles, head indications, grimaces, gestures, and sighs.  He lies rarely and only when no Attribution Play will work.

Ripley reveals his master’s understanding of human nature, thinking, and persuasion in this poignant scene with the first person he’s found who he can love and who loves him back.  They are discussing the crimes of Dickie and Freddie and the wasted living and lives of the Rich Set.  Ripley’s love asks how it is possible to do terrible things, yet carry on.  Ripley reveals.

Sure, it’s fiction but just as All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere, so too with All Bad Poetry and we can study either for the illumination of the other whether Good or Bad.  Recall another fictional persuasion maven, Dexter.  Again note how persuasion skill applies in the service of high functioning serial killers.

Exactly what this means for persuasion theory and practice, I do not say.

I’ll let you explain it.



the NYT Rings the Bell Again

The Times colors darkly the future of two beloved New York Jets football players, Al Toon and Wayne Chrebet, in their battles with NFL concussions.  The players themselves take pains to say they are doing fine.

“I do have some residual but nothing significant,” Toon, 48, said in a phone interview from his office. “Nothing I care to talk about in public. I’m able to live a happy life.”  Chrebet, 38, was also reluctant to get into specifics about the lingering effects of his concussions except to say they exist.  In an e-mail he wrote: “While I have never spoken about what I’m going through today because of this, I can say that I am proud of the way I played, and new rules or old ones there was a good chance that the same thing would have happened to me. I stuck my nose where it didn’t belong sometimes and I paid for it. And boy it felt great. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

So.  The players testify they’re okay, but the Times isn’t having it.

Since Toon and Chrebet retired, the N.F.L., shamed into taking action after disclosures about the devastating effects of concussions, has put in place practices designed to lessen their ravaging impact.

“Shamed.”  “Ravaging impact.”  And, of course:

According to a 2007 study by the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes at the University of North Carolina, retired N.F.L. players who had sustained three or more on-field concussions were three times as likely to experience depression in retirement than other players.

Three Times.  That’s 300 percent, baby.  Except we know how to count at the Persuasion Blog.  Instead of that deliberately inflated Risk Ratio, if you compute the effect size from that study it is less than a Small Windowpane at about a 48/52.  And given that the analysis is based on a biased and convenience sample and only on the self report of either an athlete or someone else we should maintain a scientific dubiousity about claims of a conclusive, powerful, and unambiguous relationship between NFL concussion and any future cognitive dysfunction.

But, apparently the NYT is smarter than all that.  They got the meme on this one.  Gridiron warriors cut down in their prime by greedy, heartless owners trading players’ bodies and health for profit.  The bastards.

Of course, based on the best available evidence we’ve got, the future risk is at best, Small, indeed barely detectable above random variation.  Given the poor methodological quality of the data, we can remain open to an alternative conclusion that really, there’s no effect at all.  Of course the null hypothesis doesn’t sell papers.

All Bad Science Is Persuasive.