Category Archives: Appeal to Authority

NAS, NAE, NAM seek to counter "misinformation" on the Internet

March 20, 2018
Statement by NAS, NAE, and NAM Presidents on Effort to Counter Online Misinformation
We are pleased to announce that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are exploring ways to mobilize our expertise to counter misinformation on the web related to science, engineering, and health. Part of the mission of the National Academies has always been to help ensure that public discourse is informed by the best available evidence. To that end, we are convening Academy members to discuss ways by which we could help verify the integrity and accuracy of content in these fields in a manner that is consistent with our standards for objective, trustworthy, evidence-based information; this exploratory phase will be supported by a grant from Google. We are excited to pursue an effort that aligns with our fundamental principles and that we believe is critically important at a time when misinformation is a threat to sound decision-making and an informed citizenry.
Marcia McNutt
President, National Academy of Sciences
C. D. (Dan) Mote, Jr.
President, National Academy of Engineering
Victor J. Dzau
President, National Academy of Medicine

Source: Statement by NAS, NAE, and NAM Presidents on Effort to Counter Online Misinformation
In theory, this sounds good. On the other hand, we have been led down the path of nutrition science malpractice in the 1980s leading to the obesity and diabetes crises of probably two generations – this could also end up causing harm.

For those not around in the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. government established nutritional guidelines for all of America. They decided all fat was evil and we should strive to eliminate all fat from our diets. We should also eliminate eggs, and at various times, coffee and salt. Sugar, interestingly, was not a problem. The government launched a major propaganda operation to promote the guidelines. This propaganda effort used media, employers and food corporations to promote it.  Almost immediately, average weights in the U.S. began increasing, and the incidence of Type 2 diabetes began increasing.
This led to an ever expanding list of special-case hypotheses insuring us that the government’s guidelines were correct and something else was to blame.
In the early 1980s, my wife worked as a biochemist for a large pharmaceutical company. The company sponsored seminars to promote the new guidelines, and families were invited to attend. Here, professional nutritionists advised us we should get rid of as much fat as possible from our diets. The person behind me raised his hand and asked, “So what your saying is that fat is bad but sugar is okay?”. The response from the professional nutritionists was that we did not need to worry about sugar unless we were diabetic. Oh, and the majority of our diet should consist of grains, which for most people meant ground up wheat.
Face palm moment. Yet for decades, anyone who questioned the scientific establishment was considered a heretic. Today, we now know this advice was bunk. Read any number of books on the subject, or compare the DASH diet of the 1980s with the DASH diet of today – nearly a reversal of what they preached in the 1980s.
The question becomes: how do we avoid this scenario from repeating itself where experts are far too confident in their hypotheses and use their authority (“appeal to authority”) argument to shut down dissenting perspectives?

"Leaders" now acknowledge the dangers of social media

If the last decade of SXSW celebrated the promise of social media, the next years may well be dominated by the reckoning. Questions about the unintended consequences of social networks pervaded this year’s event. Academics, business leaders, and Facebook executives weighed in on how social platforms spread misinformation, encourage polarization, and promote hate speech.

Source: The reckoning over social media has transformed SXSW – The Verge
Good to see that “leaders” have caught on to what seemed obvious to us peons 🙂
Glad I was ahead of the curve but I learned through this and my involvement in my work on defects in the ACA, it does not matter if you have facts and logic on your side. Unless you are one of the “Academics, business leaders or … executives“, no one will listen to what you have to say!
This is also a clue as to how propaganda works! As mentioned on this blog, one of the most frequent propaganda methods is “the appeal to authority”. While it is considered among the weakest of argumentative forms, it is commonly used in propaganda messaging because it works.
It works, in part, because it does not require thinking on the part of the message target. If “so and so” says so, then it must be true!
Further, “appeals to authority”, even when lacking facts and logic, are difficult for peons to counter. How dare you question so-and-so, she’s an expert? Who are you? And that line of questioning immediately derails further discussion on the facts and logic of the argument.

The Doomsday Clock is a propaganda tool

We’ve all seen news quotes like this one:

Scientists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight on Thursday amid increasing worries over nuclear weapons and climate change.

Source: Doomsday Clock ticks closer to apocalypse and 1 person is to blame
The Doomsday Clock is a propaganda tool that allegedly represents how many minutes we are from Armageddon and the end of life on earth.
It works as propaganda through its ease of understanding, and its appeal to authority (it’s published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” – and its a non-profit so it must pure!)  The clock setting is not based on science.  But with its pedigree (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists), with a leadership, staff and governing board made up of scientists, it implies there is a scientific basis for the clock setting. Originally the setting was determined by a single individual; after he died, the setting was determined by a board of “scientists and other experts” (except when its still set by an individual).
The clock is perpetually a few minutes from midnight, using the method of fear to deliver its message. Each year it may move a minute or two one way or the other, with the implication that we are always just a few minutes away from Armageddon.
The clock has been around for 71 years – its effectiveness as propaganda has been excellent, but its effectiveness at predicting anything about the future has been non-existent. They even say the clock predicts nothing.
The goal, as explained in their FAQ is to get people to adopt the agenda of the Bulletin of the the Atomic Scientists, and to “share what you’ve learned with others” and to “tell your government representatives that you don’t want even more of your tax money spent”… that sounds rather political doesn’t it? In fact, their definitions – and their use of fear to encourage sharing – nearly fits the modern concept of fake news click-bait.

The Doomsday Clock group defines itself as propaganda messaging.
Every time they issue a new press release, the news media laps it up and spreads the propaganda.
Remember, journalists should be acting as firewalls against propaganda messaging but instead, they act as arm-in-arm partners in propaganda messaging.
The physics professor responsible for the most recent “closer to midnight” setting is now under investigation for sexual misconduct.

Interesting example of how propaganda messaging lives forever and is recycled

The senator [Sanders] from Vermont says 40 percent of guns are sold without a background check.

The Washington Post notes the figure came from a small survey in 1993/1994 before major changes in gun laws. The latest data indicate it is 13%, not 40%. But remember, the first propaganda message someone hears is the one that sticks – undoubtedly this figure has stuck with Sanders for a quarter century.
Source: Bernie Sanders resurrects a ‘zombie’ claim on gun sales without background checks – The Washington Post
This works as propaganda due to its “Appeal to Authority” (Bernie Sanders says) and its quotation of numbers. Quoting numbers lends legitimacy to messaging. They do not even need to be correct. A friend who once worked in sales said he frequently made up numbers while meeting with potential customers: 70% of our customers see increased productivity!
Bernie Sanders has done this before too – using old data that is no longer true to assert his point. He does this because this is an effective way to propagandize targets – it combines assertion, appeal to authority, and lying. The lie has plausible deniability because the claim was at least true once upon a time in the past. Because targets may remember the old, but no longer correct number, the assertion sounds believable.
Disclaimer: This post is not pro- or anti-gun control efforts. This post is about a common propaganda method using assertion, appeal to authority, the use of a number to lend authenticity and using out of date data. An online political survey I took in 2016 said  Sander’s campaign platform mostly closely matched the issues of interest to me. I did not vote for him because I did not belong to a political party and was not eligible to vote in the 2016 primary election.