Another Pill for Low T

Gee. Feeling Low T? Down on everyone. Can’t rely on anyone. Everybody’s out to get you. Here. Take this pill. It contains oxytocin. You’ll trust everyone again.

Really.

Could a single molecule—one chemical substance—lie at the very center of our moral lives? Research that I have done over the past decade suggests that a chemical messenger called oxytocin accounts for why some people give freely of themselves and others are coldhearted louts, why some people cheat and steal and others you can trust with your life, why some husbands are more faithful than others, and why women tend to be nicer and more generous than men. In our blood and in the brain, oxytocin appears to be the chemical elixir that creates bonds of trust not just in our intimate relationships but also in our business dealings, in politics and in society at large.

Look, I appreciate the need to sell a book and an article in the WSJ extolling the virtues of oxytocin as explained in your book is a good way to do that. But oxytocin “is the center of our moral lives?” Here’s the guy’s own research.

Our hypothesis that oxytocin increases the trusting behaviour of investors implies that the investors in the oxytocin group (n = 29) will show higher money transfers than those in the placebo group (n = 29). In fact, our data show that oxytocin increases investors’ trust considerably. Out of the 29 subjects, 13 (45%) in the oxytocin group showed the maximal trust level, whereas only 6 of the 29 subjects (21%) in the placebo group showed maximal trust (Fig. 2a). In contrast, only 21% of the subjects in the oxytocin group had a trust level below 8 monetary units (MU), but 45% of the subjects in the control group showed such low levels of trust . . . The investors’ average transfer is 17% higher in the oxytocin group (Mann-Whitney U-test; z = -1.897, P = 0.029, one-sided).

Participants received either oxytocin or a placebo, then played a trust game with another person. More of the oxytocin players showed a higher level of trust (45%) compared to placebo (21%). Yeah, yeah, the effect is statistically significant and hurray, this is an experiment with random assignment to controlled conditions. But, look at the effect size. It’s a Small plus Windowpane, about 40/60.

That’s the center of our moral universe?

A persuasive claim if you don’t think about the science or All Bad Science Is Persuasive.

Letter
Michael Kosfeld, Markus Heinrichs, Paul J. Zak, Urs Fischbacher & Ernst Fehr. (2005). Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature 435, 673-676

doi: 10.1038/nature03701

Counting Viral Persuasion on Facebook

Good counts on Facebook are hard to find. Bad counts – all those stupendous numbers on total users, number of posts, network size, yada-yada – are plentiful, but getting good counts on persuasion impact are few and far between. Which is why this is so useful.

A couple of B-school researchers partnered with an app designer to study Word of Mouth characteristics on Facebook that led to peer adoption of a new app. The app in question focused on movies and the film industry in general and allowed people to post and share comments on the topic with their Facebook friends who also had the app. The researchers ran a paid advertising campaign to attract about 10,000 Facebook users to download the app. The researchers working in conjunction with the app developer systematically varied the attributes of the app to affect the kind of WOM these users could use to inveigle their network friends to download the app.

You see the Counting value of this approach. The researchers build a sample of app users, vary the attributes of the app to create an independent variable with different kinds of WOM, then collect the stream of user actions with the app in their network to see how many friends adopt the app and under what conditions. It’s a really nice controlled experiment in the natural setting with tons of data flowing out of it.

If you are crazy for data and those regression equations with Greek letters, get the paper and read it. This team is pretty smart and you could learn a lot of nuance. For this post, however, I want to detail the large scale findings. That where all my persuasion interest lies.

Exactly 9687 people responded to an advertising campaign about the movie app and downloaded it. That campaign cost $6,000 to execute. This is the group from which we can now study WOM and its effect on getting new app adopters from the larger social networks of the original group of 9687 app users. Now, read the following carefully.

The experiment was conducted over a 44-day period during which 9687 users adopted the application with 405 users randomly assigned to the baseline control group, 4600 users randomly assigned to the passive-broadcast treatment group, and 4682 users randomly assigned to the active-personalized treatment group. Users in these groups collectively had 1.4M distinct peers in their local social networks and sent a total of 70,140 viral messages to their peers, resulting in 992 peer adoptions – 682 of which were in direct response to viral messages.

See the key numbers. Nearly 10,000 users have 1.4 million Facebook friends (about 140 friends per user which is a common network size on Facebook). Those nearly 10,000 users sent 70,000 viral messages (the WOM, right?). That produced about 1,000 app adoptions. So, if you spend $6,000 dollars on this tactic, you’ll generate WOM that earns about 1,000 positive outcomes, about $6 per adoption.

Stated another way, $6,000 will buy access to a potential population of 1.4 million people in 10,000 social networks and get about 70,000 WOM actions that will result in about 1,000 good outcomes (downloading a free application on Facebook).

Everyone can draw their own implications from this basic finding. Downloading a free Facebook app is the TACT and that’s exactly what I consider WATtapping, that Low WATT social media twitching that requires little thought, effort, or value, but can still be collected and counted. Social Media like Facebook and Twitter are great twitch collector networks, but some people think that a twitch is more than a twitch and that if you combines the zillions of twitches you’ve got . . . something.

So, you’re running a health campaign to encourage people to drink water or juice rather than Full Strength Soda Pop. What kind of WOM behavior change do you think you’ll get with your Stop The Pop App on Facebook?

You’re a marketing exec with GM trying to shed that Government Motors moniker and get back in the Free Market again with more car sales, say like with that New New Thing, the Chevy Volt, the electric car that will save GM and revolutionize transportation as we know it. You create that Get A Jolt From Volt Facebook app and use this ad campaign tactic to get WOM. How many more Volts will you sell with Facebook WOM?

Hey, you’re running for re-election with Hope and Change 2.0, so you build that Hope And Change 2.0 Obama App and follow this research to unleash it on Facebook. How many votes do you get on Election Day with this kind of WOM?

It costs you $6,000 to build a group of 10,000 Facebook users so you can give away a free app to 1,000 people through WOM. You can have potential access to 1.4 million people in all those networks and get 1,000 hits from those 1.4 million for a success rate of 0.000714285714%.

I have trouble finding good news in this research for Facebook as a persuasion platform. I can see fabulous news in just the research itself. The researchers have some great data that permits interesting testing of communication and persuasion in social networks. Hubba-hubba! But getting the Other Guy to Change in real time in the real world with Facebook?

The best persuasion interpretation of this study is that I might get 10% more app users if I run an ad campaign on Facebook. Remember the ad campaign got 10,000 app downloads and then the WOM from that group got 1,000 of their friends. Of course, this same kind of effect occurs with any form of persuasion. Persuade a group to your TACT with face-to-face communication, with TV or radio, with church sermons; that group then spreads the word through WOM to others in their social networks. There’s nothing in these data to indicate that getting the TACT through Facebook produces more effective or efficient WOM compared to any other communication channel, device, vehicle, or medium. Thus, WOM can make a Small Windowpane difference . . . if you are doing an incredibly easy, thoughtless, and free TACT.

Facebook beguiles. Those huge networks. Those huge networks with well described individuals. Think about the kind of micro targeting of Other Guys you can do and still have all that peer influence, Word Of Mouth, social influence. Good grief the potential is staggering. But then you get into the operation of those social networks and you begin to realize that you are confusing the word for the thing, eating the digital menu. Facebook is a twitch collector and not a social network. People fool themselves when they think Facebook is a social network the same way those Lenten dinners in a church basement are a social network.

Researchers once made a distinction between face-to-face interactions, calling them social, and mediated interactions, calling them, mediated! The persuasion mavens and VC behind Web 2.0 artfully blurred that distinction and dropped the mediation. You do not have a social relationship with your friends, families, colleagues, and those others you cannot now remember, on Facebook. And, all the science we’ve got about social relationships does not apply with the faux connections Facebook builds.

There may be a persuasion science within Facebook and the computer mediated communication networks of Social Media. But, using everything we know about true social influence and even mass mediated influence simply does not work with Web 2.0. My gut feeling is that Social Media is a fabulous fiction for attracting venture capital and a few big IPO kills, but that there is no persuasion there. It requires something too close to the Queen of Tomorrow for gratification.

Sinan Aral and Dylan Walker. (2010). Creating Social Contagion Through Viral Product Design: A Randomized Trial of Peer Influence in Networks.

November 30, 2010

Management Science, Forthcoming

P.S. The central persuasion problem with Social Media is how people think while using Facebook. The information field with a Facebook page (as with virtually all Social Media) is crowded with many different WATTage switches, Arguments, and Cues. Worse still, people enter the page with a particular thinking goal that conflicts with all the available information tasks on the page – you can write or read. Your Father’s Oldsmobile media like broadcast TV carefully controlled the information field and tasks of viewers. Sure, the ads announced themselves so that you could run to the bathroom or simply ignore them, but when you’re spending 8 hours a day in front of this kind of processing field, the ad will eventually get to you. Facebook has no strong way of controlling the information or the viewer’s processing state. Social media are a persuasion car wreck.

Sex in the City with Big Data

You might have seen this compelling demonstration of how Team Obama uses Big Data for fundraising with Sarah Jessica Parker of Sex and the City fame. Obama emailed invitations to a $40,000 a plate dinner with the President and First Lady, to be hosted at Parker’s New York City home. Pretty standard, but, catch the persuasion plays.

For example, 52 people received an email that read:

So I know [Barack Obama] is looking forward to the dinner at Sarah Jessica Parker’s house next week in New York, and meeting a few grassroots supporters like you.

By comparison, 39 people received an email with this emphatic endorsement of the Sex and the City star:

Sarah Jessica Parker is a loving mom, an incredibly hard worker, and a great role model. She’s one of those people you can’t help but admire. While seven people received an email that had only the above mention (“looking forward to the dinner at . . . ”) of Sarah Jessica Parker, four people got an email that simply directs them to a YouTube video of Sarah Jessica Parker.

Only two respondents sent in emails that read:

Sarah Jessica Parker is someone who puts 100 percent into everything she does. Barack and I are honored that, right now, some of that wonderful energy is focused on supporting the campaign.

Make sure you understand this. Obama 2.0 is running a persuasion engine on . . . party invitations. This is a Manhattan fundraiser with all the glitterati who already know each other. These people have been in the same rooms together for years with Mr. Obama. And, he’s running Persuasion Plays in the email invitations.

I appreciate the attention to detail, but are these details persuasive? See these bits and bytes in a large Rule:

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

Team Obama can count pennies of variation in potential donors and drop them into personalized emails. All of the people receiving these invitations are well known in political fundraising; just imagine the Facebook or Google+ networks and circles for these people and how much overlap there must be. Yet Team Obama is microtailoring.

I spot familiar persuasion plays like that “woman you can admire,” and “a few grassroots supporters like you.” Combination Cues of Liking and Authority or Scarcity, with that relentless Social Norming of Comparison. And, of course, these plays are not running Arguments on the Central Route trying to provoke a Long Conversation in the Head. Team Obama is Cue-ing up the Beautiful People to solicit $40,000 from each. Really. Think about that. Using Cues to get $40,000 from somebody. And, you think the Peripheral Route is for dummies?

Did this Big Data Super Tailoring make any difference? According to news reports, about 50 people attended the event and newspapers claim that Team Obama raised $2 million. We’re assuming that the Count is correct (50) and that each person contributed 40k and those assumptions may be wrong. Maybe some snuck in the back door to avoid the Count and maybe some gave more than 40k. However, 50 paying guests is not a bad guess.

The newspaper quotes at the top of this post come from about 100 emails collected by the news reporter, sent in by invitees who shared their email invitations. You know that Team Obama sent more than 100 emails, but how many? Thus, again, we don’t know the population of Other Guys that Team Obama targeted. And worse still, what’s the comparison group? Were there any invitees who did not get a microtailored play?

Past my important niggling concerns – good grief, man, this is a Presidential election not a peer review project! – what can we learn as practical persuaders from this particular Presidential persuasion play?

1. Big guns are doing highly specialized Box and Plays.

This sounds trite, but when people whose careers depend upon successful persuasion are doing Something, it is worth noting and studying. Obama is doing these tailoring plays.

2. While we’re not sure they make a positive difference, they don’t appear to make a negative difference.

When I take a hard core Count The Change approach, I simply don’t know how big a difference these tailored plays made – no comparison group! But, I can see that this play did not backfire and make things worse. Anyone who does practical persuasion knows that sometimes persuasion makes things worse for you and even if the play isn’t necessarily working, just knowing that you’re not shooting yourself in the foot is valuable knowledge.

3. Team Obama is running textbook persuasion tactics.

As I read the email quotes, I catch phrases that look like they were lifted from JPSP or HCR and a peer review persuasion study. This is exactly what has been studied and tested for many years in research labs and also enjoys wide use among other practical persuaders. Most of the Cues produce a 10-30% gain (Small to Medium Windowpanes) in these studies, so making an evaluation based only on research, I’d guess that Obama’s play here got more contributions than just a friendly invitation.

4. Team Obama is pushing the tailoring envelope.

The tailoring approach seems a bit more sophisticated than most research publication with more careful attention to psychological qualities – which kind of social Cue is more appropriate – rather than the demographic qualities typically employed in tailoring. Team Obama can push this more easily because they don’t have to have the same number of cases in each cell and can mix and match Other Guys and tailored plays as dictated by reality rather than science (imagine the full factorial design if this was an experiment!).

Let’s get out of here.

Team Obama is reading the Persuasion Blog! Or at least someone else’s version of the Persuasion Blog. The tactics described in this fundraiser are Primer concepts in action. Even with the absence of scientific control, I’d argue that there’s a Change You Can Count with it. So, hurray persuasion!

Of course, we know that Obama is running quite a bit behind his opponent in Fund Raising, so maybe Mr. Romney knows something that neither Mr. Obama or the Persuasion Blog knows! Or else Mr. Romney is doing a better job at maintaining operational security. Only a fool discusses his persuasion plans in public. Mr. Obama is clearly suffering from over attention which means he needs to work harder at hiding his persuasion in plain sight. Meanwhile Mr. Romney gets to goof along with the press thinking him a fool and never pressing to find Romney’s persuasion plays.

Hey. Romney’s a Republican. They’re too stupid to do smart persuasion like Obama!

Administrative Update: RSS and Email Postings

I’m testing new software related to the RSS and Email delivery of Persuasion Blog posts. If you receive posts through these mechanisms, you may notice slower than usual delivery as I work the bugs out over the next few days. You should continue to find daily posts on the Persuasion Blog website as usual.

I’d appreciate your patience and good humor with any delays or inconvenience. It’s just technology.

On the Peripheral Route with Progressive Political Research

Many political and social issues are determined by the attitudes people hold about them. If you have a favorable attitude about the perils of global warming, for example, you are then more likely to favor policy interventions aimed at reducing global warming. If you have a favorable attitude toward a woman’s choice, then you are more likely to favor policies that support abortion or contraception. While this is certainly a noncontroversial observation, people still miss how basic persuasion processes apply in our understanding of these political and social attitudes.

Consider this six (!!!) experiment package that investigates people’s attitudes about a current hot button political issue, Income Inequality. Some people have more income or wealth while most others have less. These statistics from the research illustrate the issue.

“The richest 20% of people in the United States own 85% of all wealth in the country”; “Recent statistics show that between 1990 and 2010, the average worker’s salary has risen by less than 5%, whereas the average CEO’s salary has risen by 500%”

I’ll trust the researchers and assume these assertions are true and that they point to the variable called, Income Inequality. The more interesting question is now, what affects people’s attitudes toward Income Inequality. The researchers study this question with choice manipulations. Here are two.

Participants in the control condition were asked to list five things they did the previous morning (8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.), afternoon (12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.), evening (4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.), and night (8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.), whereas participants in the choice condition were asked to list five choices they made during the same four periods. Participants then rated how difficult it was for them to recall all of these actions, using a scale from 1 (extremely difficult) to 7 (extremely easy).

And, now the second.

All participants watched a 6-min video used to prime choice in prior research (Savani et al., 2010, Savani et al., 2011); the video showed a solitary actor engaging in mundane actions (e.g., opening mail, working on a computer, reading a magazine) in an apartment. Participants in the control condition were instructed to press a button whenever the actor touched an object, whereas participants in the choice condition were instructed to press a button whenever the actor made a choice.

The choice manipulation primes people to think about options, variety, possibilities, in other words, choices. After doing this manipulation, the researchers look at the key dependent variable, that attitude toward indicators of Income Inequality. Across the six experiments, the researchers consistently find that when people are primed with choice, they have more Positive attitudes towards Income Inequality, meaning they find those income or wealth differences between people to be more acceptable. And, the Windowpanes are consistently Medium effects, about 35/65. So, we’ve got true experiments with several variations and replications, and practically important effect sizes.

From this the researchers get a bit red in the face at straining over the negative political and social implications of this finding for the hopes and dreams of a progressive society. For example,

Believing that individuals are entitled to keep their wealth—that they do not have a responsibility to share a part of their wealth with society—accounted for the effects of a choice mind-set on attitudes toward redistributive policies. The studies reported here highlight a new area of research on how culturally valued concepts can play a profound role in shaping people’s attitudes toward various types of inequalities present in society.

And this.

A deeper understanding of the sources of people’s attitudes toward wealth inequality has the potential to help make policies addressing wealth inequality more palatable. Our research suggests that framing policies in terms of choice, or even incidentally highlighting the concept of choice in discussions about policies, might lead people to oppose policies that are in line with their ultimate ideals (Norton & Ariely, 2011). Long-term programs intended to lower high levels of wealth inequality might face substantial obstacles from both politicians and the general public if opponents frame discussions about the policies in terms of choice (cf. Porter, in press).

What any of this has to do with science, I cannot say unless all science is progressive and I did not get that memo. More importantly, past the politics of the researchers, all we’ve got here is an attitudes study, just like the thousands of attitude studies that comprise the persuasion literature. People evaluate the world with those ratings of like-dislike or favor-disfavor and on and on with the dimensions of preference. If you read the Persuasion Blog or Primer you know that there are a lot of theories to account for attitude variation. If you read this paper you find that such theories are notably lacking in this political persuasion research.

If you think just a moment, you realize that attitudes toward a variable these progressive researcher highly value, Income Inequality, are highly variable and easily manipulated. Just by giving people a choice manipulation you can move their attitudes to Medium effect sizes, practical, observable, changes that do not require the statistical machinations of a Tooth Fairy epidemiologist. Think theory and not politics.

Nothing about the experiments manipulated WATTage and the basic protocol required little effort or motivation to complete. We’re on the Peripheral Route here and the participants are just skipping along with Cues. Prime choice with those simple and easy manipulations and you activate, in a Ding-Donging fashion, related thoughts about personal responsibility, hard work, ambition, and on and on with the modern American Dream. There is no Long Conversation in the Head as participants think about Arguments related to Income Inequality. Just Ding-Dong between choice and equality. Any change you get here is less persistent, less resistant, and less predictive than the Central Route and you know that for all the participants in all six experiments within moments of completing the tasks, they probably couldn’t even remember the attitude scores they marked.

That’s what happens on the Peripheral Route. You Cue up immediate attitude change, even Medium to Large changes. If you’re smart you provide an easy, immediate behavior action (click here to make a $10 contribution!), but past the momentary change, there’s not much effect you can depend on.

We’ve seen the same kind of Peripheral Route associative Ding-Donging with global warming. You’ll recall this nice set of experiments that manipulated people’s attitudes on climate change merely by making the room hotter or colder. Sure enough, when it’s hot out there the people shout, Global Warming. But, when it’s cold in here the people shout, where’s the Global Warming.

All these studies demonstrate that you can manipulate Progressive Politics with the Peripheral Route. Whether it is Income Inequality or Global Warming, people really don’t care that much. If you’ll vary your attitude at a Medium effect size, that attitude is clearly not crucial to you. And, if it is, all the researchers demonstrated is that you can kill important attitude positions if only briefly.

Yet, this article sails in high impact Psychological Science with deep worries about civil society and just what the hell psych science can do to right the wrongs of all those 1% greedy bastards who are destroying the world with their greedy greed. You see the Sincerity and thus both the Bad Persuasion and the Worse Science. Realize that the researchers have merely and unknowingly run a Low WATT manipulation with a primed Cue to move for an instant a person’s attitude score. You cannot think that anything more than the score is what varied here and that the basic, fundamental, and practical attitude was not affected in the least with these experiments.

You also see here the beginnings of a new line of failed practical psychology as researchers misunderstand their own work then rush into political and policy wars with their sincere science. Hey, don’t let The People think about choice and individual responsibility when you’re talking about Income Inequality! Nudge them with a Collective prime instead! That’s the ticket for Heaven on Earth!

Soon the company that made the posters and buttons and handouts for Calorie Counts For Health Care Reform We Can Believe In will have a new customer with a new slogan Don’t Think About Choice Think About Something Else! And, it will have the same practical impact as all that bad persuasion based on bad science from the Lifestyle Drum and Bugle Corps. Zero. Zip. Zed.

What I also find interesting here is how Biased Processing operates with smart people. Researchers and reviewers and editors wear scientific blinders with Progressive Research. They think first with their hearts and make their head provide evidence that makes the pulse rate increase. Clearly, this article is a basic attitudes and persuasion study, yet nothing in the references cites any theory of attitude change, just a bunch of political feel-good homophily. Whether it is Income Inequality or Calorie Counts or Big Soda Pop or Global Warming or any issue near and dear to progressive politics, people who are trained and credentialed as scientists, check their method and their skepticism at the door and find only evidence that reassures their attitudes. Sure tax big cans of soda pop. Ban NASCAR from TV. Turn up the thermostat in Congress. Require calorie counts on fast food menus. It’s science-based persuasion! Of course, you have to ask who is persuading who?

Krishna Savani and Aneeta Rattan. (2012). A Choice Mind-Set Increases the Acceptance and Maintenance of Wealth Inequality Psychological Science, first published on June 14, 2012

doi:10.1177/0956797611434540

P.S. This choice manipulation would be useful for progressive research politicians working on abortion! Just hit those stupid, hateful, dogmatic conservatives with choice primes and you’ve got a Constitutional Amendment!

For Me? for Golf Bullies

Dan Ariely reads the mail and responds at WSJ.

Dear Dan,

I play in a weekly nine-hole golf league. There’s one individual who constantly talks on his cellphone, moves around while others are putting and mostly ignores the courtesies of golf. He’s been asked to stop this behavior but continues with a bully attitude. How do I handle it?
—Wally K.

Though you might be tempted to rip the phone from his hands, throw it on the ground and bash it with your 9-iron, I would suggest another solution.

You could implement a new rule, whereby everyone else playing with you earns a mulligan (a “do over” shot) each time the bully talks on the phone. Getting constant negative feedback (in addition to giving everyone a performance boost) would probably whip him into shape. Just be sure to take the mulligans consistently, every time he’s on the phone, so that his behavior is reliably punished and the message sticks.

—Mr. Ariely is a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University.

Professor Ariely proposes a For Me? play from Reinforcement Theory to Change the cell phone bully. He suggests a persuasion play that alters the contingencies of reinforcement, the When-Do-Gets, in a way that should produce an aversive consequence for the bad TACT. The play reads right, but I don’t think it will right the wrong.

Do an analysis of the Persuasion Local. The writer, Wally K., describes the Other Guy as someone with a “bully attitude.” That suggests the Other Guy is more sensitive to power and control than a lower golf score. I can easily foresee the bully responding with glee over this new When-Do-Get as he continues to chatter on the cell phone and watches his helpless partners take mulligan after mulligan after mulligan in frustration as he continues to bully on the cell phone. Sure, you get to write a good score down on the card, but you know that you took 8 or 10 or 12 strokes and the bully is still bullying.

And, on a more practical basis, I doubt that this Mulligan When-Do-Get is legal in the Local. Golf is a game dominated by ancient rules, especially regarding strokes. Sure, the phone bully is breaking an ancient rule, but it’s a subjective rule of disturbance compared to the awarding of mulligans which is decidedly frowned upon. The phone bully might win an appeal to the league if Wally K. and his buddies try this. And, that would be yet another win for the bully.

Accepting the writer’s premise that the Other Guy is indeed a bully, if the When-Do-Get does not directly address the bullying contingencies (that power and control thing), then the play will fail. I’m assuming that all involved here are well into adulthood, so everyone knows who they are and what they can get away with, as with the phone bully. We are dealing with an Other Guy who knows who he is and is comfortable with it, justified even.

Historically bullies have required destruction. Bullying is fundamental to their identity and their success. In today’s PC saturated world, you can find a lot of smart and well intentioned people who think bullies need a new situation, new contingencies of reinforcement, and they will then see the light, transform, and become better Other Guys. I’d suggest if you Count that Change and you’ll find you’ve got a lot more fingers than you need.

Persuasion for the bully is probably useless. Persuasion for the league is more promising. Organize other players from the league, sign a petition demanding the bully’s ouster, and put pressure on the league organizers to enforce all the rules of golf and remove the bully from the organization. The problem here is not with the bully, but with the league. When individuals will not self enforce the rules, the Local authority has to step in or else It has no authority. The bully is not simply bullying Wally K. He’s bullying the league.

Of course, this looks like a lynch mob play and may offend other players in the league unfamiliar with the bully. Finesse the outrage. Wear a green jacket when you deliver the petition. Maybe show an instant replay of the bad boy bully on your smartphone. Make appeals to that Wisdom of the Crowd so no one Memes a Lynch Mob.

All Persuasion Is Local.

SciFi Persuasion Metaphor

I recall a SciFi short story that provides a compelling metaphor for persuasion. The plot as I remember it involved two astronauts inspecting the universe for new planets. Upon finding one, they would engage in a variety of tests to determine whether it was safe for human use with a particular eye aimed at finding deadly threats. The astronauts carried weaponry that could destroy anything deemed dangerous to humanity even if light-years away.

The two find a planet that is remarkably similar to Earth. They are able to move about it like they would back home and without any special life support systems. Even the vegetation and water is safe. They then stumble upon a bush with a large cocoon in it and pitch a base camp nearby. A few days later as one of the astronauts is in camp alone, the cocoon opens and out pops a beautiful woman who approaches the man. A bit later, the other astronaut happens by another cocoon and again another beautiful woman emerges.

While this has the makings of a bad traveling salesman joke, the story turns decidedly serious and in so doing reveals the persuasion metaphor. As it develops each man falls wildly in love with the woman who approached him and with a love neither man had experienced with a human female. These other worldly women are able to anticipate each man’s thought, impulse, and desire almost before the man is aware and then provide the response to the thought, impulse, or desire. Sure, we’re talking about human men, so, yes, sex. But, realize these women anticipated every thought, impulse, or desire at all times and provided for it every time.

In essence these SciFi women are living biological persuasion engines. They monitor the Other Guy, determine the persuasion psychology, then provide a Play that moves the Other Guy always to the TACT. At first glance you might think that if you are always getting what you want, then these fantasy persuasion engine women are not persuasive, merely useful, but you’re not seeing the true TACT. In giving the men what the men want almost before they knew they wanted it, these women destroyed the men’s self control and self direction. Everything they wanted, the women provided, leading the men to be weak, passive, and simple. External provision of satisfaction for all impulses crushed ambition, aspiration, and creativity.

The men don’t see this fundamental insight into the persuasive effect of the women until they see it happen to another animal living on the planet. One day they observe a cocoon open and not turn into a beautiful woman but instead become a different animal, not human, that then approaches a nearby animal. The astronauts then observe how the planetary animal slowly loses self direction, self control, self motivation under the constant satisfaction of the new partner. They realize that these cocoons produce an animal that takes on the form of the first creature that wandered by with the goal of conquering that creature by giving it everything it wanted or needed at the speed of thought.

Not surprisingly, this insight from one astronaut leads to a serious conflict point in the plot as the other astronaut resists the implication. One realizes that these cocoons could conquer every life form they encounter without firing a shot, universal domination through persuasion engines! The other does not want to surrender the Good Life with his SciFi mistress. I’ll leave the story hanging here for your consideration, but focus now on the key point: Biological Persuasion Engines.

This SciFi short story provides a fun metaphor of an embodied persuasion operation that seeks to Change all the Other Guys through the standard elements of a persuasion engine. The cocoon creates an organism that locks onto the first Other Guy it encounters and relentlessly follows the Second Rule, It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid. Through sci-fi magic, this organism has developed a telepathy that permits a massive, total, and instant mind reading of Other Guys, allowing the organism to know the Other Guy better than the Other Guy understands himself. The organism then provides persuasion Plays, primarily instant gratification, to move the Other Guy to His own destruction. The story also shows a potential limitation of a persuasion engine. When the Other Guys see the persuasion engine operate on somebody else They gain insight into the persuasion Play and realize the larger strategy in effect.

While surely only science fiction, this story narrates a natural scenario of the deadly potential of well done persuasion.

P.S. I think this was a Norman Spinrad story and from the collection entitled, The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde. I’ve tried Googling the plot along with various titles from that book, but no hits. So, I might be wrong. If anyone knows the writer and the title, I’d appreciate the news.

Ernestine Tests the New New Thing

While completing a PB post on Gore Vidal, I immediately recalled the old Laugh-In sketch with Lily Tomlin as Ernestine the Telephone Operator calling Mr. Veedle (widely assumed at the time, 1969, to point to the infamous Mr. Vidal) to discuss his phone bill. It provided a nice close to that post, but it also stimulated an interesting tangential thought. Take three minutes to listen to the YouTube of Tomlin’s sketch.

Did you catch all those privacy violations of personal information? Tomlin as Ernestine menaces Mr. Veedle with facts from his banking and investment accounts as well as his 1965 IRS return! In other words, everyone joked in 1969 that the telephone company knew everything about you and would use that to secure the unpaid balance of $23.64 or else send a burly fellow to the house to collect.

It’s 1969 and we’re in the Summer of Love, the Beatles are together and making Abbey Road, Richard Nixon is President, we’re fighting overseas . . . in Viet Nam, GM is making Oldsmobile’s, Neil Armstrong is on the Moon, babes are wearing miniskirts and, can’t forget, everyone is smoking! Now. Flash forward 43 years and wonder about all that Big Data being collected on you from the Internet. If Big Marketing and Big Tech back were invading our privacy then, how much more privacy can they invade today?

But what about all that New New Thing today with Big Data and Big Analysis? Evil Marketing and Evil Technology had computers, databases, and stat routines back then, too.

Think about it. The New New Thing is just the Old Old Thing except no one nowadays wears paisley bell bottoms, smokes Camels, or shows a lot of leg at the office.

Get Back. Get Back to where you once belonged.

Tooth Fairy Journalism

I hate Observational Research and view it as Mortal Sin, Fatal Flaw, and Transgressive Transgression. It’s bad, I tell ya. Bad.

Grab a sample of data sampled at convenience; adjust, manipulate, and massage to de-bias, then conduct a deeply nuanced, sophisticated analysis to deliver the Truth or at least the Truth you can slide past the reviewers and editor. I rail at the Tooth Fairies who tell these tales with numbers, but you can do it with stories. Journalism survives on Observational Research. Start with the sampling frame, also known as Where I Was Sitting When I Collected This Sample.

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — This is the land of die-hard Democrats — mill workers, coal miners and union members. They have voted party line for generations, forming a reliable constituency for just about any Democrat who decides to run for office.

A NYTimes writer got lost on I-70, took US Route 7 North by accident, then gassed up in Steubenville. Now, let’s collect the data points.

“Certain precincts in this county are not going to vote for Obama,” said John Corrigan, clerk of courts for Jefferson County, who was drinking coffee in a furniture shop downtown one morning last week with a small group of friends, retired judges and civil servants. “I don’t want to say it, but we all know why.”

Data point 1.

A retired state employee, Jason Foreman, interjected, “I’ll say it: it’s because he’s black.”

Data point 2.

“I’ll just come right out and say it: he was elected because of his race,” said Sara Reese, a bank employee who said she voted for Ralph Nader in 2008, even though she usually votes Democrat.

Data point 3 and you get the point. Just wander around Steubenville where you can get coffee and talk to people who will talk to you. A great illustration of convenience sampling, the hallmark of Observational Research. Get the self report from your cases. You’ve got a Database!

Let’s do some analysis now. What theory should we try first?

Just how far back is a question no one can definitively answer. “Race in America is always a work in progress,” said Clement A. Price, a professor of history at Rutgers-Newark. “It’s often a proxy for social anxieties, such as this long recession, joblessness and the war abroad.”

Run that through your Database. Voilá.

Stephanie Montgomery, who is black and a graduate of Franciscan University in Steubenville, said her race came up so often in her job search in this area that she developed a technique for recognizing when it was happening. The sign: when warmth on the phone turns cool in person, and “they lose eye contact with you.”

See how observational research fits well within the skill set of journalism. While few can do the necessary counting, everyone likes to spot the nuance in a mess of data. Just as a convenient illustration, read the NYT piece about racial prejudice against President Obama as a portent of the upcoming election. The writer creates a database of information with highly convenient cases, does some sharp thinking to adjust the dataset for its lack of representativeness, and then asserts Conclusion, Insight, and Nuance.

Consider yourself warned. With Observational Research, you must protect yourself at all times.