In a recent study, it was found that 87%
of subjects didn't need glasses after eating a carrot a day for
But before you go out and buy a bunch, I
must tell you that what you just read isn't true. I made it up
to make a point. People tend to believe things they see in print
and especially so if it includes a statistic. Even a meaningless
one. How do you know, for example, that 87% of the subjects
didn't need glasses before eating the carrots? And the fact that
I linked carrots with vision also made it easy to believe.
During WW II, it was widely reported that British pilots ate
carrots to improve their night vision. This wasn't true but it
kept the Germans from realizing that a new invention, Radar, was
being used against them. To this day, the myth of carrots and
improved vision continues.
Getting back to the power of the printed
word, I was once at a party where I made a statement that didn't
sound quite right to one of the other guests. As he started to
explain why he was right and I was wrong, I walked over to a
table, picked up a magazine and opened it to an article that
made my point exactly. The crowd that had gathered around me and
the smart alleck was impressed. Ususally, I don't think of the
perfect retort until I'm driving home but this time, there it
was right there in print and as I recall it even contained a
statistic or two. It was a good thing no one thought to find the
author's name as I was the one who had written the article.
Interestingly enough, sometimes not
writing an article serves a purpose. If an experiment doesn't
come out the way one thinks it should, one can always say
nothing and try it again. So when you hear about a remarkable
finding on the morning news, remember that you may not be
hearing about all the times there was no finding.
And it doesn't hurt to include the name
of a recognized authority with the printed word. When I was
still a student, I realized that many academic papers involve
little more than repeating things that more famous people had
said. This goes all the way back to Plato...who repeated what
Then too, it helps if your audience
already believes (as was the case with carrots and vision) what
you say. This is called Confirmation Bias and explains why there
are opposing news networks and why there is so much fake news.
Commentators on the Left and on the Right (you know who they
are) are not so much reporters as repeaters. They say the same
things to the same followers who respond with a DITTO every
time. As I see it, once a celebrity pundit gets a lable -
Conservative or Liberal, Republican or Democrat - the message
stops and the massage begins.
Look At It This Way
A dangerous phase begins when the
message feels so good that the two sides start pulling apart
and, allowing a wedge, issues to develop. This may be okay for a
sporting event where fans can yell and scream from opposite
sides of a stadium but it's no way to run a country. And if
anyone doubts that, just open your paper to this page and point
to this column.