Who do YOU think would be more influential in persuading people to support vaccination against the human papillomavirus—a scourge that causes cervical cancer and thousands of deaths each year?
Most people would guess the authoritative-looking woman doctor on the left. After all, how much influence could a non-expert like the Middle School student on the right be expected to wield?
That was the focus of my study of spokesperson expertise.
Universal HPV vaccination would save more than 3,000 lives annually in the United States, and more than 350,000 worldwide. It makes sense. Its benefits seem almost inarguable. But there is a huge amount of opposition, largely distributed along political and ideological lines.
This is the intersection of health, science and politics. Mistrust and disbelief in evidence-based science and the recommendations of scientists are widespread and distributed along partisan lines.
It is hard to prove any immediate life-and-death consequences to rejection of evolution or denial of the possibility of human agency in climate change. But with HPV and cervical cancer, the consequences are clear, present and immediate. We can document that partisan opposition to HPV vaccination is killing people right now.
The results of my study suggest that people who are inclined to oppose HPV vaccination are more likely to listen to pro-vaccination messages from an obviously non-expert spokesperson (in this study, an innocent-looking middle school student) than from an expert (in this study, an authoritative-looking woman doctor).
In my study, 474 adults were randomly divided into three groups. One group was instructed to read some basic, neutral information about the HPV virus and a pro-vaccination advocacy message attributed to the woman doctor.
A second group was instructed to read the same basic information about the HPV virus and the same pro-vaccination advocacy message, but for this group the message was attributed to the middle school student.
The third group read the same basic information about the HPV virus, but received no advocacy message. Members of all three groups were also instructed to rate themselves politically as either Progressive, Centrist or Conservative.
After completing their reading assignments, the subjects were surveyed about their attitudes toward HPV vaccination.
The attitude-scores of the control group (the ones who read only basic information but received no advocacy message) showed how favorability toward HPV vaccination is skewed along partisan political lines. The more conservative the individual, the more opposed to HPV vaccination that person was likely to be.
Displaying the results for all three groups side-by-side (see chart below), it is clear that Centrists and Conservatives—those more likely to be opposed to vaccination—are more positively influenced by the Non-Expert spokesperson than the Expert.
For both Centrists and Conservatives, attitudes among those who read the advocacy message from the Non-Expert were significantly more positive than among those who received no advocacy message. There was no such significant difference in attitudes of those who read the advocacy message attributed to the Expert.
With Centrists, in fact, attitudes toward vaccination among those who received the advocacy message delivered by the Expert were virtually identical to those who received no advocacy message at all.
Among Progressives — who tend to favor HPV vaccination to begin with — attitudes toward HPV vaccination were more more positively influenced by the Expert than the Non-Expert.
Since virtually all pro-vaccination campaigns are spearheaded by people who favor vaccination, it seems likely that the tendency to rely on expert authorities as public advocates for vaccination may be the result of unexamined and untested assumptions that what influences Progressives will influence everyone.
From The Economist (November 24th-30th, 2012, “Naming names,” p.16), on putting the more than $6 billion spent on the 2012 election into perspective:
Which might also help explain our problem with obesity.
…when you consider that Americans were electing on November 6th not just the president but 435 congressmen and 33 senators in a vast country of 330m people, where electioneering is primarily conducted by paid television advertisements, the figure may not seem quite so high. Americans spend more than that every year in potato crisps.
Do candidates with shorter names have a better chance of being elected? There is good reason to guess this may be true, especially in local elections.
A typical political yard sign is 26 inches wide and 16 inches high. For a local election, these yard signs often comprise a major part of the campaign. They tend to be very simple in design and message. Most such signs carry no more than the name of a candidate and the office the candidate is running for.
The ubiquitous presence of these signs in the weeks leading up to an election is a reflection of the importance of building name recognition for the candidates. Studies have shown that seeing a name over and over again does more than simply increase awareness and memorability of the name. This visual repetition also creates greater comfort, acceptance and positive feelings associated with the name.
Evolutionary psychology suggests this positive reaction may be hard-wired into us. The need to survive has programmed us to pay attention to new features of our environment and to regard them as potential dangers until proven otherwise. If, after many encounters with the feature it has not attempted to eat us, it can be judged to be benign—a familiar and accepted part of our lives. Similarly, it can be projected that the more often we see a particular road sign, the friendlier it will seem to be.
So much for the importance of the yard signs. But what about the impact of the messages they carry? In the local election just completed in my community, two races in particular were suggestive of a larger pattern.
In one case, a congressional race, a man named Gibson was running against a man named Schreibman. When sized to fit into yard-sign spaces, their names look like this (the font is Arial Narrow Bold):
In the other election, five candidates were competing for two available seats on the State Supreme Court. Sized to fit into yard-sign spaces, their names look like this:
So, are you curious about the results? Admittedly, the sample size is extremely small, but they suggest the value of a larger study: with one barely outlying exception (Malone & Kavanagh, who were separated by less than a percentage point), relative font-point size was perfectly correlated with electoral success:
Why the Top Tax Rates Must Go Up
There is a simple reason why the wealthy should pay a higher tax rate on the upper portions of their income. Farmers don’t like high taxes any more than the rest of us, but they understand why. It comes down to a simple corn-grower’s choice:
After you’ve put enough of your seed corn aside to feed your family for the year, should you keep putting more of it aside for family food, even though you’ll have to share a lot of it with your disagreeable Uncle Samuel (and what’s left over will probably make you all fat anyway)?
Or should you take the rest of that seed corn and plant it to grow next year’s crops?
Farmers, like business owners and executives, get to choose how to allocate the proceeds of their businesses. But most farmers don’t need a hungry Uncle Samuel to help them realize why it’s a good idea to put this year’s surplus to work growing next year’s proceeds.
A higher tax rate on income over $250,000—more than ample for most families—would give business owners a stronger incentive to make the corn-grower’s choice: to put 100 cents out of every one of those surplus dollars to work growing their businesses—by investing in new equipment and more highly skilled workers, for instance—instead of giving nearly 40 cents out of every dollar to Uncle Samuel just to have the right to keep 60 cents with which to play and grow fat.
There is a myth that higher taxes on our “Job Creators” will ruin our economy. Like many myths, this one should not be accepted on faith.
A lot of people seem to take dogmatic pronouncements like this on faith. According to a May 2012 Gallup Poll, for instance, 46 percent of American adults believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.”
And according to the 2012 Presidential Election, it looks as though about 47 percent of American adults—at least those who voted—believe that higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans would lead to higher unemployment.
Both of these beliefs seem to persist despite ample evidence to the contrary. Mountains of irrefutable evidence from the fields of geology, archaeology, paleontology, biology and astronomy support the “theory” that life-forms, including humans, evolved on planet Earth over a period of many millions of years. A simple reading of recent history and also a recently suppressed-and-then-unsuppressed report from the Congressional Research Service show that higher marginal tax rates on high income levels do not, in fact, hamper the economy or hinder job growth.
In the 1950’s, the Eisenhower administration reduced the highest marginal tax rate from 92 percent to a much more reasonable 91 percent. Despite—or perhaps in part because of—these tax rates, the economy grew exponentially, real wages flourished, and the “Father Knows Best” generation enjoyed a period of prosperity so wonderful that one of our political parties seems determined to turn our national clocks back by 60 years (tax rates excluded, of course).
Let us consider the likely impact of a marginal tax rate of 91 percent on income over—oh let’s pick a number—say, $250,000 per year. With such a tax rate, small business owners and corporate magnates would have little incentive to siphon more than that amount out of their businesses for their own personal use. Given the choice of sending 91 cents out of every dollar over $250,000 to the government or plowing 100 cents from each of those dollars back into the business, what do you suppose America’s one-percenters would do?
Well, if they were to follow the example of the hallowed 1950s, they would do things like buying and producing more inventory. Investing in more research. Buying more equipment. Hiring more employees and training them to be more productive. And the next thing you know, we would have more valuable businesses, higher employment, more money to pay in salaries, and a more vibrant economy. And a shrinking Federal deficit.
But with no difference in the tax rates on the first $250,000 and every dollar in income over that amount, the biggest incentive that remains is simple greed. That is our current economic condition, with the wealthiest Americans focused on wealth acquisition and wealth preservation.
Remember, whether they are business owners or "merely" business executives, these are people who can choose how to allocate the proceeds of their businesses. Because there is no incentive to do otherwise, too many of these "Job Creators" are allocating too much of their businesses' proceeds to themselves.
Instead of being reinvested to build businesses, grow the economy and create more jobs, the profits of our successful businesses are being siphoned off to accumulate and be preserved in hedge funds and off-shore accounts, from whence they are unlikely to trickle down to anyone but the next generation of the one percent (unless we do something about the recently gutted Inheritance Tax). And their motto: “Never, ever, dip into Capital!”
Right now, our representatives in Washington are considering
whether to raise the tax rates on the highest incomes from 35 percent up to as
much as 39 percent. Those opposed to this slight increase claim it will
discourage job creation.
Right now, our representatives in Washington are considering whether to raise the tax rates on the highest incomes from 35 percent up to as much as 39 percent. Those opposed to this slight increase claim it will discourage job creation.
Relatively speaking, they are right. Raising the tax rate on income over $250,000 to 39 percent will not encourage job creation nearly as much as reversing the order of those digits. Let’s make it 93 percent instead.
Cognitive Friction happens when you take two sets of facts or ideas or ways of looking at the world and you rub them together. For instance, many people think we live in a post-racist society, but the act of cognitive friction can reveal something very different.
The evidence of Harvard’s Project Implicit shows that the overwhelming majority of people in the United States – whites and people of color, young and old, rich and poor – harbor a deep-seated bias against darker skinned people. They persistently and unconsciously associate lighter skin on the positive side and darker skin on the negative side of the continuum on all the following sets of characteristics:
Smart vs Stupid
Good vs Bad
Safe vs Risky
Peaceful vs Risky
Lawful vs Unlawful
Beautiful vs Ugly
Likable vs Unlikable
Positive vs Negative
Okay, you might say, that may be true but it is just an unconscious bias that we all have learned to overcome because we do not agree with racism, we do not approve of racism, and we do not believe we are racists. Our conscious decisions about how we choose to act serve to mitigate and eliminate the effects of this racist bias. And it is, after all, our conscious choices that define us.
But if we rub the evidence of Project Implicit up against the evidence of a growing number of studies of elaboration likelihood (i.e., whether people are likely to engage in rational, conscious thought about something), we might start to worry.
These studies of conscious vs unconscious processing demonstrate that perhaps 95 percent of our actions are performed unconsciously, without intentional rational deliberation. Like the way we drive our cars, we mostly operate on autopilot. We may think we are thinking about something, but usually we are paying as little attention as possible while actually thinking about something else.
When these sets of findings are considered separately, there is little cause for alarm about the human condition, or about the persistence and pervasiveness of racism in the United States. But taken together, they suggest that even among people who abhor the idea of racism, 95 percent of their decisions and actions are undertaken under the unmitigated influence of a broad and deep-seated racist bias. Yes, racism is alive and well and we are all contributing to its expression.
Want to check your own degree of racism? Go to https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/ and poke around.
What can we expect from Mitt Romney?
He won’t tell us. He just says “trust me,” but let’s look at
He won’t tell us. He just says “trust me,” but let’s look at the record.
After he said his health care plan would cover pre-existing conditions, his handlers said he didn’t mean it.
After he said he wouldn’t go after women’s right to choose, his handlers said he didn’t mean it.
And after he said 47 percent of us would never take responsibility for ourselves, even he said he didn’t mean it.
The record doesn’t lie. But what can we expect from Mitt Romney?
"WHAT ROMNEY DID" (30 seconds)
What can we expect from Mitt Romney?
He doesn’t want to tell us. He won’t show us his tax
returns, he won’t talk about his policies.
He doesn’t want to tell us. He won’t show us his tax returns, he won’t talk about his policies.
He says he’ll create jobs, but let’s look at his record. When he was governor of Massachusetts, the state was 47th out of 50 in job creation… almost dead last.
And in polls in Massachusetts, where the voters know him best, two-thirds say they’re going to vote against him.
The record doesn’t lie. But what can we expect from Mitt Romney?