Posts Tagged ‘Elaine Fox’

Did Corporate PR Initiate the Post-Fact Era?

December 28, 2016

This post is based on an article published in the Washington Post by Ari Rabit-Havt titled “Big business taught politicians a better way to lie.”  The article begins, “Donald Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes recently told WAMU’s Diane Reahm that ‘there’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.’”  Rabin-Havt continues, “She’s right and that’s the problem.  We now disagree not just on our political philosophies, but on whether the facts are true.  In this world, Hughes’s  observation is the last self-evident truth:  Facts are a thing of the past. …Americans may find it impossible to debate politics clearly because of a lack of agreement on basic matters of fact; that was certainly the case during this year’s election.  And no one has taken more advantage of this than Trump…”

Rabin-Havt does not credit Trump for creating this world.  He says that this is a result of a decades-long strategy devised by a number of public affairs practitioners who recognized that lies were the most potent weapon in the fight against progress and that Trump emulated some of these disinformation techniques gleaned from big business during his campaign.

Sixty-three years ago the tobacco industry had a problem, namely the compelling evidence of the severe damage smoking did to one’s health.  John Hill, the founder of the Public Relations conglomerate Hill & Knowlton, recommended that they form a public relations institute, to argue that their products were safe.  Together with the tobacco executives Hill created public relations operation veiled as a scientific institute, to argue that their products were safe.  They created the Tobacco Industry Research Committee, a sham organization designed to spread corporate propaganda to mislead the media, policymakers and the public at large.

Rather than trying to convince the majority of Americans that cigarettes did not cause cancer, they sought to muddy the waters and create a second truth.  One truth emanated from the bulk of  the scientific community and the other from a cadre of people primarily in the employment of the tobacco industry.

Although their efforts to muddy the waters were successful for a time, truth eventually prevailed.  So it appears that Hughes’ statements and Rabin-Havt’s conclusion are a bit overstated.  Nevertheless, they are real.  And this same scene is being repeated regarding global warming.  The clear consensus is that global warming is real and the consequences a dangerous.  Unfortunately, this is portrayed on networks that include both Fox and the PBS New hours by having one representative of each position on their shows.  Although this appears to be even-handed, what is lost on the general public is that the overwhelming consensus is that global warming is real.

There is a more realistic position is that global warming is occurring, but how quickly it is occurring is debatable.  This is not arguing that it is not occurring or that it is, as Trump said, a hoax introduced by China.  Here one needs to outline both the probability of the risks of different models and the costs of delaying different remedies.
With respect to the problem global warming, it is clear what the motivation is and by whom to either deny or to downplay global warming.  And these industries have big bucks to fund questionable research.  It is interesting that certain critiques of global warming contend that scientists finding evidence of global warming are motivated by the money they receive from research grants.  Comparing the funding of these researchers against the funding of big oil is like comparing some guy in his back yard burning leaves with the Chicago fire.  But these people cannot think in terms of truth, rather they think in terms of beliefs and how to argue their beliefs.

There has been a larger victim of these science efforts funded by special interests is a general loss of confidence in science and the establishment.  Both Brexit and Trump are examples of his loss of confidence in the establishment.

Rabin-Havt’s article also mentions Sarah Palin’s “Death Panels” critique to the Affordable Care Act.  The acceptance of this critique indicates there is virtually no limit to the stink of fecal material people will swallow.  And Sarah Palin’s being a candidate for the Vice-President of the United States is an indication of the pathetic state of American politics.

The situation has worsened with the alt-Right movement (see the Healthymemory blog post, “Sick Memory).  This has become a profitable industry.   At least with the examples of bad science done by businesses for their financial industry, they actually conducted research.  One of the reasons that the alt-Right industry is so profitable is that it requires no research.  Just think of something and post it.  Build upon other lies to create even more fantastic lies.

All of the efforts are bad for our memories and contribute to the Stupidity Pandemic discussed in the previous post.  It calls for critical thinking using System 2 attentional processing.  Truth is our only hope.  It needs to be constantly sought.  Beliefs need to be periodically reconsidered for flaws and needs for correction.  Facts, true facts, need to be considered.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why When Matters are Objectively Good Do We Feel So Bad? Part One

August 19, 2016

By any objective standard, matters are quite good in the United States.  Just eight years ago, the world was on the verge of an economic collapse.  That collapse did not materialize,and today unemployment is low and the economy in the United States is among the best in the world.  So why are people saying that this country is on the wrong track?  Why are some people willing to vote for an emotionally unstable individual with none of the skills for the job for President of the United States?  There are a number of reasons for this, but this current post will focus on the following article in the Insight section of the 6 August 2016 issued of the New Scientist, titled “July was bad news but I’m fine—so why do I feel so terrible?”  The author notes that July brought an unusual dump of bad headlines including the televised deaths of Philander Castile and Alton Sterling, police being killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge, terror attacks in Istanbul, Baghad, Nice and Saint-Etieene-du-Rouvray, plus other acts of violence in Germany and Japan.

Peter Ayton who studies decision-making at City University in London says that we should be wary of the idea that there’s something in the water.  “This is an attempt at induction: grouping events on the idea of some force or influence may be engineering the shape of the days.”  Even if news stories are random, statistically we should still expect to see runs of more upsetting headlines.

Elaine Fox of the University of Oxford notes that we are predisposed to focus on bad stuff.  “Threat information activates the fear system, while positive news activates the reward system.  The fear system is stronger, and works to shut down the rational part of our brain.  Once we are in a fearful state, we’re conditioned to see out more bad news.

Fox continues, “The sense of immediacy provided by 24-hour rolling news means the brain is saying, “this is a real threat to me.”  This explains why we feel so personally affected even though chances of being caught up in a shooting or terrorist attack are vanishingly small.  The vividness of images may also skew our sense of risk.  In October 2014 after several months of disturbing TV reports from West Africa, a Gallup Poll found that 22 % of people in the US were worried about contracting Ebola, despite only six people in the country being infected and none picking it up on home soil.

Ayton notes that we underestimate our ability to adapt to huge changes.  A 1978 study showed that after two years, people paralyzed in accidents and lottery winners showed little change in overall happiness, instead habituating to their new state.  This finding has been replicated many times.