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September 12, 2011


Here's one quick observation regarding the selected questions. The question about the effect of the surge in Iraq used a period that began at the beginning of the surge. That's a natural starting point. The reduction in attacks over the period was huge -- over 80%. And, the chart used to illustrate the reduction was an honest chart that included a zero point.

OTOH the question about Obama's job gains began at an arbitrary starting date of 1/10. ISTM the more natural starting point would be the beginning of Obama's term. If Obama's inauguration had been used as a starting point, the comparison would have shown a decrease of 2.4 million jobs.

Furthermore the increase from 1/10 to 1/11 was quite small -- less than 2%. This was not enough to keep up with the growth in population. In order to make this tiny rise look significant, the authors used an extreme "gee-whiz graph". Its y-axis range is only from 129m to 131m.

I recall a prior post by Brendan criticizing a gee whiz graph as being spin. The graph he criticized was not as extreme as the one used in this study. It looks like the article spun the statistics in order to make Obama look good.

BTW this criticism doesn't invalidate the points made in the study. On the contrary, it shows that graphs can help change peoples' minds, even when the graphs are unfair.

I don't like the lack of precision in the global warming question. Was the temperature rise of the last 30 years, "a lot" or "somewhat"? It depends on how those terms are defined.

The question about whether "Global Warming" is a fact or a theory doesn't define what's meant by "Global Warming".

It's certainly a fact that the globe did warm between 1970 and today. So, "Global Warming" is a fact, in that warming did take place over the last 30 years. But, that's not the definition generally used.

-- Some scientists acknowledge the warming that occurred, but aren't sure whether the warming will continue.
-- Some of them think that the warming is likely to continue, but man's activity plays no role.
-- Some scientists think man's activity tends to cause the globe to warm, but only by a small amount.
-- Some think the globe will warm by a catastrophically large amount and that man's activity is the primary cause.

Given all these possible meanings of "Global Warming", any of the three choices offered to the subjects might be correct.

Brendan, the paper says you're looking at correcting misperceptions and misinformation, but it also says you say you want people to accept information that contradicts their preexisting beliefs. I wonder whether the techniqes would work just as well regardless of whether you were correcting someone's misperceptions or simply changing his mind? In other words, could this paper be regarded as a scientific study of marketing?

E.g., you show that graphs can help. Suppose you wanted to convince someone that the globe isn't warming any more. A global temperature graph beginning in 1998 would show a slight downward slope. It might be persuasive, even though there's lots of other evidence suggesting that the warming is likely to continue.

Or, suppose you want to convince a Republican to support Democratic policies. Affirming his self-worth might be a good idea, regardless of whether the Dem policies are good ones. By comparison, our current President and his supporters sometimes imply that those who disagree with his policies are dumb or venal. These attacks on peoples' self-worth may have contributed to country's continued opposition to Obama's health care and stimulus bills.

Anyhow, a suggestion FWIW: you might want to look at marketing studies and see how they relate to your results.

The hypothesis sounds very Madisonian to me.

In Fed 10 he states: "As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves."

Am I wrong in seeing a connection? If so, this seems like a worthy update to the problem he notes. He didn't seem to believe there was much point in assuming people's opinions would change. Perhaps they can.

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