Return to Website

Number Watch Web Forum

This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.

Number Watch Web Forum
Start a New Topic 
You tube has a number of very interesting videos on epidemiology

Did I spell that right?
An example is this one where a peer reviewed article claims that even a brief exposure to the American flag can make democrats into republicans... or at least, cause a behaviour/attitude shift to the right which lasts for upto 8 months.
I must trawl through these and see what other gems there are.

Re: You tube has a number of very interesting videos on epidemiology

Unsurprisingly, scienceblogs have Matt as a "sceptic for hire". (I got that from a reply to one John Cook of Skeptical Science.)

I suspect that's because scienceblogs is a distinctly unsceptical site.


Re: You tube has a number of very interesting videos on epidemiology

The flag exposure theory sounds pretty implausible, but I can imagine quite a few left-liberals believing in something like that. I don't know if there has ever been any attempt to apply the theory to the UK but there is a pretty obvious event which debunks the whole idea for the UK - Labour managed to win the 1945 General election with a hefty majority only two months after the end of the Second World War, VE Day, when the electorate would have been recently exposed to an intense period of flag waving and other patriotic symbols, but this appears not to have been helpful to the Conservative party at the time.

My guess as to where this idea that you can 'nudge' public behaviour using visual images came from, I'd say it's probably the Greenies. An example that is fairly well known is their frequent use of the image of a polar bear in connection with global warming. They appear to think that if you show photos of polar bears, or dress up in polar bear costumes, then the public will show greater concern over global warming. They certainly don't believe in the old-fashioned method of trying to persuade the public by working out a convincing line of argument and writing it down.

To give another example of Greenies trying to 'nudge' public behaviour with visual images, Greenies within the British TV industry seem to have been trying to do that with wind turbines for about ten years or more. Any opportunity they get to flash an image of a wind turbine on the screen, they take it. Here are two Youtube videos that give an idea what I'm talking about:

The first is the opening titles for BBC news for English regions. Fleeting images of wind turbines appear in the Look East and South East Today segments:

The second is for ITV Sport's opening titles for England international football (soccer) matches. A wind turbine appears briefly right at the start, not exactly a symbol many would associate with England:

However I think the TV industry's other tactic for promoting wind turbines, where they don't give any TV exposure to anyone who is critical of windfarms, is probably achieving more success.

Re: You tube has a number of very interesting videos on epidemiology

If there were any credibility to the flag theory then I suspect it would have to rely on an association of ideas and images to produce some sort of Pavlovian type reflexive behaviour.
Fundamental but not actually stated is that flags are a quite potent symbol of nationalistic ideals, amongst other things, and in some countries more than others. In the US the lfag is more prominently displayed in and on official buildings etc. whereas here it is far less so.
But from this already accepted notion, it is a small step to propose some sort of association of ideas and then seek to use statistics to support the theory.

Marketing types are well conversant with anything that sells by an appeal to the motional rather than logical reasoning (allegedly the primitive brain stem has a role here). They know that playing classical music in a wine store causes people to buy more expensive wines, for example.
The idea of using certain sounds, images, smells as triggers is thus also quite well accepted.
The trick is to be able to create associations or discover if such associations have arisen by chance.

If then one sees a repetitive event at which there is some sort of ideology presented and there is an associated visual symbol there might be some potential in the idea of being able to associate the image of the flag with the GOP party or in the UK, the Union flag in association with BNP. However, the association of the flag with BNP does not necessarily presuppose that those being shown the flag and hearing the ideology are likely to be converted. Rather more likely is that those attending and listening to the ideology are predisposed to accept it and in which case the flag might then be used as a reinforcement of ideas or as a trigger.

Assuming that there were some evidence that those who attend 4th July events are more prone to have GOP tendencies reinforced, one also might ask if it is the flag or something else at such events that might be more properly attributed as the trigger.

Those in who accept the premise may find it easy to dispose of your contention that the Union flag at the end of the Second world war did nothing for the conservatives. In the UK the end of the second world war was the end of a coalition government, not strictly a conservative one (and Churchill had form as a floor crosser) and it may have been that the flag waving was associated more with the country as a whole rather and its success in an external conflict rather than with any particular party. Then too there was the "Land fit for heroes" concept (was it new then or a hang over from the Great War) and Labour certainly set out its stall to appeal to that feeling.

What was interesting is the superficial way in which the initial question was addressed and the lack of rigour in exploring the idea. It very much seemed that Matt's point was that starting with the idea of the flag creating GOP tendencies it was easy to select whatever data seemed to support the proposition - and get it through the seemingly uncritical peer review process.

Of concern is that what the entire lecture did was demonstrate that unless you accept the Greenie view of AGW, your very career is at stake. A perversion of the scientific community that is actively encouraged and seemingly unquestioningly accepted. Publish or perish taken to new extremes.
So anyone who disagrees with the AGW theory is then classified as a "Denier" and if they continue to speak as a "sceptic for hire".

Re: You tube has a number of very interesting videos on epidemiology

If you never believed in synchronicity, perhaps this article in the DT today may influence you!

Re: You tube has a number of very interesting videos on epidemiology

There was an interesting documentary in the BBC's Horizon series about intuitive (or emotional) versus logical reasoning shown a few weeks ago. It was called "How you really make decisions", and a news article describing the programme written by its producer is given here (I would imagine the documentary has been uploaded by somebody on to the internet for anyone interested in seeing it):


I believe the two types of thinking are usually called 'System 1' for the fast instinctive system and 'System 2' for the much slower logic-using system. (I'll abbreviate them to S1 and S2 later on in this post)

The S1 system is exploited a lot by sales people as you say. As I remember it, there was an example in the documentary similar to the one you mention about playing classical music in order to make people buy more expensive wine. A researcher asked people in a park to select a ball with a number on it out of a bag, without being told that all the balls in the bag actually had the same number. They were then asked to suggest a price they might offer for a bottle of wine that was then presented to them, and the participants tended to suggest a price in £ similar to the number on the ball. It's a bit like JEB's idea of a "Trojan number", a number initially planted in your head.

Exploitation of the S1 system is I think one of the major reasons why sales people like telephone selling or 'cold calling' so much. The person being cold called is being asked to think quickly and therefore lapses into the S1 mode of thinking. By contrast 'junk mail', which has been heavily criticised for years by Green-leaning people for wasting paper, gives a greater opportunity for those on the receiving end to use the more sensible S2 mode of thinking, and has the additional advantage of helping to keep the price of stamps down.

But I can think of one example where sales people have gone over the top with a particular visual sales trick designed to appeal to S1 thinking. They are keen on the idea that people are more likely to buy a watch if the hands are set in a 'smiley face' postion, showing a time something like ten to two. If you type the word watches into Google, and then select 'images' rather than web results, you get a large sample of photographs of watches, and you'll observe that nearly all the photos show the watches in the smiley face position. I can see this trick helping a bit, but I don't think it's essential to sell a watch.

Going back to the flag exposure theory, that theory basically assumes a significant proportion of voters are using S1 thinking when voting. My view is that most people, apart from maybe SIF voters, are actually using S2 thinking as far as they can when they vote, even if the overall election results might appear strange. The Greenies are probably the biggest attempted exploiters of S1 thinking in the political arena. They try to persuade the public by doing things which might appeal to S1 thinking, such as flashing images of polar bears and wind turbines at them and parading Green-leaning celebrities in front of them. The Greenies are also very keen users of opinion polls, and asking questions on environmentally-related topics is likely to just produce a load of quick S1 thinking-type responses by the public, easily manipulated by the questioner.

Re: You tube has a number of very interesting videos on epidemiology

Possibly potentially one of the most dangerous practitioners of the art of manipulating the way people think is Derren Brown, if his TV shows are anything to go by.
While, if all his skills are based on what he says and the tricks work as he describes (not necessarily so?), he is safe enough so long as he sticks to magic but if ever he decided to do something else he could be very dangerous indeed!
In fact it is his sort of use of carefully planted visual images and verbal clues that tips one off to the possible plausibility of such a notion as the Flag issue.

Incidentally, one should not discount the "celebrity factor" in decision influencing. Well I do, but many do not. Celebrity endorsements, especially in an era when "celebrity" means simply being well known for nothing much at all ought to have no effect but it seem, from their continued use including in the political arena, that there is some value to someone.

Re: You tube has a number of very interesting videos on epidemiology

On the subject of Derren Brown, I'm pretty sure he doesn't do his magic tricks in the way that he gives the impression he does. My evidence for that is from an ITV show that was on a couple of years ago called "Penn & Teller: Fool Us", where relatively unknown British stage magicians performed a magic trick in front of famous US magicians Penn & Teller. The idea of the show was that P & T had to guess how the trick was done in broad outline terms, and if they couldn't guess correctly (which happened about 10% of the time), then the performer won the prize of boosting their career by being invited to perform the trick in front of a Las Vegas audience. On one show there was a Derren Brown style magician who acted as though he was manipulating minds by planting suggestions, but P & T declared that this was BS, and as I remember it the performer didn't dispute their claim (I think P & T guessed how he really did ithe trick). The mind manipulation thing may work to some extent and particularly on some people, but it would need to be 100% reliable for a stage magician to base his entire act on it.

Apparently videos of Derren Brown are used in sales training, as mentioned in this blog post by a blogger called 'Notung':


The blogger is generally sceptical of 'neuro-linguistic programming' (NLP), which is similar to the idea of getting people to lapse into the System 1 mode of thinking, and is critical of Derren Brown's implied promotion of NLP in his magic act.

Re: You tube has a number of very interesting videos on epidemiology

There was a recent news story on the CNSnews website reporting another debunking exercise by Matt Briggs. I can imagine this exercise turning into a future Youtube video at some point.


Basically some scientivists have carried out a study using a computer model that was originally funded for a different application by NASA, and the conclusion is that the world needs to adopt eco-socialism, or face the collapse of civilisation.

The study was originally reported in the Guardian by Nafeez Ahmed. I get the impression that Ahmed is seen by the Guardian and the BBC (he's been interviewed a few times by the BBC) as being the new George Monbiot.

Re: You tube has a number of very interesting videos on epidemiology

If only NASA could separate itself from the Hansen Climate Science in just the same way they are busy putting distance between themselves and this study.
There is a certain amount of fudging around the funding issue and Nasa'S remit that makes you wonder whether these funds weren't misapplied but now no-one dare say anything.