Category Archives: Opinion

telling somebody else how to do their job

Persuasion as Prank

Greenpeace saves the world as it outs Procter and Gamble as a destroyer of rain forests.

Greenpeace P&G Posters

Greenpeace workers entered the headquarters of P&G then unfurled 60 foot HD posters with tigers and really big font text. That’s the close up. Here’s a shot a bit farther away.

Greenpeace Wide Shot

And, here’s the Google Trends on the key term, Greenpeace.

Google Trends Greenpeace

You see peaks and valleys and, alas, the overall downward trend. Something rather like global brand cooling, you might say. The last big peak, A, in March 2013 involved, surprise, a Greenpeace attack on Proctor and Gamble. And that big peak back in 2011, D, involved the disaster at the Japanese nuclear reactor plant.

Greenpeace appears to grab more Exposure (that first stage in the Cascade) when they step into someone else’s spotlight and thus violating the Rule:

Great Persuaders Don’t Need Kindness From Strangers

We also observe this Blanche DuBois tactic as Waiting for a Streetcar Named Super Storm Sandy or Sandy Hook School Shootings or whatever named event that arises which draws a spotlight and an audience that the muggle then steps into. Like with Jamie Oliver, the celebrity chef. Or the Bacon Police.

And, when they try to make their own spotlight, they tend to repeat themselves, as with P&G. If you are in the business of selling zip lines or printing those huge, but lightweight, banners, then this is some great persuasion . . . for you. But, as the declining line in Google Trends shows, it is not working for Greenpeace.

Wonder if the arrested activists were fashionable?

P.S. Muggle protest at a recent anti-Keystone XL happening.

“The youth really understand the traditional methods of creating change are not sufficient . . . so we needed to escalate,” said Johnson, shortly before she was arrested at the White House.

Here’s what ‘escalation’ looks like.

XL Protest Fashion

Pollock style painting on coordinated coveralls!

Pollock Oil Spill Coverall Inspiration

P.P.S. Bread and Circuses Alert!

I’ve briefly searched for a list of the more than 100 colleges that had reps at this event. There’s an alleged and signed manifesto from XL Dissent with students from 50 different colleges, but I can’t find it.

CD on XL Dissent Manifesto

Even the XL Dissent website has lost it in a 404 despite a link from a friendly source. Also tried searching XL Dissent for the term, manifesto, and got no results.

XL Dissent Null Search

So. I’m just going on quotes in various news sources, but it appears that most of the students and most of the colleges have a Bread and Circuses problem: Amherst. Carleton. Columbia. Smith. Tufts.

Where’s Texas, Ohio State, USC, Alabama, or, of course, my beloved WVU!

No big time football or basketball teams! No cheerleaders! No Top 10 Party Schools!

Man, if you really want to stop Keystone XL, you’ve got to get the football players, the cheerleaders, and the keggers in the protest. And, hey, they don’t mind coordinating on fashion either.

Of course, that might make protest a contact sport like the 1960s and we know how that goes.

1968 DNC Riot

P.P.P.S. While we are at the nexus of protest, climate, energy, and image, one more fun persuasion case. In late January 2014, the State Deparment, led by Secretary John Kerry, issued its final report on the impact of Keystone XL concluding:

The State Department concluded in its final environmental assessment issued Friday that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would be unlikely to alter global greenhouse gas emissions . . .

Then in early February 2014, about a week after that report, Secretary John Kerry attended a conference in Indonesia. The NYTimes story says it all.

Kerry Implores

So, Mr. Kerry signs off on the environmental disaster called Keystone XL then tells Indonesian Other Guys to solve climate change.

Priming Misunderstanding

Dr. Gary Gutting, a smart person who’s a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame and a blogger at the New York Times, explains why priming as a persuasion play is no big deal: While it works in the lab, it doesn’t work in the field. He then quotes priming experts like John Bargh and Daniel Kahneman and sources like Nudge to back his assertion. Here’s his outro on priming.

Priming experiments remain important sources of information about the details of how our minds work. It’s possible that they might someday yield valuable techniques for modifying real-world behavior. (Here is one promising if very preliminary example.) But for now claims that they have deep philosophical significance or major practical consequences have scant support.

Gutting is just flat wrong in his assertion about no practical impact with priming. I’ll start with one line of work related to mental health and subliminal priming: Mommy And I Are One.

With that clue, you might recall the work of Lloyd Silverman from the Subliminal chapter in the Primer and the therapeutic use of priming for people with serious mental health problems as a means to moderate their dysfunction. Silverman had Other Guys look at subliminal exposures of a prime like, Mommy And I Are One, several times in one session with sessions repeated over several weeks. Unhealthy people got better compared to controls on standard measures of mental health.

We know Silverman’s play works because we’ve got science to prove it and the only way to prove something works is to use science. Gutting misses Silverman’s work and would probably discount it because it employed research standards, making it less than a mess of life practical example . . . but if you ran Silverman’s play in the mess of life, you’d have no good data to prove it works. You see the paradox the philosopher has put himself in.

Now, quickly, Gutting only looks at conscious priming where the Other Guy is exposed to a prime that is right in front of Her face in plain view while subliminal delivery runs the prime, but below conscious awareness so that the Other Guy never sees the message in her conscious mind. Silverman’s work demonstrated in controlled field studies that people with serious mental health problems scored higher on accepted measures of psychological well-being after subliminal priming. It works on real people in the real world.

Let’s get even more practical: Brands. As we recently observed in a nice research package that proves the practical point, Brands operate as Primes hiding in plain sight that activate approriate attitudes and intentions. What’s especially nice about this research is that it contrasted Brands with Slogans noting that Slogans make more explicit persuasion demands which elicit more defensiveness from Other Guys. Brands, by contrast, fly below the radar and even as Other Guys see a brand in the store, They never realize all that primed cognition bubbling just below awareness from all those years of watching branding building advertising. Thus, while research proves the prime with Brands, practical experience also proves the Brand: Everyone uses them. Thus, we have a priming example with Brands that is both theory and practice . . . and profit.

And just to pile on with scientific evidence, a recent meta-analysis looked at the past 25 years of work on a specific application called evaluative priming which presents a prime immediately in front of another stimulus to see if the prime changes the attitude to the new stimulus. Across over 70 papers with 125 separate experiments, the average Windowpane was Small+ (about a d of .35), but with a huge range of variation. Here’s a graphic that shows the effect for each experiment.

Eval Priming Meta forest plot

You can sense the average and the range. Under some circumstances, priming shows much larger Windowpanes. For example, here’s a graphic illustrating a two way interaction.

Eval Priming Meta SOA by Task Graph

When there is a shorter delay (SOA) between the prime and the stimulus on an evaluative task, the Windowpane is Large. Compare that to the meta average Windowpane you get on pronouciation tasks, regardless of delay time between prime and stimulus.

You see why priming is so difficult to execute as a practical persuasion play. You could legally run a standard priming play (unscrambling sentences with words like buy, spend, consume, desire or something like evaluative priming) in a sale situation or on a website, but chances are very good most Other Guys would see the manipulation and resist it. But, to hide the priming in a way that would be both effective and legal, would be almost impossible.

Gutting’s analysis completely misses or obscures this science. Hey, assume that the Fed gets up and running. Hmmm. See any priming possibilities with it? Overwhelmingly people would come to the website by themselves and with a fair amount of worry, concern, and mistrust – in other words in a highly distracted condition that might make them more vulnerable to priming plays hidden in plain sight. They wouldn’t expect a priming play (even if called a Nudge) and if you code the software properly, they could never again reproduce exactly the page they saw that primed them to make a desired choice.

The problem isn’t the theory or research, it is the legal, ethical, and processing limitations on priming. Priming on a government website would start a revolution. Priming in most live sales situations is impossible because you cannot control the processing field needed to deliver the prime (althought let’s see what happens when Google Glass gets going.)

Indeed, Gutting’s complaint about priming could be made about most persuasion plays and much of social psychology. The plays and concepts rarely work as clearly and obviously in the real world as they do in the lab, so therefore they are no big deal or as Gutting would put it:

But for now claims that they have deep philosophical significance or major practical consequences have scant support.

Hey, kids, let’s have a practical world where vampires and panthers can truly operate not only beyond their good and evil, but beyond our good and evil, and use persuasion the way the CIA used persuasion in its published interrogation manuals from the 1970s or its unpublished interrogation protocols from the Global War On Terror. No major practical consequences? Any volunteers for the treatment group to test Gutting’s hypothesis under these conditions? Would Gutting drink the hemlock and give himself up to a persuasion panther for 30 days and nights in an undisclosed location?

That contrast should expose the error in Gutting’s thinking. The problem isn’t in the theory or application. Polite society won’t allow that theory to operate freely precisely because it does have major practical consequences.

As to the “deep philosophical significance,” I’ll leave that to thinkers deeper than myself while noting that the fathers of Western philosophy, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle never even conceived of priming anything much less the human mind. Perhaps there are no deep philosophical thoughts to think on this one if the founders of Western Philosophy left that thought unconceived.

Herring, D. R., White, K. R., Jabeen, L. N., Hinojos, M., Terrazas, G., Reyes, S. M., & Crites, S. R. (2013). On the automatic activation of attitudes: A quarter century of evaluative priming research.

P.S. I’m always troubled over thoughtful thoughts about science in pop press outlets called something like, The Opinionator. Makes me think the opinion is more important than the science and that a well expressed opinion will be better received even if scientifically wrong.

Of course, I’m wrong about this. We’ve already proven that incorrect opinions about science don’t harm science; it’s those rude and nasty observations from Opinionator commenters!

Ding Dong, No Thanks


Your car just flipped on the highway, leaving you trapped. You smell gas. Will you burn? You hear your kids shouting and crying. You fear for your death. Then. A man pounds on the window and starts hauling everyone out to safety. You’re free. Everyone is safe. Thank God for Samaritans! Tell the world about it! Schedule TV appearances! Then.

Ding Dong.

It’s George Zimmerman who saved you.

Ding Dong George Zimmerman

Maybe everyone else will associate you with Zimmerman. Those Ding Dongs aren’t so good, are they?

The lawyer said that when he spoke to the Gerstles “their voices were trembling” and that they feared saying anything positive about Zimmerman “would be toxic.”

But, thanks. Really. It’s the Ding Dong, you know.

The Apples of Climate Science, Falling or Fallen

Climate Central is a respected Affirmer of Climate Change. This is how it describes the Science of Climate Science. It begins with the United Nations.

Established in 1988 by the United Nations, the IPCC does no original climate science research. Its role is to review current science from around the world, then synthesize and summarize that data within comprehensive reports meant for policymakers.

The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and is entirely a creation of the United Nations. The UN in brief is a collection of representatives appointed by their national governments to participate with the UN and its units. And, of course, the United Nations has no constitutional power over any person or government in the world. It is the largest Non Government Organization (NGO) in the world.

Now. How does the UN’s IPCC do those Climate Science assessments?

Such assessments typically take five to seven years to complete in a slow, bureaucratic process: Thousands of scientists from around the globe, working as unpaid volunteers, first sift through the scientific literature, identifying trends and writing a draft report. That draft is reviewed and thoroughly revised by other scientists. Then a summary for policymakers, condensing the science even further, is written and subjected to a painstaking, line-by-line revision by representatives from more than 100 world governments — all of whom must approve the final summary document . . . IPCC’s four assessments — massive, multi-tome volumes released in 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2007 — are considered the gold standard in climate science.

As you consider the Climate Science of the UN’s IPCC please use the tension of Falling Apples and Fallen Apples as an interpretive standard. In other words, consider the difference between science and persuasion. Start with science.

As a trained, credentialed, and practicing scientist, I know of no scientific authority that has ever had the power of being the final word on an area of inquiry. That is, there is no duly elected or appointed group of people who work together, create a document, then present it as The Truth for an area of inquiry. That’s just not how science operates.

Climate Central presents an image of science that is wildly at odds with the reality. Science is a long, slow process where Truth largely wins out over the longer haul with critics, dissenters, and even deniers raising a howl of complaint as their numbers, arguments, and interest declines over time. Most often the reality of a new science overwhelms all the complaints and even the critics begin to feel foolish at their criticisms. Deniers become a Party Of One, and not in a good way.

Science simply does not operate through committees where the real experts determine the truth and explain it to their younger, slower little brothers and sisters. Scientists tend to go with Groucho Marx on this one: They’d belong to no such organization that would have them as members! Science is contrary to such kinds of cooperation and harmony.

As a small comparison to the IPCC, I’d point to the ridiculous Gang on Physical Activity at The Lancet. A small group of people who know and like each other enough have banded together under the brand name of The Lancet – one of the most widely read medical journals in the world – to issue proclamations of truth about physical activity. The folks, some of whom I’ve worked with, many of whom I’ve read and cited, are simply crazy by my scientific lights. Sure, it’s a self promoting persuasion play from all concerned, but the play is so obvious it is a joke. Nobody doing science would ever do such a thing (except maybe to get a grant, but that’s different).

The people of the IPCC are doing the same thing, just on a much larger scale as if quantity is a Strong Argument for anything other than frequency of sex. In science, size like this really doesn’t matter. With the IPCC, size is exaggeration, like totalitarian art that features massive slabs, big contrasting colors, and wildly oversimplified slogans. You see the folks at Climate Central falling for the revolutionary poster:

IPCC’s four assessments — massive, multi-tome volumes . . .

Massive? Multi-tomed? Voluminous? What kind of scientist finds this a Strong Argument worthy of the Long Conversation in the Head with complex webs of elaborated thoughts? It’s just silly. Adolescent. Worse still: It’s wrong. Science doesn’t work like this.

Worser more is this line describing the scientific process at the IPCC.

Then a summary for policymakers, condensing the science even further, is written and subjected to a painstaking, line-by-line revision by representatives from more than 100 world governments — all of whom must approve the final summary document.

What? I write the science then give it to politicians who revise it?!? And that revision becomes the gold standard of Climate Science?!? There’s no scientific publication process that operates like this, not even at The Lancet. Even with that persuasion play, at least scientists are still in control of the text and no politician gets a voice or a vote. Yet, the IPCC Climate Science requires the final statement to issue from people who are not scientists, merely unqualified people who think they can rewrite or revise science because they are representing . . . something or someone.

No wonder you can’t find any Falling Apples! But, you can find the Fallen Apples. Look at the obvious, recurring, and standard persuasion plays.

Thousands of scientists from around the globe . . . a Norm based Cue, the Consensus of Experts.

working as unpaid volunteers . . . look, Ma, no money, no bias!

massive, multi-tome volumes . . . Quantity is a quality all its own as if more is truer than less.

These Fallen Apples depend upon Low WATTage which makes Climate Scientists even funnier. They think no thinking is required whether doing science or persuasion. Just follow the bouncing Cue as it skips over the rising tide: Authority, Consensus, Norms, Size. You don’t have to think about science, we’ve done that for you. With Climate Science.

If you think simply about this, you see all the contradictions. Why would people who have the Falling Apples of science play these Low WATT games? Science does require heavy lifting and everyone knows that. If you want to make a science argument, you should be working on plays that increase Other Guys WATTage so that They can think about your Falling Apples. Instead, Climate Science does the opposite and insists upon ambling along the Peripheral Route with Gandalf the wizard by your side. Unfortunately they couldn’t cast a world class actor like Ian McKellen as the master and instead go with a literal cast of thousands like an old Biblical movie classic from Cecil B. deMille.

Now, I appreciate that the Other Guys here is not one large group of similar people and that any persuader would have different segments and different TACTs. Sure, for a lot of Other Guys, a pure Peripheral Route play is smart – just turn up or down the volume on Public Opinion as needed. But realize that Climate Science always operates on that Low WATT Cast of Thousands (whether of people or data!). That tactic led to the loss of the most important Other Guy of all, Barack Obama, certainly a Guy who is smart enough to go High WATT. And, of course, the tactic has produced a Public Opinion that literally turns on the weather vane, today for, tomorrow against, depending upon which way the wind blows, meaning that Climate Science has no control over it, always waiting for a Streetcar Named SuperStormSandy.

Let’s close with ancient persuasion advice.

He who observes the wind will not sow,
And he who regards the clouds will not reap.

That from Ecclesiastes, 11:4, which suggests a reconsideration for both the Falling, and Fallen, Apples of Climate Science.

Stereotyping Yourself with Persuasive Science

Got a nice demonstration of how you can manufacture science to invent a social harm that moves from peer review to pop press and into the National Conversation. It’s easier than you realize. Start with this.

This candidate summary is part of an application package to a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) professor that describes a young graduate student seeking a lab manager position in the professor’s lab. Among the myriad details in the application is the applicant’s first name. In this example, you see, “Jennifer,” a female name. We’ll introduce the scientific part of this persuasive study in a simple way. Half the professors who get the application package will read the name, “Jennifer,” and the other half – randomly assigned!!! – will read the name, “John.”

That’s it. That’s the science. Random assignment to the name of Jennifer or John. Otherwise everything else is identical in this “randomized double-blind study.”

Now. You probably don’t know this, but the Jennifer-John randomized double-blind persuasion play is one of the oldest independent variable manipulations in the social sciences. If you are bored one day hit a good academic search engine and search the lit for studies like this. You can waste all day on the large number of hits you’ll get in a wide variety of applications. All you do is vary one word in a written description, like with the name of John or Jennifer, sometimes a personality trait like sociable or quiet, or maybe a specific behavioral action like contributes or ignores. Everything else in the written description is the same but for that one word. The participants just read the profile or job resume or online biography, then provide a rating, often in a randomized and double-blind design!

Lost in most of these studies is the fact that they operate as persuasion plays that show Cues to Low WATT processors who skip along the Peripheral Route and respond with automatic, top of the head responses that extend no longer than the keypress and have almost no real world behavioral impact. With nothing more on the line than completing a survey, people who are busy, distracted, or unconcerned zip through these “randomized double-blind” studies with all the attention of a bored kid in the back of a minivan in the fifth hour of a nine hour drive to grandma’s house.

Do people stereotype? Of course. Stereotyping is part of the wiring in the human brain. The civilization trick here is not stopping stereotyping as a cognitive function, but learning how to control the behavioral implications of this human nature. And most people, most of the time have little trouble pushing aside their human nature and acting civilized when they meet people strange to them. In other words, there is a huge disconnect between the mind and the body here and persuasion theory explains it.

When you run a study like Jennifer-John you will find large immediate Changes in thinking and maybe feeling and maybe, if you design it right, maybe a little behavior – just place a push button right next to the computer that Fires the candidate. Yeah, these studies can show that kind of Change. But real world examples of rape, assault, harassment, discrimination or even just plain rude and thoughtless behavior? No. What you get is careless, top of the head responding even among elite and highly respected STEM professors who took 3 minutes to complete this survey. It’s worth reading the argumentative, rhetorical, and entirely inSincere abstract.

Despite efforts to recruit and retain more women, a stark gender disparity persists within academic science. Abundant research has demonstrated gender bias in many demographic groups, but has yet to experimentally investigate whether science faculty exhibit a bias against female students that could contribute to the gender disparity in academic science. In a randomized double-blind study (n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hirable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student. Mediation analyses indicated that the female student was less likely to be hired because she was viewed as less competent. We also assessed faculty participants’ preexisting subtle bias against women using a standard instrument and found that preexisting subtle bias against women played a moderating role, such that subtle bias against women was associated with less support for the female student, but was unrelated to reactions to the male student. These results suggest that interventions addressing faculty gender bias might advance the goal of increasing the participation of women in science.

This is the abstract for a scientific report, yet it sounds like a press release from the Center To Right The Wrongs Of The World. Women aren’t in STEM careers because of the subtle sexism of STEM professors! Which oddly enough includes STEM professors who are women. Wouldn’t you think that female STEM professors would have fought through this hatred and prejudice and vowed, Never Again? Yet, according to this “randomized double blind” study, female STEMsters are as sexist as male STEMsters. Something must be done!

The present study is unique in investigating subtle gender bias on the part of faculty in the biological and physical sciences. It therefore informs the debate on possible causes of the gender disparity in academic science by providing unique experimental evidence that science faculty of both genders exhibit bias against female undergraduates. As a controlled experiment, it fills a critical gap in the existing literature, which consisted only of experiments in other domains (with undergraduate students as participants) and correlational data that could not conclusively rule out the influence of other variables.

This in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a group of people you’d expect to be better read than this. There is absolutely nothing in this “randomized double-blind” study that hasn’t already been found and reported since we figured out how to make mud. Yet, the Academy apparently thinks this is a new Falling Apple. Thus, the researchers pick a naïve population of smart people, present them with old research, and prove members of the National Academy and their ilk are Sexist Pigs. Even the girls!

And, yet, this isn’t the part of the story that proves how to manufacture science to get into the National Conversation. Nobody in the real world cares about what a bunch of sexist pigs in the National Academy of Sciences talk about. They care about what the New York Times talks about!

To that end, this research team pulls a string and gets this research report into the hands of an NYTimes reporter and we get the next step: A foreboding analytic story!

Not bad for a crappy piece of old news persuasion research that only fools the gullible guys at PANAS. Great headline. Plus if you read the story, they spell all the researcher names correctly.

But, wait. There’s more!

The Times decided to go where no news source has gone before and pursues this injustice. Scrutinize!

The Times keeps this running dog running with a thoughtful exchange in their thoughtful series called Room For Debate. Just look at the image. See all the competing voices in the different head shots? Big room for the big debate, although if you actually read the opinions you realize that most decry the sexist pigs everywhere and only one person stands up for all the problems boys and men are having nowadays without addressing the Sexism. In other words, the Times thinks the debate is over and Sexism blocks smart girls and women from STEM careers. Math has nothing to do with it.

So. Take an old line of persuasion research, do some dodgy selection of your audience, then take this manufactured science to the pop press and get multiple Exposures and you are in the National Conversation! The persuasion irony here, of course, is that this persuasion play has no impact on the National Conversation. Everyone in this National Conversation is Low WATT and talking off the top of their head, just like all the participants in these Jennifer-John studies who just click the most obvious response to get out of this chore.

Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Brescoll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman. (2012). Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students, PNAS 2012 ; published ahead of print September 17, 2012.


P.S. Pssst, PANAS. Wanna redeem your Sexist Piggyness? Recruit females with the Attractiveness Cue instead of all that math. Something like this.

P.P.S. “Subtle Gender Bias?” The Windowpanes in this silly study range from Smallish to Stupendous. Nothing subtle about the effects. Just the persuasion.

Scientific Science in Pop Press: Explaining Randomness in Undecideds

Two professors who should know better perform the magic act of Explaining Randomness in this NYT analysis of undecided voters in the US Presidential election. They draw upon tracking polls conducted over several weeks, then draw out from each sample only the people who were undecided. The professors then analyze this group for clues about their characteristics and the implication of those characteristics for the election.

The exercise is magic, of course, because most of what they interpret as true differences are only random effects. With a sample this size, the error is going to be around 5 to 10% and the professors seize upon differences among undecideds that are within or just barely out of sampling error. They report no tests of statistical significance and certainly nothing about effect sizes, just taking the absolute mathematical difference to claim Something’s Going On. They do provide a bar chart!

Yet, they present their analysis in that scientific style with job titles and institutional affiliation you see in peer review literature, but without the obvious benefit of peer review that would have suggested the professors are reading tea leaves and might want to brush up on their stat and research methods. Thus, NYT readers are treated to the appearance of social science when it is only a magic trick that makes you think random is systematic when it is always and forever only random. Stated another way, the professors tell you how to spot loaded dice while viewing a random run. Hey, they’re professors of professing at those places that hire professors. Just read the end of the post.

I obviously disapprove of people playing professor on TV where they can dress the part, but don’t have to worry about getting scorched in peer review. Sure, the reader comments can be aggressive, but that’s just the give and take of the First Amendment, and even when people are calling you names, it’s still in the New York Times! That’s nothing like getting those anonymous reviews that pull your pants down and make you spank yourself for your failures, errors, and embarrassments. And, of course, none of that appears on your CV or any promotion and tenure committee; you do get all the Cool Table recognition with none of the negative consequences such poor performance would earn in your real job.

Here’s the solution. Just send this crap to the NYT without your job title and institutional affiliation. Exercise your First Amendment rights as a citizen and misread statistical data to suit your temperament and political bias. Huzzah. That’s why people died to create and defend this country. Not so you can play professor on TV, pushing your credential as a Cue to science rather than providing science.

The persuasion play reeks with a childish inSincerity. The professors wear the robes and engage the rituals like little kids playing Dress Up. What they show in this public game looks like science, but is only advertising.

All Bad Persuasion Is . . . an External Attribution

In case you missed the news, the Supreme Court largely upheld ObamaCare, the massive health care reform law. Some folks can’t believe that the conservative Roberts Court sided with those crazy liberal democrats. Worse still for conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts, a well-known conservative jurist, sided with the four liberal justices to give Obama this hated victory. How do conservative commentators explain Roberts’ decision?

“Let’s talk about Roberts. I’m going to tell you something that you’re not going to hear anywhere else, that you must pay attention to. It’s well known that Roberts, unfortunately for him, has suffered from epileptic seizures. Therefore he has been on medication. Therefore neurologists will tell you that medication used for seizure disorders, such as epilepsy, can introduce mental slowing, forgetfulness and other cognitive problems. And if you look at Roberts’ writings you can see the cognitive dissociation in what he is saying,” Michael Savage said on his radio program this evening.

It’s the pill!

If you’re an old guy and well read in the persuasion literature, especially the Dissonance literature, you find Savage’s comments more than a bit funny. There’s a famous line of research on Dissonance and the Pill wherein, you can keep people OFF the Dissonance path by artfully providing a Pill. When people are caught in one of those horrible cognitive inconsistencies (your conservative Justice sides with the liberals), you can avoid all the terrible head work involved in loving over what you suffer with a Pill. Here’s how.

Researchers put everyone in a Dissonance machine (again that inconsistency), but in one condition, they give participants a Pill and suggest that some people experience a mild sense of anxiety as a side effect. The Pill is, of course, a sugar pill, a placebo, that has no physiological effect. But, the Pill does have a psychological effect. People in a Dissonance condition who get the Pill fail to stay on the Dissonance path and instead bail out with an External Attribution.

Why do I feel worried, anxious, upset . . . it’s the Pill! When people are trapped in inconsistencies the presence of a “Pill,” an External Attribution, allows them to short-circuit the Dissonance effects and return to normal. That damn Pill is making me feel weird, not the inconsistency.

Here we see the conservative Savage, metaphorically taking a Roberts epilepsy Pill to avoid the terrible inconsistency Savage feels. When Savage can explain Roberts’ action like this, Savage can stop thinking about all the extensive and rational arguments Roberts wrote down in his opinion.

You easily see how ludicrous Savage’s claim is. Even if the medication does affect cognition, somehow those Pills didn’t hurt Roberts when he made decisions that Savage approved. Somehow the epilepsy medication only makes Roberts crazy on certain issues! And, if the pills do indeed cripple cognition, how could Roberts have written even grammatical sentences, much less sentences that make sense as arguments and reasoning?

See all the persuasion here. Inconsistencies motivate dissonance. People hate dissonance and avoid it when possible. External attributions avoid dissonance (the Devil made me/him do it). You can vicariously take somebody else’s pill.

You feel better, but you should do all this in private where no one can see your psycho-logic. Otherwise you look normal, but sound crazy.

P.S. Read more about it.

Zanna, M. P., & Cooper J. (1974). Dissonance and the Pill: An attribution approach to studying the arousal properties of dissonance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 29, 703-709.

doi: 10.1037/h0036651

P.P.S. Jeepers, a 1974 reference and no one has yet done a fMRIneuro study to prove whether this old stuff is actually true or just ancient history. If you’re a liberal academic researcher, can you trust research from 1974 even if it gives you a laugh at a conservative? Why not get a grant and fire up your neuroGizmo just to be sure?

P.P.P.S. Isn’t conservative Savage engaging in a Concrete Construal in his hate for conservative Roberts with that pill explanation? I thought that conservatives only stigmatized out-groups like Muslims or gays and lesbians, but maybe Concrete Construals cause them to stigmatize everyone! doi: 10.1177/0956797611433877

Reading the Persuasion Tea Leaves

Consider this reviewer’s evaluation on a new book about the current world economic problems.

Mr. Krugman is arguably the most important and influential Op-Ed columnist in the nation; his blog is required reading for any economic policy wonk, and he writes daily with fluency and fervor about the greatest issues facing the world. But give him a book to fill, and he starts becoming a little bit repetitive: reading this one is a bit like listening to a Wagner opera, where the lead character first tells you what he’s going to say, and then he says it, and then he tells you what he just said. What’s more, the real heart of “End This Depression” is distressingly thin. There are 13 chapters plus an introduction and a postscript, and just one of them — chapter 12 — attempts to deliver on the promise of the title and explain what Mr. Krugman would have the government actually do to improve our collective lot. And that chapter is pretty short. There are precious few detailed policy proposals here, and it would be extremely difficult to put a price tag on what Mr. Krugman wants. A lot of it is more attitude than money, in any case: the idea, for instance, that Ben Bernanke needs to demonstrate “Rooseveltian resolve” in his quest to get the country moving.

The interesting element of this review in the New York Times about Krugman’s book is not that it is about Paul Krugman, his politics, or his book, but rather the persuasion implications of the event. Let’s assume that the reviewer provides a fair read of the book – it’s long on the problem but short on the solution. Thus, for anyone who wants to End This Depression, you’d have to claim the book is a persuasive failure – it doesn’t Change anything because it has no serious recommendations for Change.

I mean persuasion is always and ever about Changing Other Guys and if the book doesn’t even offer serious plays for creating the Change to End This Depression, then it must be counted as a failure. Right?

Now, consider this Rule of Persuasion:

Persuasion Is Strategic or It Is Not.

Any persuasion play is likely to create many possible Changes. For example, somebody running for President will run plays to attract large crowds, lots of financial donations, and generate mobs of volunteers, but unless all of these Changes translate into the key Strategic Change, more votes, all those other Changes are useless and the persuasion fails not because there was no Change, but because there was the wrong Change. You have to see both Change and know the Strategy to judge the persuasion effect of any persuasion play.

Like a book. A plain reading of the Krugman persuasion play would seem to suggest that Krugman’s Strategic Change is End This Depression! He wants the suffering to end and bring us to a world of happy, shiny people and to that Strategic Goal he offers a book of recommended Changes. Except, and again assuming the reviewer provides a fair read of the Krugman Book of Changes, there are no Changes in the book!

But, are there other Strategic Changes Krugman may pursue? Certainly there is the prosaic Change of Sell That Book. Krugman’s got a life to live and that takes money, so sell a book, lots of books. Nothing wrong in that and anyone who buys books expects that writers write in part to earn money.

Of course, Krugman writing to End This Depression is quite different from Krugman writing to Buy This Book and you see the Attributional problem here. Krugman has a point of view and is willing to clash his view against others in the great give and take of free speech in the marketplace of ideas. And, he presents himself as someone who wants to End This Depression. Yet, his persuasion play is light, airy, perhaps even vapid on policies that End Depressions. He does not, what he says.

Persuasion, zealotry, and self advancement often tangle together in the pursuit of Change. Present persuasion as a means to good Change and people see you as useful, compassionate, admirable. Present persuasion as a means to good Change that never arises from your plays and people will begin to see you differently. Perhaps as that well intentioned, but ineffective zealot. Perhaps as that bad intentioned, but effective self-promoter.

Editorial Economic Enthymeme or Persuasive Self Abuse

An enthymeme is a persuasion syllogism. It deliberately omits key elements in the Major or Minor Premise to better ensure that you fall into the persuasion Conclusion. For example, read the first two paragraphs of this Paul Krugman article.

A few days ago, I read an authoritative-sounding paper in The American Economic Review, one of the leading journals in the field, arguing at length that the nation’s high unemployment rate had deep structural roots and wasn’t amenable to any quick solution. The author’s diagnosis was that the U.S. economy just wasn’t flexible enough to cope with rapid technological change. The paper was especially critical of programs like unemployment insurance, which it argued actually hurt workers because they reduced the incentive to adjust.

Right. Krugman is the Nobel-prize winning columnist for the New York Times. He knows his stuff about economics. He read this paper that proves our unemployment problems are structural and can’t be fixed quickly. Tah!

O.K., there’s something I didn’t tell you: The paper in question was published in June 1939. Just a few months later, World War II broke out, and the United States — though not yet at war itself — began a large military buildup, finally providing fiscal stimulus on a scale commensurate with the depth of the slump.

Do you see the enthymeme, easy, ripe, and luscious? Wanna fix unemployment? Start a World War!

When you write enthymemes that attack yourself, you don’t need an opponent.


Self Persuasion or Sometimes You’re the Other Guy

Usually we look at persuasion aimed at those Other Guys, everyone else, but you. Sometimes, however, the Other Guy is you as when you want to change a bad habit, strengthen a good one, or acquire a new routine. Self persuasion is still persuasion. Let’s consider one maven’s thoughts.

Paul Carr has a new book that describes how he broke his alcohol addiction. He disputes the method of Alcoholics Anonymous for many reasons, but persuasively employs the 12 Steps as his book’s structuring device.

Step One: Ask Yourself, “Do I Really Have a Problem?”
Step Two: Quit Publicly
Step Three: Don’t Fear Failure
Step Four: Pull Yourself Together
Step Five: Stop Lying
Step Six: Stop Apologizing
Step Seven: Rediscover Dating
Step Eight: Replace Your Ridiculous Drunken Stories With Ridiculous Sober Ones
Step Nine: Spend Money on Stuff You Won’t Lose
Step Ten: Take a Difficult Test
Step Eleven: Work Nicer, Not Just Harder and Smarter
Step Twelve: Forget Everything You’ve Just Read

As pop press self help books go, this one may not be bad persuasion advice, except for that final Step that tells Grasshopper to find a path that differs from Master Po’s. I once had a prof like this and I’d still beat him up if I saw him in public. You don’t lead students down the wrong path to help them find the right one. Call it Zen Then, Tao Now, or Tenure For Life, it’s always bad teaching in every culture, zeitgeist, or screenplay.

Past my bias for happy endings, Carr describes several persuasion principles in his renunciation of AA, most notably the principle that makes AA effective: Social norms. Carr calls this Public Quitting which is the same thing as standing up in an AA meeting and declaring, “Hi, I’m Grasshopper and I’m an alcoholic.” When you confess an identity to a group that has an interest in that identity, you are creating Norms that will pressure everyone to think, feel, and act in particular ways to the exclusion of others. Carr wants you to do this with your friends, coworkers, and family. AA adds strangers and God.

Beyond this major similarity with AA, Carr does provide other effective self persuasion plays. Most of them aim at getting you away from the past behavior – stop apologising, get new stories – that would change how you think about yourself. I also like his Self Challenge play. You need to push the boundaries and make the new habit stronger than the old one. Assuming it works, and that is a risk, you’re doing a Self Inoculation play where that which does not addict you makes you stronger.

Yet, all of his plays share one commonality: You always have to pull the trigger. Carr’s self help guidance flounders where all self help pilots hit the rocks: Will power. Hey, Grasshopper do this and that, then that and this, and you will find the way.

Truly, you will. But only if you have the will power. Most of us simply cannot summon the required self control that is required to kill a bad habit and nurture a good one. Many of the scientific and not so scientific Persuasion How-To’s we look at on the Persuasion Blog fail precisely for this reason. Yeah, you will lose weight if you buy and eat only raw veggies, soy milk, and Max Thinner Protein®. But, you’ve gotta do this under your own steam everyday for months or years and that’s will power.

Heck you don’t need to walk any farther than the nearest mirror to prove this. Just one glance and you see your failures leap off the surface. And, you know exactly why you failed and what you need to do to succeed. Look around your desk top or drawer or some computer file directory helpfully labeled, Quitting. You’ll find your plan to lose 20 pounds, quit smoking, stop gambling, and on and on with the list of afflictions we all share. So, what happened?

I smoked a pack a day for 13 years and would still be smoking if I knew it wasn’t killing me. And after 30 years of abstinence, I still get cravings to light up a filterless Lucky Strike and smoke my brains out. It took me over 5 years of failure before I quit in 1982, going cold turkey with a thick rubber band on my wrist that I snapped every time I had the urge to smoke. Pain beats impulse and after that first day, my wrist was bleeding. But, the nicotine cleared my system and by the next day, I didn’t need to snap nearly as often and by the end of the week, I was nearly clear. I wore the rubber band for several months if only as a threat. So. Why not add a thick rubber band to Carr’s list?

I don’t think I could have done it hard enough every day for a week. If the nicotine impulse had continued as strong every day as the first one, I would have run out of limbs, skin, and blood, but more likely, self control. Willing oneself to pain has limits.

There’s a voluminous literature on self control and regulation. Some of it illuminates what is politely called the Illusion of Control. I’d suggest that most pop press self help books like this operate exactly through that Illusion.

Now, Grasshopper.

Addiction is the powerful outcome of persuasion that resists change. Nothing works well, with simple steps, and easy application. When you combine substance dependence with habit you’ve got something close to Superman and Wonder Woman in your head. If you want to change, the science points to science and not self help. Realize that reading a self help book is your evil addiction’s way of keeping you addicted with the Illusion of Control.