Scarcity Sells a Movie

Salinger Smoking

J.D. Salinger, famously the author of Catcher In The Rye, died more famously as a recluse. He gave no interviews, wrote no memoirs, and avoided all biographers. His son noted,

“There were barely enough people to form a circle in the last 30 or 40 years,” he said.

Matthew Salinger estimates that his father had only 7 or 8 people whom he spoke with on anything remotely approaching a regular basis. Barely a circle, indeed.

So. How can you make and sell a movie about a guy who’s famous for his writing and more famous for his privacy?

Scarcity, baby. Scarcity.

The Scarcity Cue enhances something by making it rare, remote, inaccessible, limited . . . in other words, scarce. Because you cannot have it all, now, you want it even more. Salinger’s life is a living example of the Scarcity Cue. His inaccessibility made him even more attractive, compelling, and interesting. Now that he’s gone and cannot sue, you make the movie and sell it with Scarcity.

Selling the film may test even Mr. Weinstein’s Barnum-like skills. Moviegoers will be kept intentionally in the dark about what new information Mr. Salerno might have about the reclusive writer’s life — Mr. Salinger’s son, Matthew, challenges the notion that anyone close to his father in recent decades cooperated — and the Weinstein Company will have to strike a delicate balance in its marketing. It will have to raise the curtains a little, but not too much, as it seeks to build anticipation for the release.

That would be Harvey Weinstein, one of the more successful movie producers of the past 30 years. And that delicate balance measures Scarcity and how to present it. Like this.

Associates . . . hint at never-before-seen photographs and interviews with aging intimates of Salinger, as well as secrets that they decline to describe.

Secrets about the movie about a secretive man! Double Scarcity!

And, now, make this Scarcity seem practical rather than manipulative.

It’s a difficult task in an era when fluttering fingers on smartphones can give away all the surprises. “I don’t know how we do this and not rob the audience,” Mr. Weinstein said in a telephone interview.

Weinstein wants to show previews of the movie to drum up support, but he doesn’t want to give away the secrets of the movie by showing the whole movie in preview because everyone has a smartphone with Twitter. Previewers will give away the secrets! So?

For now the plan is to hit the festival circuit, but with only part of the film, holding back the end until it opens in theaters, Mr. Weinstein said.

Run a dull preview that only hints at secrets. That will build buzz. Then release the movie. One suspects that Weinstein will release the movie on as many screens as humanly possible just to protect those profits . . . oops, secrets.

But, does he have secrets about Salinger? Ask those who are making and releasing the movie. How about the director?

For the moment Mr. Salerno, who is finishing a final version, declines to be interviewed.

How about partners at PBS with American Masters?

Susan Lacy, executive producer of the “American Masters” series, was just as circumspect. She said she was legally barred from discussing details of the film.

When It Is Rare, It Is Good!

Boxing with Munch

Consider these variations on the theme (click to enlarge).

Munch the Lonely Ones

Edvard Munch created these variations in what has become known as the Lonely Ones. You observe a male and female figure, usually in the same position (female on the left) but also in exact reverse (male on the left) which only highlights the importance of the space between them.

That space can be seen as a metaphoric persuasion Play. Munch takes the Play of space and artistically considers it. His consideration revolves around a Local so similar in composition as to be metaphorically exact even across the differences in paintings. The Local is always a horizontal, facing a horizon.

What varies in each painting is the persuasion Box, that particular selection of elements available in the Local. Note how variations in the Box – that centered I, the changes in color and shade – change the impact, the meaning of the space between the male and female figures.

In persuasion terms, the metaphor shows how a Play changes with the Box you make out of the Local.


Publication Isn’t Science

While I gnash my teeth over those persuasion mavens who use pop press to amplify their bad, but persuasive, science, it goes deeper than fooling the masses. The Times reports (without awareness):

Those scientists had stumbled into a parallel world of pseudo-academia, complete with prestigiously titled conferences and journals that sponsor them. Many of the journals and meetings have names that are nearly identical to those of established, well-known publications and events. Steven Goodman, a dean and professor of medicine at Stanford and the editor of the journal Clinical Trials, which has its own imitators, called this phenomenon “the dark side of open access,” the movement to make scholarly publications freely available.

Yes. Folks are faking scientific journals with the classic General Semantics play of using the word for the thing. Desperate researchers can buy their way into publication with journals that have great sounding names like . . .

International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature
International Journal of Applied Research & Studies
International Journal of Biomedical Science
International Journal of Business and Management Invention
International Journal of Business and Social Research
International Journal of Collaborative Research on Internal Medicine & Public Health

The key element for publication is payment. You literally buy the pages, supply your own words, and the publication source will put it up online and maybe even infiltrate it into respectable search engines. And, then a well-written press kit delivered to pop press reporters on a deadline (or with an assist from HARO), and voila, you get the same kind of attention to the Cool Table usually gets.

See all the great persuasion in this bad science.

1. You can make money as a fake scientific publication source. The authors pay you fabulous sums of money, thousands of dollars per page in some cases. You hire a kid to steal the template from the New England Journal of Medicine or Science or Nature or even Psychological Science and you’ve got a fake website that looks authentic. And, you can fake the peer review by using authors that are already paying for pages. What’s the difference between the International Journal of Biomedical Science and NEJM? Not the content, because no one actually reads that. It’s who’s sitting at the Cool Table. So. You know science not by the science, but by the scientist!

2. You can make promotion and tenure with these fake scientific publications. There’s a terrible old line about people who oversee the promotion and tenure process in universities: I never met a Dean who could read, but They all know how to count. If a fake publication is on the CV, the Dean (and others in the review chain) probably won’t read the paper, but they will count the citation. And, if you’ve got the Magic Number of publications, fame and fortune in the form of lifetime tenure is not far behind.

3. You can work the pop press adoration of “science” to your advantage without having to make the considerable effort a real science source requires. You and a buddy join HARO – that service to reporters and journalists – and then support each other’s faux publications in faux outlets. Your buddy pays the fees and gets the publication. You contact a reporter through HARO about this great paper. Reporter on a deadline contacts your buddy about that great paper and . . . you know the rest.

The amazing part of this story is not the persuasion, but the absence of response from scientists. They’ve created a system that runs entirely upon the perception of credibility. Look competent and trustworthy, and you are. Without enforcement of the rules of science, you will then live by the rules of persuasion!

When Fear Appeals Work

Regular readers of the Persuasion Blog know that fear appeals scare me to death, but sometimes they actually work the way they should. Turns out that the Obama re-election campaign used fear appeals to generate more donations which helped them outraise and outspend Romney in the 2012 election.

The Romney campaign’s cash flow became a critical problem from early April to the late August convention, according to Stevens. Romney had used up almost all the money donated to his primary campaign, and by law could not tap into his general election contributions until after formally receiving the nomination on Aug. 28.

“In key states, Obama was outspending us in the summer by 3 and 4 to 1,” said a highly placed Romney operative who spoke on background. “We were struggling to put up 1,000 [Gross Rating] Points in major markets and they would have 4,000. We were getting drowned.”

You’ll recall that the Obama campaign reeked of desperation in leaked emails that revealed their requests for cash from donors. Here’s the lede from that news story.


Even I realize that fear appeals can work, just not nearly as often as advocates in the Lifestyle Drum and Bugle Corps believe. Let’s consider first the Obama Local here. The ultimate TACT is a one-time only behavior that can occur in a highly restricted and well defined way: Voting. The fear appeal argues that you can remove the threat with one specific action in one specific time and place that immediately hits an intermediate TACT: Money. Please see how specific, targeted, and timely everything about this Box ‘n Play and its TACT. This election, this November, one chance to win: Give me money!

Now, contrast this extremely targeted application of a fear appeal with most advocate applications. Usually there is a temporal disconnect between the fear appeal and the risk whether it is cancer or even bad breath; it will be a long time before the risk gets you. And, you rarely are given one behavior performed one time that will mitigate the risk. You must forever foreswear tanning your skin, eating bacon, or having sex sans condoms and then maybe you’ll avoid prematurely aged skin, heart attacks, or AIDS. Maybe. Probably. We’re pretty sure. The Harvard Tooth Fairies Think So.

Step back just a bit from this nicely done fear appeal and realize that a lot of other persuasion plays will work when you’ve got an immediate action that hits a TACT (give money) that will help hit another TACT (votes). This is just a good analysis of a persuasion Local (elections), a nice Box (Mitt Romney is after us), and a simple Cue-ball Play (fear). I’d score the setup higher than the tactic.

But, if you believe in fear, then learn the lesson: Find a scary situation, then say, Boo!

WATTage as Mindfulness

WATTage, that Willingness and Ability to Think, is a tricky concept. While it is highly correlated with IQ, intelligence is not WATTage. You can kill the impact of intelligence merely through overload or distraction so that even Brights skip along the Peripheral Route. And, WATTage is not accuracy in the sense of thinking through an engineering problem to a correct, practical solution. WATTage is like this:

Classes focused on (a) sitting in an upright posture with legs crossed and gaze lowered, (b) distinguishing between naturally arising thoughts and elaborated thinking, (c) minimizing the distracting quality of past and future concerns by reframing them as mental projections occurring in the present, (d) using the breath as an anchor for attention during meditation, (e) repeatedly counting up to 21 consecutive exhalations, and (f) allowing the mind to rest naturally rather than trying to suppress the occurrence of thoughts.

This a description of Mindfulness Training as part of a small experiment testing the impact of that Training on various measures of cognition compared to a Control Training that included meditation. The researchers found that people randomly assigned to Mindfulness Training showed Medium to Large Windowpanes in cognition compared to the other group.

Now, quickly. WATTage is not exactly Mindfulness as described in this Training. And the measures of cognition here were not anything related to the Long Conversation in the Head. However, think about the mental state of a person who sitting in an upright posture with lowered gaze, observing his thought process, ignoring temporal concerns to focus only on the present, using natural breathing as an external anchor of comparison, all the while getting hit with a razzle-dazzle Persuasion Play.

You immediately see the differential impact of Arguments and Cues with such a person. Cues in the presence of that kind of WATTage and Mindfulness would shine as bright fripperies that could be appreciated for their charm, beauty, or speed, but would have almost no impact on changing the Other Guy. Even Cues that ostensibly aim at thoughtful Arguments – all those Scientific Consensus Cues from the Climate Affirmers, for example – would burst like soap bubbles as the Mindful observer pricks the balloon with sharp thoughts that should reveal an Argument, but only explodes a Cue.

See, too, just how intense a High WATT state can be and how difficult it is to generate and maintain. While this Training illustrates you can make changes that may generalize past the Training situation, you know that as soon as the students stop Training, those benefits will disappear and they will revert to their former Lower WATTage and Mindlessness preferences. You can change your cognition predisposition with Training, but only so long as you Train.

And, finally see that the Training which provides these WATTage benefits occurs through the agency of an outside source. As long as somebody is making you do the Mindful Training, you will train. But, does this become a habit, a routine, a new way of reacting to the world? Not unless that outside agent is present to maintain the training. And that’s the ultimate problem with High WATTage. It takes WATTage to use WATTage. You have to constantly give WATTage to the problem of maintaining or increasing your WATTage and as every persuasion maven knows, eventually all the Other Guys will lose their minds.

Michael D. Mrazek, Michael S. Franklin, Dawa Tarchin Phillips, Benjamin Baird, and Jonathan W. Schooler. (2013). Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering Psychological Science, first published on March 28, 2013


P.S. Ellen Langer developed the earliest line of research on Mindlessness in the 1970s. She ran a simple field experiment where a confederate approached a student lined up to use a copy machine in the library and asked to cut the line to make a copy using either Mindful requests (i.e. I need to get to class right away) or Mindless requests (i.e. I want to make a copy). Check it out.

A Little Number Called Ding Dong

Two Trumpets Arch of Titus

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Make two silver trumpets for yourself; you shall make them of hammered work; you shall use them for calling the congregation and for directing the movement of the camps.” Numbers 10:1-2

We have a straightforward and simple application of Classical Conditioning with these verses. We start with an existing stimulus-response connection. The stimulus comes from leaders shouting verbal calls to the people. The response from the people is either to form a congregation at the tabernacle or else to organize and move out for a march. God directs Moses to add a new stimulus, the silver trumpets, into this equation. Doubtless Moses developed two different call sequences, one for the congregation and the other for the march. At first, Moses must have shouted as always and added the trumpet sounds in a series of conditioning trials. Soon the Israelites knew that when they heard trumpets, they no longer needed to hear human voices. It was time to congregate or march.

Ding Dong!

Also realize that God is creating an Image for Himself in the minds of the people. When they heard the distinctive sounds of the two silver trumpets, they knew they were moving, but they knew they were moving to the call and direction of God. The tones created by both the trumpets and the players would become associated in the minds of the listeners with God. And, realize that because these trumpets were made of natural materials and worked by natural hands, there would be unique characteristics to the sounds.

God created a special song to identify Himself to his Chosen People.

Persuasive Science with Factor Analysis or the Igon and the Ecstasy

I want to provide an illustration of telling Fairy Tales with statistical analysis that are truly Fairy Tales: untrue, made up, yet still statistical. The example demonstrates GIGO, an acronym you don’t see much nowadays: Garbage in, garbage out.

Consider Armstrong’s factor analysis (pdf) of metal boxes. Armstrong tells his tale.

Tom Swift is an operations researcher who has recently been hired by the American Metals Company. Some new metals have been discovered. They have been shipped to the American Metals Company and now sit in the basement. AMC is unfamiliar with the characteristics of these metals and it was Tom’s job to obtain a short but comprehensive classification scheme.

Tom hadn’t read the literature in geometry, in metallurgy, or in economics, but he did know something about factor analysis. He also had a large staff.

In fact, all of the 63 objects were solid metallic right-angled parallelepipeds of varying sizes – which is to say, they looked like rectangular boxes. Tom instructed his staff to obtain measurements on all relevant dimensions.

Armstrong then has Tom run a factor analysis as a statistical means of finding categories that are inherent in the physical measures of the boxes (length, density, surface area, etc.). Given that we are talking about physical reality here – metal boxes of different sizes, materials – something like factor analysis has to produce a statistical reality, right? What does Tom find?

Armstrong Box FA Loadings

A three factor solution with each factor summing to an eigenvalue greater than 1 and each item loading greater than .70. These three factors explain over 90% of the variance in the correlation matrix of measurements. (And, if you don’t know anything about factor analysis, please take my word for it that these outcomes are Very Good and any researcher would kill a stranger for the Mafia to get results like this.)

Problem is: How do you interpret the 3 factors? Read Armstrong’s fable to see the gyrations you can perform on yourself and Other Guys with a factor analysis of metal boxes. Armstrong can’t make Tom Swift make heads or tails out of the factor solutions. No one can.

Again, realize these are real metal boxes. Realize that the factor analysis produces fabulous statistical outcomes. And, realize that nothing makes any sense even though we are talking about physical reality.

We’re back to GIGO and factor analysis. Clever people can use a sophisticated and complicated math procedure on real objects and find nothing real. Want read world examples? Start with Michael Mann’s factor analysis of climate change – the hockey stick! Then, chase the nutrition literature. Search on “principle components” (or “factor analysis”) and diet. Then read the Methods section. It all reads like Armstrong’s fable of Tom Swift and the metal boxes.

Just because you can Count it, doesn’t mean you can Change it.

P.S. Gotta do it. Remember Malcolm Gladwell and Igon? Factor analysis reveals more than you realize.

All Persuasive Science Is . . . Pretty?

I’m down with basic science and love the pursuit of generalizable knowledge in the same way that Whistler pursued painting: Art for the sake of Art! Inherency, baby. Inherency! And this explains why you don’t have to persuade me about basic science. But, when you claim outcomes from your pursuit of generalizable knowledge to get a lot of money, then you’d better produce both generalizable knowledge and those outcomes. As with the Human Genome Project. Lots basic science, that pursuit of generalizable knowledge. Lots of confident predictions about outcomes like with health. Lots of money. Lots and lots of money. So?

Read this interview with the current director of the Fed genome project. Here’s the key response.

NYT Genome Accomplishments

Where’s the bullet list of confident predictions come to fruition? Where are the cures? Where is one cure? What practical benefit to society did all that money produce? And, remember, those practical benefits were confidently predicted as a primary means of obtaining all that money.

Nothing in that interview makes a simple and clear statement of those practical gains. Instead you get this big benefit: It’s now cheaper to analyze an individual’s genome. Hubba-hubba.

And a map metaphor! Turns out that the billion dollar project produces a map with a lot of missing details, but you can find gas stations and drug stores and, oh, yeah, academic research centers of excellence for genomics.

Make sure you see the distinction between Fallen Apples and Falling Apples here. The Falling Apples all land on the pursuit of generalizable knowledge, but that’s not sexy for taxpayer dollars, so add Fallen Apples in the form of confident predictions about health and cures and now you’ve got a billion dollar line of credit for a handful of well-connected people.

We’re trying again to spend a billion dollars on a similar project only this time on the brain. And you see the same kind of gang of usual suspects making the same confident predictions about cures and health. And, those centers of excellence.

Let me sincerely moan about the corruption of science all for the pursuit of fame and fortune. Oh, woe is me. Where’s the Art for the sake of Art?

Past my moaning, see the persuasion here. The science, the pursuit of generalizable knowledge, is the Cue that shimmies, shakes, and distracts that Long Conversation in the Head. Instead of annoying considerations about benefits, timetables, proof of discovery, cost, cost, cost, and those ubiquitous centers of excellence, just marvel at how smart these guys are, how unselfish these guys are, how tireless these guys are.

See the persuasion klonger here. Science is used the same way a pretty girl or boy is employed. You know that if you buy the product you don’t get the girl or even begin to look kinda like the boy, but if you are Low WATT, you can pretend. And, you know that beautiful science won’t produce longer or healthier life, but if you are Low WATT, you can pretend . . . like this!

Beautiful Doctor Calendar

The Effect of Sitting on Standing

Attribution Theory explains how different people can see the same thing and explain it differently. If you are an Observer of Other Guys, you tend to explain Their action one way. If you are an Actor, one of the Other Guys, you tend to explain Your action a different way. Simply put, where you stand depends upon where you sit! We see the interplay of these Sitting and Standing effects in this interesting story about medical mistakes, profits, and zero risk. Here’s how the NYTimes puts it.

Hospitals make money from their own mistakes because insurers pay them for the longer stays and extra care that patients need to treat surgical complications that could have been prevented, a new study finds.

Health care workers make preventable errors that harm patients, but then make more money helping the people they’ve just harmed. You see the perverse incentives built into the insurance system. You can get a positive consequence (More Money!) from negative actions (Preventable Harms). And, a physician notes this.

“We said, ‘Whoa, we’re working our tails off trying to lower complications, and the prize we’re going to get is a reduction in profits,’ ” Dr. Rosenberg said in an interview.

So. Health care workers harm people in ways that can be foreseen and prevented, and are then punished by losing profits on the following treatment. Dr. Rosenberg, as an Actor in this situation, says, “Whoa.” You, as an Observer in this situation, probably say something else.

Other physicians react in ways consistent with Dr. Rosenberg’s Whoa. Here’s a study author talking about those preventable mistakes that harm patients.

Dr. Lester said it was not clear how low the complication rate could or should go. Zero would be great, but was not realistic, he said.

Zero would be great, but not realistic. This in regards to behaviors that people like Dr. Lester perform. Health care workers do things that they know are harmful, but due to distraction, carelessness, time pressure, and on and on, they make mistakes that maim or kill patients. And, they think it would be good to zero out those behaviors, but that’s not a realistic expectation.

Now. Remember all the health and safety studies we’ve looked at in the Persuasion Blog where the authors operate from a comparison level of perfection, of zero risk. Laws and regulations for example. They seek to zero out: Large serving sodas, cell phone usage while driving, sitting rather than standing, and on and on with all the trivial and likely untrue risks they see. When they don’t have to do the behavior, then a zero risk is reasonable to pursue. But, when they do produce the behavior and a behavior that clearly kills more people than the trivialities, then zero risk is not reasonable.

This simple story compactly presents leading persuasion principles in the Health Bubble. Health care workers are normal human beings held in the thrall of persuasion nature. When they make mistakes that can be foreseen and prevented, they want profit from their following treatment with no expectation that they seek zero risk. They cannot see the Attribution trap that holds them. Where they sit determines where they stand.

The obvious, rational, fair, and reasonable response here (I think?) is that when people create harms to others that were foreseen and preventable, then they definitely should not profit from that harm. One might reasonably think that punishments should follow – lose money from the operation that caused the harm and get no money for treatment to repair the harm. But, when you are the one who made the mistake and all that implies, you are sitting in a different attributional world and you take a different attributional stand.

Health Bubble

General Semantics in Art

Korzybski outlined the persuasion play when he observed that the map is not the territory, the word is not the thing, or as I note, the menu is not the food. And, as Rene Magritte would put it: This is not a pipe.

Magritte Not A Pipe

See the image as the Word and the words as ironic pointers to the Thing, or Not Thing in this case.

Persuasion Copies Art and Art Copies Persuasion.