Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How to support a pseudoscience or pseudoargument

From How to Sell a Pseudoscience by Anthony R. Pratkanis.

Pratkanis starts off with his dilemma.
Every time I read the reports of new pseudosciences in the Skeptical Inquirer or watch the latest "In Search Of"-style television show I have one cognitive response, "Holy cow, how can anyone believe that?" Some recent examples include: "Holy cow, why do people spend $3.95 a minute to talk on the telephone with a 'psychic' who has never foretold the future?" "Holy cow, why do people believe that an all-uncooked vegan diet is natural and therefore nutritious?" "Holy cow, why would two state troopers chase the planet Venus across state lines thinking it was an alien spacecraft?" "Holy cow, why do people spend millions of dollars each year on subliminal tapes that just don't work?"
Pratkanis then derives the nine common propaganda tactics that a social psychologist would recommend to advance a pseudoscience.
1. Create a Phantom - an unavailable goal that looks real and possible

2. Set a Rationalization Trap - The rationalization trap is based on the premise: Get the person committed to the cause as soon as possible.

3. Manufacture Source Credibility and Sincerity - manufacture source credibility and sincerity. In other words, create a guru, leader, mystic, lord, or other generally likable and powerful authority, one who people would be just plain nuts if they didn't believe.

4. Establish a Granfalloon - Establish what Kurt Vonnegut terms a "granfalloon," a proud and meaningless association of human beings.

5. Use Self-Generated Persuasion - the subtle design of the situation so that the targets persuade themselves.

6. Construct Vivid Appeals - a vividly presented case study or example can make a lasting impression.

7. Use Pre-Persuasion - Pre-persuasion is defining the situation or setting the stage so you win

8. Frequently Use Heuristics and Commonplaces - Heuristics and commonplaces gain their power because they are widely accepted and thus induce little thought about whether the rule or argument is appropriate.

9. Attack Opponents Through Innuendo and Character Assassination - I offer the advice of Cicero: "If you don't have a good argument, attack the plaintiff."
Sounds all very recognizable. Virtually all public advocates, regardless of the specific issue, utilize these tactics instead of making reasoned, evidence-based arguments.

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