Monthly Archives: February 2012

Want a TACT with That?

If you cannot precisely state the Who does What Where and When or the TACT of Target Action Context and Time, you will fail at persuasion. It’s that simple, muggles. See it again here.

. . . it is the latest in a difficult global battle against food waste. Around the world, a staggering one-third of food — or about 1.3 billion tons each year — is wasted, a study commissioned by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimated last year.

This from the Green Column of the New York Times. A Swedish government research agency estimates that Westerners waste about 600 pounds of food a year per person while – and this is amazing – people in sub Saharan Africa waste about half that much.

Immediately realize that “waste” as a TACT is widely general and can mean many different things. “Waste” is anything potentially edible that doesn’t get consumed. That’s a horrible conceptualization for a TACT. Sure, it is a meaningful construct, an idea in a zealot’s head, but it is a lousy TACT as a specific, concrete, operationalized behavior.

The article does note more specific instances of waste: throwing away edible food, poor crop management or storage, large portion sizes, for examples. They also cite concerned citizens who are stepping in to work on this as in a group that sent free storage boxes to restaurants to encourage patrons to take home uneaten food. (Really! What a novel idea.) And, this best of all.

The year 2013, the resolution says, should be designated the “European Year against Food Waste.”

Mavens. Consider the t-shirt and coffee mug potential here. Color and style would be the most important considerations because the content of that resolution will change nothing.

Learn the lesson here. This idea fails before it leaves anyone’s head because it is not TACTful. Some Rules.

All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.

If You Can’t Succeed, Don’t Try.

It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid.

Persuasion Is Strategic or It Is Not.

P.S. Nice negative TACT in that sign image. Remember, don’t don’t!

Tragic Weathermen and Shakespearian Persuasion

Shakespeare begins with one thing then at the end reveals it to be something else. Consider the Shakespearian structure here.

You Cannot Persuade a Falling Apple which means if you are a maven with a Falling Apple, arrange demonstrations of Falling Apples, then point the Other Guys to your TACT. The rest is persuasion gravity. Now, just for the fun of it, let’s pretend that the Weathermen 2.0 do have Falling Apples. How do you explain this?

Last week, DeSmogBlog published a batch of internal fundraising memos from the Heartland Institute, a climate-skeptic group. But who leaked them? Turns out, it was Peter Gleick, a prominent climate researcher at the Pacific Institute, who says he lied to obtain the documents.

So. I’m a scientist with Falling Apples and I fraudulently obtain information from sources that dispute me, lie about my theft, then go public . . . in the Huffington Post . . . to admit it? We know this is neither science nor persuasion, but only farce, yet this is what rolls as strategy and tactics in the Weather Wars.

Peter Gleick wears the muggle mask with his poignant confession and apology.

My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts — often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated — to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved. Nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case. I offer my personal apologies to all those affected.

Stated another way, Gleick is Sincere and when you are Sincere neither Science nor Persuasion matter more than your own Authenticity. Gleick illustrates the problem when your self concept merges with the Attitude Object, in this case his beliefs about climate. He hacked information with tricks likely learned from those Nigerian prince scams, leaked it, lied about it, and then came clean in the light and airy New New Journalism of the HuffPo, speaking some kind of Truth to Power.

And, we know how the Climate Change Chorus will persuade from this. Gleick will become a hero. You’ll hear calls that desperate times demand desperate measures and that when your opponents are criminals you must commit crimes to catch them. This persuasive and scientific failure will change nothing in the CCC. In fact, for many this will become a new avenue of shouting. But look beneath the obvious.

It is persuasion instructive to understand how this happened with Gleick. By all accounts this behavior is way out of range for him even with his passionate sincerity. Why did a good man and National Academy scientist do this?

Over at the Huffington Post, Gleick explains that he had first obtained a Heartland “strategy” document last year from an anonymous source that appeared to lay out the group’s plans to spread doubt about climate science. This is the two-page document that Heartland says is a forgery and “total fake” — a suspicion shared by many commentators — and, notably, is the only one of the Heartland documents to attack Gleick by name.

Make sure you see this. An unknown person devised a fake Strategy Memo from the hated Heartland Institute and put Gleick’s name in it. This person then anonymously sent it to Gleick. This is a theatrical trick straight out of Shakespeare. The dropped letter dripping with enough truth to make the lies sting. And it struck Gleick in the heart.

Is this Strategy Memo fake? Heartland admits all the other leaked documents, but disowns the fake. A mere visual comparison suggests the fake is not on the same font and format as the other Heartland documents. It looks like a fax while the other appears as PDF documents. Worse, there’s hardly a smoking gun admission of a burglary, a blonde, or a bomb. While likely a fraud, the Memo is about a mild an infamy a Bad Guy can commit. But, you read your name in that Memo and Shakespeare takes over. Gleick, like Othello, found the lie in the fraud more compelling than all the truths that would lead others to see the fake. The lie strikes the heart of the man and the rest is tragic gravity.

Mavens, consider this Bard play. If you read Shakespeare – and mavens, you do read Shakespeare – you know that poisoned letters always kill the receiver and the sender: Iago as the dark example. Listen for the sound of another body hitting the floor and you’ll know you’ve arrived at Act V of this tragedy.

Framing or Modeling?

Recall that the National Traffic Safety Board voted to ban the use of all portable electronic devices (PEDs) while driving. Against all available scientific evidence, the Board asserts the ban would save lives. This article notes the persuasion play behind the Board’s decision.

For years, policy makers trying to curb distracted driving have compared the problem to drunken driving. The analogy seemed fitting, with drivers weaving down roads and rationalizing behavior that they knew could be deadly. But on Tuesday, in an emotional call for states to ban all phone use by drivers, the head of a federal agency introduced a new comparison: distracted driving is like smoking.

The writer thoughtfully observes this change from Drunk Driving to Smoking as a Framing play which is best understood as the Local rather than the technical persuasion application from the Nobel prize winning Prospect Theory. Framing is like Narrative or Meme or Schema. Framing selects certain elements out of the Local to create a coherent and orderly metaphor that strongly points to a desired conclusion. Frame it as Choice, for example, and the unpleasant physical elements of abortion recede and point to the Local as an individual’s rational act, a guaranteed citizen’s right. Frame PED use while driving as Smoking and you focus on a blind social norm, huge damage, uncontrollable behavior, profiteering others, and point to the need for Collective Action against Individual Addiction.

The writer quotes Deborah Hersman, head of the NTSB, as making this same Framing play.

“Addiction to these devices is a very good way to think about it,” Ms. Hersman said in an interview. “It’s not unlike smoking. We have to get to a place where it’s not in vogue anymore, where people recognize it’s harmful and there’s a risk and it’s not worth it.”

See that acceptance of this Frame drives favorable consequences. For example, with the Smoking Frame, we now have to address the current social status quo that accepts this behavior and make a large cultural change in perception. As with Smoking, PED Driving is actually harmful to both the user and to everyone else. Only large corporations benefit from our harms and indeed are the primary barriers to change. The harms are large and preventable and if we shift the social norm, then we can be a healthier and safer society. Of course, this won’t be easy because the behavior is addictive and by definition, uncontrollable, so there’s got to be a lot of intervention and at the national, state, and local government level; citizens alone and by themselves cannot solve this problem.

Thus, shifting the Frame to Smoking enables a Local that strongly favors the decision of the NTSB.

I now offer a more considered persuasion analysis. I don’t think that the NTSB or traffic safety advocates in general are thoughtfully doing persuasion. I think they are more like children dressing in adult clothes, hoping for a sophisticated consequence. If we act like it’s Smoking, we’ll get all those Advantages.

Consider one large point. PED is not anything like Smoking.

Smoking is without question the greatest voluntary killer humanity has yet devised. Using Windowpane comparisons, tobacco use always produces at least Medium and more often Large to Stupendous effects. Go back and read the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on smoking and you’ll find ratios of 900% or higher for some illnesses. At best the NTSD estimates that approximately 3000 people die in a year from all types of distracted driving with PED being some portion of that. Smoking still kills nearly 300,000 people in the US each year despite the huge declines in smoking rates; that’s a 100 times greater amount than even all Distracted Driving much less PED Driving alone. Smoking is the Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, and Jim Brown of Hall of Fame killing behaviors. Nothing comes close. Nothing.

And, what made smoking so fabulous at killing was its addictive properties. Nicotine in particular has proven to be a Siren song of rare and enveloping impact. Read the addiction literature and find study after study that shows hard drug addicts kicking heroin, cocaine, marijuana, meth, and on and on before they kick their last habit: Nicotine. By every operational test anyone can devise for the term, Addiction, smoking leaps every bar, hurdle, and span.

Realize, too, that large and hugely profitable businesses developed around tobacco and that these businesses enjoyed legal protection and support for generations. A large sector of the US economy ran on tobacco for over 100 years. It became woven into the free market capitalism structure.

Finally, when people quit smoking the harms immediately moderate, mitigate, and reduce. If you quit soon enough and long enough, your risk for virtually all illnesses will recover to the rate seen for Never Smokers.

Now. PED Driving is like Smoking? Of course not.

But, try to make a metaphor function as a Frame and you get these advocates who are eating their own menu. They think their thinking is meaningful when it is just smoke and mirrors that changes them more than any Other Guys. PED is not Smoking. To Frame PED as Smoking is to make a Frame into a Metaphor which means It is not a Frame, but a Metaphor. Just as children dressing in Mommy and Daddy’s clothes does not make them adults, dressing up in the Smoking Frame only makes PED advocates look like children.

Smoking as Frame or Metaphor is a reliable indicator of a persuasion muggle. Listen for it and almost invariably you will find an advocate, a zealot, a sincere true believer who appears to persuade only themselves with their persuasion efforts.

Change, Maybe, but Persuasion Science?

Consider this surface simple, but tidal complex story of applied persuasion.

LANCASTER, Calif.—Crime is down in this city on the desert fringe of Los Angeles County, and Mayor R. Rex Parris is sure he knows one reason: It’s the chirping . . . and for the past 10 months he has had his city play them over 70 speakers along a half mile of Lancaster Boulevard, blended with mellow synthesizer tones, five hours a day. His claim: The bird song and music calm citizens by fine-tuning brain chemicals.

If You Can’t Count It . . . so?

Minor crimes in Lancaster fell about 15% last year, compared with 2010, says the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, this city being part of the county, and serious crimes fell about 6%.

We’ve got a community of about 150,000 people who play recorded sounds of music and nature on a busy street. And crime drops.

Taken at face value, the relationship is plausible. Sounds do affect human psychology in a variety of ways and especially through this Low WATT way. Most people would not be strongly aware of the sounds much less their deliberate manipulation. Yet, those sounds could produce a calm and pleasant psychology in individuals which then creates an immediate normative context. And, we do have a good count on the crime.

But, if you think like a scientist, you are skeptical. This is a one-shot nonexperimental pre-post study. You observe one “participant” over time, introduce a treatment, then continue the observation. Any change before and after the treatment is assumed to prove the hypothesis. Anyone trained with Campbell and Stanley knows the drill: Threats to Internal and External Validity! And, this design is riddled with threats. History. Maturation. Testing. Instrumentation. Interactions.

Yet, this is the way most practical persuasion must be executed. Science would demand a considerable more complex approach. You’d need to define a population of 50 similar communities, then randomly assign them to either treatment or control. Measure before and after with random samples of process and outcome data, then aggregate for each community so that the final N equals the number of communities. Then conduct a t-test with 25 cases in each condition. Then replicate. Then extend to other communities. Huzzah, science!

But, consider all the costs of science. No one could finance this for such a simple intervention. So, we are left with Campbell and Stanley Design #2. Surface simple, tidal complex.

I like the out-quote at the bottom of the story.

Still, skeptics remain. “You might get people who say it was a waste of money, or you might get people who say they enjoy the sounds,” says Joshua Ely, a high-school senior strolling the boulevard. “Then there’s those of us who just don’t pay much attention to it.”

Ahh, Joshua and others don’t pay much attention to it. Just want a maven likes to hear out of the Other Guys!

That may be the best proof of effect!

Green and Persuasive Green

David Owen proves the difference between Green and Persuasive Green.

A favorite trick of people who consider themselves friends of the environment is reframing luxury consumption preferences as gifts to humanity. A new car, a solar-powered swimming-pool heater, a 200-mile-an-hour train that makes intercity travel more pleasant and less expensive, better-tasting tomatoes—these are the sacrifices we’re prepared to make for the future of the planet.

He then details the various Green-wise, but Carbon-foolish ways Persuasive Green operates. We consume more while feeling more Green, the advocate’s oxymoron. Green, the True Green, not the Persuasive Green, seeks more from less. More Green from Less Carbon.

Mavens and muggles learn the lesson. See the changes in the Other Guys because changes there are. But to understand the persuasion lesson see the source of the change. It isn’t True Green and they gnash their teeth and rend their garments as David Owen documents their despair. The change is coming from those who profit, consume, aspire, trend, and style from Persuasive Green, not from the True Green who sincerely expect more from less.

You learn much from the Other Guys, but more from the agents of change. Green grows with persuasion and nothing less.

twitter only Revolts?

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting video report on the Egyptian Arab Spring movement that began with revolution and has now sputtered. You’ll recall that many media sources trumpeted headlines like, The Revolution Will Be Twittered, and argued that social media drove the Arab Spring movement to take down the dictatorship and replace it . . . but as the WSJ reports, democracy seems no closer now than it did the day before the Twitter Revolt. As WSJ puts it:

When they ousted President Hosni Mubarak a year ago, Egypt’s young revolutionaries hoped they had put an end to decades of dictatorship and begun a new era of reforms. Now those goals seem elusive, as the opposition movement splinters and the country’s ruling generals cling to power. WSJ’s Charles Levinson and Don Duncan report.

So. Is social media only persuasive for revolts? You can destroy with social media, but you cannot build?

Or, perhaps, twitter and Facebook and on and on are merely the latest Technological Device, only the New New Thing. They provide variations in the Local and enable different boxes and plays, but they are nothing but sticks and clay. Somebody still must write the persuasion with them.

Unintended Communication Consequences of Astrophysics

One of the great problems in communication history is the loss of original recordings of old TV shows. Either through carelessness, accident, or degradation, old broadcast TV programs that once delighted millions are lost to posterity. What to do? Scan the heavens!

While searching deep space for extra-terrestrial signals, scientists at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico have stumbled across signals broadcast from Earth nearly half a century ago. Radio astronomer Dr. Venn described how he made the historic discovery after analysing a number of signals originating from the same point in space. “I realised the signal was in the VHF Band and slap bang in the middle of 41-68 MHz. It was obviously old terrestrial television broadcasts, but they seemed to be originating from deep space.” After boosting and digital enhancement the resulting video signals are remarkably clear.

Realize the implications.

“We now know these are original broadcasts. So far we have recovered about 7 weeks of old television signals from space. Every day in our lab is like traveling back in time. And speaking of which we have just started the digital recovery of signals that contain lost Doctor Who episodes.

And you thought astrophysics was for geeks.

Dissonance Burgers or Want Lies with That?

According to the Old Testament and Leon Festinger when people suffer for what they love, they tend to love what they love even more. Aversive consequences for freely chosen outcomes can often have the perverse effect of creating more commitment rather than the change that common sense, rational economic theory, and operant conditioning would predict. Today we observe dissonance in action over the . . . dinner table.

Brock Bastian and colleagues devised a series of three lab experiments that tested the dissonance properties inherent in people who love animals and also like to eat them. The Bastian team proposes that people must engage in dissonance reduction to both eat their animals and love them, too. Further, they expect cognitive gymnastics characteristic of dissonance from people who eat what they love.

Consider experiment 1.

Participants completed a questionnaire that required them to rate 32 animals sampled from previous research (Gray at al., 2007; Laham, 2009; Morewedge, Preston, & Wegner, 2007; see Figure 1). Selection of animals was designed to cover a range of wild and domestic animals that varied in the extent to which they were readily eaten . . . Participants rated the degree to which each animal possessed 10 mental capacities using a 7-point scale (1 definitely does not possess, 7 = definitely does possess) . . . Participants then indicated the edibility of each animal (2 items: “Would you choose to each this animal” and “Would you eat this animal if asked to?”; 1 = definitely would not, 7 = definitely would; across animals α = .99) as well as well as how bad they would feel if they ate each animal and how morally wrong it would be to eat each animal (1 = not at all, 7 = extremely).

So, from a list of 32 animals, some of which were often consumed as food and others which were not, people rated how edible each animal was and, most interestingly, people also rated the mental capacity of each animal. See the potential dissonance reduction here? If you like to eat an animal then you may also see it as having less mental capacity which makes the critter just a walking cheeseburger rather than the lovable Bessie who enjoys children, long walks in the pasture, and mooing at sunrises. The Bastian team find a strong, but inverse, correlation between edible and mental.

As predicted, perceived mind was negatively associated with the animal’s edibility (r = –.42, p < .001; see Figure 1) and positively with feeling bad about eating the animal (r = .77, p < .001) and with how morally wrong it would be to eat the animal (r = .80, p < .001).

Thus, people see a relationship between whether an animal should be eaten and the cognitive characteristics of that animal. Edible animals are dumb, inedible animals are smart and at Large Windowpanes.

Now. Let’s flesh this correlation out in Experiment 2.

Participants completed a questionnaire that required them to look at a picture of a cow and a sheep surrounded by grass. Preceding each picture was a description of the animal. Two versions of the questionnaire were used with either the cow or sheep on the first page and the other on the last page. When either the cow or sheep was presented first, it was described as living on a farm, including the description: “This lamb/cow will be moved to other paddocks, and will spend most of its time eating grass with other lambs/cows” (control condition). When the cow or sheep was presented last, it was described as being bred for meat consumption, including the following description: “This lamb/cow will be taken to an abattoir, killed, butchered, and sent to supermarkets as meat products for humans” (food condition). Both the animals were pictured surrounded only by grass, and participants completed an unrelated task that took approximately 5 min between each rating.

So, you are rating two animals, a cow and a sheep. For the experiment they will be run in different orders, but everyone rates both. The first animal shown will be described in a bucolic, pastoral setting while the second animal will be described as food in an industrial food chain machine. After reading each portrayal you rate the mental qualities of the animals. Does your rating vary with how the animal is described?

An independent samples t test indicated that when reminded that an animal would be used for food, meat eaters denied it mental capacities (food animal: M = 4.08, SD = .86) compared to when no such reminders where provided (nonfood animal: M = 4.30, SD = .82), t(65) = 3.24, p = .002 (see Figure 2).

That t value translates into a Large Windowpane of about 25/75. When you see the cow or the sheep against a pastoral background, the critter enjoys a rich interior life of the mind filled with pleasure, joy, and worries. When you see the beast as part of the food chain, it’s a dumb animal.

So, now we’ve got two experimental demonstrations that people think differently about animals and their mental states depending upon whether they are food. As creatures of the fields, we attribute states of mind and feeling similar to humans; as burgers on the plate, we attribute no mind or heart to them. This is consistent with dissonance, but still not a strong demonstration. So, Experiment 3!

People completed several tasks that appeared as different projects, but were actually components of the drama a good dissonance experiment often requires. Everyone first sees that cow/sheep in the pasture scenario and does the ratings on the mental and emotional states. It establishes a baseline, the unmanipulated status. Then everyone is given a 20 minute task unrelated to this burger dissonance play. Now, we get to the experiment, posed as a marketing study about consumers and food. As part of the experiment, you’ll have to eat food and provide your opinion about it. People were then given a choice to opt out of this marketing study about food and instead complete a different experiment that was described as a fairly boring, tedious, but easy, study on attention.

This choice between the marketing food study or the attention study doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is a major element in the dissonance play. The choice is a commitment and everyone who decides to continue with the food study has made a voluntary choice with foreseeable consequences. You cannot blame the future on anyone but yourself given this choice. After choosing the food study, everyone was told they would have to write an essay about food. Here, the experimenters made the dissonance manipulation.

In the meat sampling condition (high dissonance), participants were told they would be writing about where beef/lamb comes from and the processes involved in putting it on our supermarket shelves. They were explicitly instructed to write about the processes involved in raising cattle/sheep on the farm right through to the eventual packaging of meat for human consumption. In this condition participants were also told they would be sampling beef/lamb. In the fruit sampling condition (low dissonance), participants were asked to write the same essay but were told they would be sampling apples . . . At this point the experimenter placed a bowl of apples and a plate of appetizingly presented delicatessen roast beef/lamb “infused with rosemary and garlic” on the table. Participants then proceeded to write their essay in full view of the food they were about to sample.

Let’s do a quick recap here. Everyone has done that baseline rating of the mental state of animals. Everyone has chosen to participate in a marketing study about food. Everyone will write an essay about food production with a detailed focus upon raising an animal to kill it for food. Half the people will eat beef or lamb. Half will eat apples. The meat and fruit is placed in front of each person. They write.

Realize the different processing states of the two groups, Meat or Fruit. Both are writing about killing animals for food, but only one will actually eat meat. Dissonance theory would argue that for people anticipating meat, they would think differently while writing compared to people anticipating fruit. If this is true, then if we ask everyone to rate again the mental and emotional state of animals like we did at baseline, we should see a big difference between those anticipating Meat versus those anticipating Fruit. So, the experimenters have everyone do that rating task again. Here’s the bar chart.

Boom. Exactly as predicted. And the numbers?

Simple contrasts revealed no difference between T1 (M = 4.40, SE = .10) and T2 (M = 4.38, SE = .11) for the fruit sampling condition (p = .688), but a significant reduction from T1 (M = 4.31, SE = .10) to T2 (M = 4.03, SE = .11) for the meat sampling condition (p < .001).

This appears to be a Medium Windowpane effect, about a 35/65 difference. People in the Meat condition reported the Dumb Animal effect more than people in the Fruit condition even though they both wrote the “same” essay. Thus, contemplating the consumption of fruit while writing an essay about killing animals for food allows you to see Bucolic Bessie, but contemplating a tasty burger while writing that same essay encourages perception of the Dumb Beast.

The conflict between loving what you eat and eating what you love causes these dissonance effects in us. For those of us who grew up watching Disney movies and those unforgettable anthropomorphized animals, thinking a little too much about the meat on our table can produce tension, worry, and dread. You’re eating Bambi! But, our human nature in the form of dissonance reduction permits us to enjoy both Disney and McDonalds often at the same moment.

Now. If you are a nutrition advocate (i.e. vegan loving meat hater), do you see anything here? Do you realize that your efforts to discourage meat consumption may only trigger dissonance processes that make the Other Guys even more resistant to your persuasion? When the Other Guys feel ambiguous about their food, they can engage in dissonance reduction that serves to strengthen their food consumption. It has nothing to do with Big Marketing or Big Food or Lying Conservatives or Disney Corp or anything else other than persuasion and human nature.

Think on it.

And, of course, if you are Big Food or Big Marketing, you should be looking at this study and dissonance persuasion for your own work. Want more committed customers? Hmmm.

Dissonance burgers. No wonder it’s so easy to sell the fries with that.

Bastian B, Loughnan S, Haslam N, Radke HR. Don’t mind meat? The denial of mind to animals used for human consumption. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2012 Feb;38(2):247-56. Epub 2011 Oct 6.

DOI: 10.1177/0146167211424291

It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid – Vaccines

The New England Journal of Medicine supplies an excellent example of the recurring persuasion problem for health professionals. Douglas S. Diekema laments in his Perspective on vaccinations that not all parents get their children properly vaccinated despite the indisputable scientific evidence. He recounts their various objections and argues that it is up to every physician in America to do their bit in the ongoing fight against ignorance and disease. Diekema’s solutions?

First, socioeconomic barriers and disincentives to vaccination should be eliminated.

Second, school-entry requirements should be strengthened and enforced.

Although eliminating exemptions for religious and personal beliefs may seem logical, such efforts would encounter substantial resistance and probably increase antivaccinationist fervor.

Third, misinformation regarding vaccines must be addressed promptly and aggressively.

Fourth, clinicians, health care organizations, and public health departments must learn to use the tools of persuasion effectively. He cites Aristotle.

Finally, clinicians must set an example.

While the solutions are forthright, stern, and objective, they have no chance of success and simply because of the Second Rule of Persuasion.

It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid.

Diekema demonstrates that tone deaf persuasion skill so characteristic of most MDs I’ve worked with or known in my life. While these folks are bright, motivated, and well trained they are not bright, motivated, and well trained in persuasion, but biology, molecular genetics, advanced Medicare billing, and on and on with the curriculum and instruction of medicine that, oddly enough, thinks Aristotle is the word on persuasion. Ever heard of Sequential Message Requests? How about Dual Process Models of Persuasion? Any chance Dissonance matters? What about Affirmation? Maybe Implementation Intentions? But, I excess.

The persuasion problem with physicians is in the selection and training. Clearly, everyone is smart enough to understand Ding Dongs and For Me and the Two Step, but they are not trained in the literature to create a comprehensive understanding of persuasion nor are they trained in practical persuasion, the sheer planning, resourcing, practicing, and evaluating. In this instance, expertise, skill, and ability are barriers to persuasion success. Anyone smart enough to become an MD is smart enough to do persuasion. Then you read Perspectives on applied persuasion like Diekema (and others from the Persuasion Blog) and you realize it ain’t the SAT that makes the maven.

And, of course, this only applies to physicians. Other smart professionals who have no training in persuasion can easily master the skill. Look at all those Nudging economists, for example.

Mavens skin them all.

Bad Science and Persuasion at APS

At the last APS conference Walter Mischel interviewed David Brooks.  I think you can watch the video here without any subscription or registration.  You can try to chase down a transcript of the interview which would be a lot faster.  This event interests me for both its bad science and bad persuasion.

APS is doing everything short of blackmail, magic, or sacrifice to hook up with anyone who has a megaphone in the vain hope of making their work more relevant, widely known, but most importantly, more funded.  David Brooks often mentions psychology in his NYT columns and sometimes mentions it correctly and intelligently.  The only reason a professional research organization can possibly be interested in a public intellectual like Brooks is not because of his ideas, but because of his connections.  I’m sure that if APS could have booked Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, or Latest Bestseller rather than Brooks, they would have looked like the crowd outside the mall doors before the first day of Christmas shopping and Brooks would have looked like those hapless doorkeepers.  But, Brooks is who they got.

The Bad Science here is evident in Brooks’ blissful ignorance about Walter Mischel.  Mischel is one of the beautiful achievements in psychology over the past 40 years and our field would be very different without his effort, Social Cognitive Theory.  I’m not sure that Brooks has a clue about Mischel, his work, and its value.  Brooks probably understands that Mischel is a big deal.  But, Brooks could not possibly make an independent and rational judgment about Mischel, because Brooks is no scientist.

The Bad Persuasion is clear in Mischel’s polite pandering to the fellow who buys ink by the gallon.  Mischel pretends to find Brooks interesting and compelling for himself when it’s obvious that Brooks couldn’t get admitted to one of Mischel’s seminars without a phone call from the fund raising arm of his university.  Brooks is a bright and earnest fellow who is probably smart enough to earn a research doctorate and survive the peer review wars.  Hey, if you read or watch the interview, you realize that he spots the raccoon with fMRI research, so the guy’s got a future in lab research.  But, he hasn’t yet done this and remains just a public intellectual who survives by attracting eyeballs and ears, a very different criterion.

Science should avoid journalism like the Plague, halitosis, and E minor whiners.  When it does not you know you are in the presence of Bad Science and Bad Persuasion.