All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.
Persuasion Is Strategic Or It Is Not.
The persuasion standard for handling the politician’s Woman Problem remains Bill Clinton. He inoculated himself in the 1992 primaries and made it all the way to 1998 and the Blue Dress before reality overwhelmed his formidible, but ultimately limited, persuasion play on this deadly topic. Currently, Newt Gingrich faces a kind of Woman Problem with his marriages and adulteries, but Gingrich has chose not to Inoculate. Instead he’s blaming the media.
CNN moderator John King asked Newt Gingrich if he would like to address his ex-wife’s report earlier in the evening on ABC that he had asked for an “open marriage.” His answer: “No.” He then went on to denounce CNN and John King at length with barely restrained anger. He denied his ex-wife’s charge and offered only brass-knuckle contrition. Talking about how everyone in the audience had known personal pain, he concluded: “To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question for a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”
You know you’ve got a Woman Problem and it is likely to make headlines so what can you do? Gingrich, like Cain, waited for the headline, then denied it and added a media attack. Clinton, by contrast, used his knowledge to get ahead of the headline and Inoculate before it appeared.
Prior to the eruption of the Woman Problem, Gingrich was surging in South Carolina polls, pushing hard at front-running Mitt Romney. More importantly, Gingrich knew the details of his Woman Problem. If Gingrich’s persuasion tactic of deny and blame works, then he should finish the SC primary close to Romney (5%). If past history and persuasion theory is any guide, however, there’s a good chance Gingrich will finish well behind Romney and at least one other candidate in this primary, then suspend his campaign in February to collaborate with Herman Cain on an outsider insurgency to stop Romney.
The Rules! There’s a Difference between Persuasion, and Smoke and Mirrors; With Persuasion the Illusion Lingers. Of course, There Are No Laws of Persuasion, so maybe Gingrich is onto something new! We’ll see soon.
Pressure proves both the persuasion and the persuader.
Please consider these two graphs. First, for men.
More Life, to quote Roy Batty, is the Big TACT from the Lifestyle Drum and Bugle Corps and their parades for biking and broccoli, lifting and low fatting, grunting and chewing. I’d prefer a graph with standard deviations, but the semi-interquartile range is a pretty handy measure of variability as long as you remember that SD cuts would be farther out than the 25th or 75th percentiles are. Effect size considerations from the SIQ range are bigger than the Windowpane.
Nevertheless, you see patterns. Men punch out sooner than women at all ages. Women show greater variability. And, sigh, the downward trend for both men and women.
Now, realize visually how piddling most of those diet and exercise admonitions are against all this variability within the smaller and tighter semi inter-quartile ranges. Most admonitions deliver less than Small Windowpanes, just a couple of years at best and even that is questionable given the Tooth Fairy design of the studies with convenience samples and self report measurement of how many ounces of red meat you eat in a week or how many drinks of alcohol you had today or how many METs you cooked off running, lifting, or stretching. Everyone is stretching here, including the Tooth Fairies.
Longevity is not the Strategic Persuasion here, folks. In fact, longevity is probably the worst scientific Argument you might offer to Other Guys about their lifestyle. And you can tell that Other Guys are no longer listening. Consider a torrid example torn from today’s headlines.
Paula Deen is diabetic!
And while the Corps would have you believe that her Southern high fat comfort food kills like cigarettes, no credible scientific source will publicly declare Deen’s cooking caused Deen’s diabetes. And with good reason. Go to PubMed and look up: meta-analysis, Type II diabetes, and risk factors. Chase down the Methods and Results sections and you’ll find those Big Parade, But Small Effect Sizes for diet no matter how you frame the question. Proving Deen’s diet caused her ailment is like trying to determine whether Anthony Bourdain is high on liquor or marijuana in Amsterdam just by looking at him.
How about a counter-example.
Remember Jim Fixx? He is credited as a godfather of running for health in the 1970s. Back when running was definitely not the Cool Table, Fixx literally wrote the book on all the physical and psychological benefits of running. Then at 52 while on his regular run on the road, he dropped dead of a heart attack.
So. No one recommends running, right?
Whether expressed as colorful graphs or two over the top media examples, the Falling Apples on longevity shout, Variation! The Observational Tooth Fairies would have you believe that they can read the self reports and discern death from an extra serving of alcohol or red meat or fried chicken when clinicians looking at patients cannot accurately predict death. No one knows.
While the researchers were finally able to single out 16 indexes that hold promise in helping doctors predict how long a patient might live, there was “insufficient evidence at this time” to recommend any of them for widespread clinical use. None of the indexes had been tried with groups of individuals other than the initial test group to confirm reliability, and every single one had a potential source of bias. Some studies were never able to follow up on the final outcomes of a substantial subset of patients; others used researchers intimately involved with the development of the prognostic tool, and not impartial observers, to validate findings.
The variability in life and death precludes accurate prediction beyond the folk tale take that men die sooner than women and older pass sooner than younger.
You Cannot Persuade A Falling Apple.
Peace and prosperity bring many consequences. Time, for example.
With no consensus among the delegates, officials at the International Telecommunication Union, part of the United Nations, kicked the issue into the future and sent it back to a panel of experts for further study. A revised proposal will be introduced no earlier than 2015. Mr. Beaird characterized the delay as “a significant step forward” and said that the burst of interestgreater prominence in surrounding leap seconds “should allow for a decision that will have the widest possible backing.”
One second. Every four years. People meeting. Plane reservations. Hotel stays. Itineraries. Parlimentary procedure. Votes to delay. For three years.
Any married man who, A) is running for office and B) has a woman problem needs to remember Mr. Clinton and forget Mr. Hart, Mr. Cain, and now, Mr. Gingrich. We now await the release of an ABC News interview with Mr. Gingrich’s second wife (pictured on the right) while Mr. Gingrich does nothing but wait with us. Something about a choice between divorce or open marriage (with the woman pictured on the left).
There’s only one persuasion way out of this and it is not hope and change. It’s called Inoculation and Mr. Gingrich needed it last week.
This perspective from a clinical physician nicely illustrates the tension between learning from science and learning from direct experience.
When I entered medical school in 1997, I joined a generation of doctors that was supposed to practice evidence-based medicine. First in small groups, and later during clinical rotations, we learned to interpret the medical literature and apply the conclusions of randomized, controlled trials to our clinical decision making. Working within this new paradigm, we were going to rise above the apprentice-based training of our forbears and make decisions on the basis of gold-standard, Level I evidence.
The scientific clinician. Huzzah!
But real life has intruded on the carefully catalogued odds ratios that I memorized as an intern. I’ve come to appreciate that the influence of a randomized, controlled trial — no matter how well conducted or generalizable — pales in comparison with that of the audible bleeding of a profound postpartum hemorrhage. As I tell residents and fellows, in the human mind, adverse anecdote — what I’ve come to call Level IV evidence — is more convincing than even the tightest of confidence intervals.
You always trust your own experience more than data. Persuasion counts on that.
Randomized, controlled trials may be the gold standard, but their results can take decades to make their way from the pages of peer-reviewed medical journals to actual effects on routine care. Adverse anecdote can transform a clinician’s practice patterns in an instant.
The well told story, the compelling anecdote, the flashbulb memory – whatever you want to call that powerful single experience – is perhaps the strongest persuasion play of all. If you can design a Box that provokes an intense memorable, sensory, and affective response, you can create a Change that it is extremely difficult to change.
The easiest example for me to offer explodes out of Dissonance. Make people think they freely chose a path that leads to self relevant, but aversive, consequences and that collision will produce some of the largest and most enduring change you can find in the persuasion and influence literature.
Now, let’s pivot off this personal anecdote to the larger context: Changing medical practice. John Ioannidis, with his colleagues, continues his one-man crusade to get physicians to act more scientifically. We’ve consider Ioannidis’s work before with his investigations of Scientific Science and he now shifts his view to how physicians and medical science resist, of all things, science. Ioannidis asks medical science to consider how much practice is unproven, yet persistent. He considers how often medical science tests the commonplace.
Rarely, some investigators find the courage to test established “truths” with large, rigorous randomized trials. When this happens, empirical evidence suggests that “medical reversals” may be quite common. In an evaluation of 35 trials that were published in a major clinical journal in 2009 and that tested an established clinical practice, 16 (46%) reported results consistent with current beneficial practice, 16 (46%) reported evidence that contradicted current practice and constituted a reversal, and another 3 (9%) were inconclusive.
Please re-read the last sentence in that quote. In those 35 scientific tests of established practices, nearly half disconfirmed the practice, finding instead evidence of harm or no effect. One might scientifically challenge this evidence, noting it’s not a systematic review and focuses only upon research published in 2009. But, if you’re sharp enough to raise those concerns, how do you understand a field that calls itself scientific, yet can find at least 16 standard practices that are worthless? Maybe these are the only 16 rituals and by dumb luck they were all tested and published in the same year.
Or maybe you can see the persuasive power of personal experience as revealed in the opening example of this post. See this tension, too, in the recent and on-going uproar over the value of various medical tests as with prostate cancer. You’ll recall that a US Taskforce decided against routine screening for prostate cancer, citing a considerable number of gold standard RCTs as contrary evidence. Then, the unsurprising chorus of disagreement from physicians who found their experience more compelling than the scientific review of that Taskforce.
You see the primary clash between persuasion and science, between human nature and falling apples in these examples. People who aspire to science constantly find themselves trapped by their human nature as especially illuminated through persuasion science. They have a field committed to science that conducts standard practices that are worthless at best and sometimes harmful at worst. When confronted with large, careful, and public disconfirmations of those practices – as with the prostate screening example – they find narrow exceptions, errors, and inaccuracies and drive through the truck of their personal experience.
You can feel a wind of warning here. Where do you fail to follow your science and instead persist with what you know best and trust most, your experience? But, more importantly, understand how your knowledge of persuasion science aids your development as a scientist. The science of persuasion describes and explains why science resists itself.
Human nature always forgets falling apples until the fruit falls upon it.
I will credit President Obama for his openness to new media experiences. He will try anything at least once if it runs through some kind of iGizmo. Sure, it doesn’t always work very well the first time out of the gate, but he fails on small issues as he learns the communication technology. Consider the latest.
There’s no shortage of ways to connect with President Obama these days. He’s on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. His public events are live-streamed on the White House website. He gives media interviews, holds press conferences and televised town hall meetings. Soon Obama plans to launch a bus tour through the Midwest. But the president and his re-election campaign proved Wednesday night that they are still interested in pushing their outreach to the technological edge, for the first time publicly showcasing a new video teleconferencing tool that exclusively connects Obama and his aides with thousands of supporters all across the country.
The real time screen during this event looked something like this.
The technology blends image, voice, and text from multiple sites in real time. Plus, it employs a password protection scheme that permits some control over access. Obama used this to talk with supporters during the Iowa caucuses. Notably, Obama made no public mention of this event prior to it and did not record the interaction for later public distribution.
Let’s start with the bad persuasion news. Sure, he reached a very small audience of supporters who will probably die fighting for him. He reached few and persuaded no one. And there were some technical glitches as the signal was dropped or sites fell out briefly.
Now, the good persuasion news. It actually worked. Obama created a new method that mashes up existing hardware and software into a live communication technology that links potentially millions of people in a limited two-way feedback system. He can control access into it. He can control the content. Think about that.
He could stage his own debates and townhalls with various parties and never leave his office. You need to read about Richard Nixon’s 1968 and 1972 campaigns to get a sense of the possibilities here. Nixon found ways to evade a hostile national media to present his message to millions of people without that media filter. Obama is doing the same thing with his various forays into Web 2.0.
This will aid fundraising enormously as he can engage grassroots donations in cheap and fast events while still doing traditional fat cat funding. He can distribute Talking Points and Counter Arguments instantly and face-to-face with his supporters. Potentially, it is one helluva thing for communication. One person with one controlled network that accesses millions of people.
Imagine if Al Gore had built this in 2000 and was now using it for Green Gore. Imagine Bill Clinton with this after office. Imagine what Mr. Obama can do with this network after office.
Imagine how you can build this for yourself.
My experience as the persuasion guy on health and safety projects quickly taught me to understand as well as I could the basic science behind any intervention I served. Part of that drive to knowledge was due to my unfortunate temperament that compels a ceaseless need to think about everything. The bigger part, however, came from getting burned by zealots parading as scientists who fooled me into thinking they had a Big TACT when all they had was either a Big Heart or a Big Ego. When you work in health and safety, you need to know the difference because you can waste limited resources feeding a fool rather than Changing the World. Consider this great example of plain old science.
A team of researchers took a sample of 99 zebra finches born from randomly paired adult birds in a captive population at a research facility. These 99 birds were then tracked from hatchlings to the natural end of their lives. Along the way this team studied the impact of diet and reproduction in one experiment, then kept the birds in safe cages until all naturally died. They waited 9 years. Throughout the study period, the researchers regularly took blood samples from each bird and measured the length of telomeres. I suspect you know as much about telomeres as I do, so you’ll appreciate an expert quotation rather than Sayings from Chairman Steve.
Telomeres are highly conserved, noncoding, repetitive sequences of DNA that, together with a number of shelterin proteins, form caps at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes, enabling chromosome ends to be distinguished from double-stranded breaks (3). In the absence of restoration, telomeres shorten during each round of normal somatic cell division because RNA polymerase cannot completely replicate the lagging strand (3, 4). The loss of DNA from the telomeric cap protects the coding sequences from attrition and also limits cell replicative potential; once telomeres reach a critically shortened length, cells stop dividing and enter a state of replicative senescence (3, 5).
Telomeres are DNA contents that play a role in aging. As cells replicate normally across the lifespan, telomeres get shorter until they lose their protective function and the cells stop working. That’s basically why after a certain age you can’t touch your toes, eat or drink like you did, or remember where you put your keys. The telomeres run out which starts a cascade of change leading to cell death. The interesting question here is just how important telomeres are to the lifespan. The zebra finch study provides insight.
There was a highly significant relationship between early life telomere length and longevity: individuals that had longer telomeres at 25 d had a significantly longer lifespan (F1, 86.11 = 16.75, P < 0.001, Fig. 3).
You can translate the F = 16.75 into an effect size and you get a Large Windowpane of nearly 20/80. Birds born with longer telomere sequences through 25 days lived a lot longer than birds with shorter sequences. It’s also interesting to note that the length difference in telomeres exists at very young ages and does not carry over across the adult life span.
Telomere length declined with age (F [5, 158.92] = 20.92, P < 0.001), with loss being most marked during the first year (Fig. 1).
I cannot compute an effect size from this test, but the magnitude is not Small. Here’s a graph to illustrate it.
This suggests that if we can do anything to affect telomere size or depletion, we better do it young. If ever there was an interesting and potentially useful area for More Research, this must be it.
Let’s consider now longer life. Assuming that our cells are like zebra finch cells and that a telomere is a telomere is a telomere, it’s apparent that the cards you are dealt determines the hand you can play at a Large Windowpane. Now, contrast that against all the various Fairy Tale effects from the Lifestyle Drum and Bugle Corps. As I’ve frequently noted in the Persuasion Blog, people will cry out for a Change that isn’t even Small, yet something that requires Congressional action. Call this the Mallomar Redemption. Make laws about diet to Save the World.
Now, contrast the Mallomar Redemption with the Telomere Limit. A variety of well done lab studies creates a growing research literature that documents the Very Large impact of the factor. For now, the operation of telomeres is not widely understood and we certainly are forever and a day away from the pill. But, for now we can usefully quote Shakespeare, ” . . . the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves . . . ”
See the feeble and foolish attempt to change telomeres with mallomars, as if we can affect this DNA function with broccoli and bean sprouts.
You Cannot Persuade a Falling Apple.
Ever heard of HARO?
If you are an expert with an eye to marketing your expertise through mass media you might know Help A Reporter Out dot com, HARO. For a modest payment, you can create a profile on HARO then receive daily updates about reporters seeking experts on various topics. As HARO puts it on its website:
From The New York Times, to ABC News, to HuffingtonPost.com and everyone in between, nearly 30,000 members of the media have quoted HARO sources in their stories. Everyone’s an expert at something. Sharing your expertise may land you that big media opportunity you’ve been looking for.
Reporters love the service and can access it for free. They simply describe a topic they are developing then wait for the experts to respond. Reporters can then pick and chose as they please.
Hey. Want to be a scientific expert? Just get out your check book and write down some snappy patter. You just have to fool a reporter on a deadline, taking a shortcut through HARO. The folks with the bull horn will do the rest!
Gee. HARO is almost exactly like comps and a dissertation defense and peer review publication, isn’t it?