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Three score and ten or more

Friday, August 25, 2006

The messages we send, and how we send them.

I spent the early part of last week with my daughter (and without internet access) so I didn’t even think much about the blog, but I had a couple of experiences just following that period that really hit me where I (still, in spite of retirement) live. That means that they affect the way we exchange messages or communicate. The first was a period, driving my car, when I turned on the radio and recognized the voice of Sean Hannity. He appeared to have a couple of guests, but it was difficult to sort out the topic. It appeared that one of the guests had made a comment regarding Japanese Internment during World War II that the other guest objected to. It was hard to sort out because that second guest had taken the role, often taken by talk show guests, I hate to say it but they are usually, but not always the liberal guests) that the one who interrupts, most often, shouts the loudest, and talks fastest always wins. This particular guest, called Leo by Hannity but never clearly identified during the brief time I tolerated his assault, made an absolute ass of himself because he never listened to his opponent. The opponent referred to a mistaken or bad decision by the Supreme Court and Leo shouted the word RACIST seven time in what seemed like less than ten seconds. It was only after Hannity seemed almost to clap a hand over the idiots mouth that it was made clean that the Court decision to which the other guest referred was the decision made in 1942 or 3 that the Nissei Internment Camps were legal. (In other words, he agreed with Leo)

Leo then shouted that he was an attorney and anyone listening to this broadcast would want him as an attorney. Not me. I have been on juries. I actually have had more than my share of jury duty. Between the years of 1971 and 1983 I was called to be a juror at least once, and often twice or three times a year. I have sat in jury rooms and listened to other jurors talk about impolite obnoxious attorneys, and what they say isn’t good. If he ever wins a case it is because he changes his tactics, or his opponent takes a plea.

I don’t mean to pick just on Leo, but on all the guest talking heads that come on the TV talk shows and demonstrate that absolute stupidity of thinking that interrupting and shouting and inventing statistics is persuasive. I have spend a lot of time and a considerable amount of grant money researching the types of communication that actually persuades or changes minds and behavior. Shouting and interrupting isn’t it.

It is only partially related but I have another pet peeve in communication. It is the flagrant misuse of statistics. (And in this, the right is no better than the left). Statistics require data. That means actual counts of subjects using a plan to avoid skewing that data. The other day I heard a re-run of newsman Chris Matthews interviewing Elizabeth Dole about the upcoming elections and particularly Iraq. She made a comment regarding the current Iraqi government and hopes for its success. Matthews interrupted her three time to say tha “We’ve had American Generals on the show and we know that 95 per-cent of all Iraqis want us to leave!!!” His ninety five percent is a classical non statistic. It was a quote from the opinions of some U.S. general officers who may or may not have ever been in theatre, but even that is beside the point. When one says 95 percent, it implies that you have more than statistics you have hard data. I would dare say(and I have worked briefly in the polling business, my limited experience makes be secure in saying that a lot of the statistics on most of the subjects that are quoted on the air are spurious( I almost cited an opinion percentate- that’s how indoctrinated we all are). They are the results of limited samples, badly structure polls, and often on no hard data at all.

I am not sure who said it first, but someone once was quoted as saying that “Statistics don’t lie, but statisticians sure do”. Another way of putting it is attributed to Mark Twain who is quoted as saying “There are lies, DAMN lies, and statistics.”

My router and my DSL modem went south in a thunderstorm yesterday. I am typing this in Word, hoping that repairs will be made soon enough to make the posting worthwhile.

I am going to get on to one more post regarding old coots and geezers soon.


At 1:47 PM, Blogger Norma said...

I wish you were right about the shouting and interrupting, but some recent research reported last week in the WSJ showed that brains respond to the negative much more than to reasoned thought. Sad news when we're coming up on an election season.

I think this is a time for people to write down 10 core beliefs and then pull it out when the shouting starts.

At 5:54 AM, Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

I haven't seen the latest research, that's what happens when you retire, but we did some pretty good research re: interruption, shouting, fast talking (we called it heat speech, which is obviously more than fast talking) and we found response generally negative (by pretty big numbers). I have no trouble believing that brains respond to negative more than reasoned thought, you can see that simply by surfing the blogs on either side of any question.

At 8:32 AM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

I am not much for debating and arguing mostly because it's usually a waste fo time - one reason I could never be a pol.


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