Agnotology: Ignorance by design

roger scime | scribe site | content creator | agnotology
Doctors & Cigarettes: A 20th Century Love Story

I learned a new word the other day. I was reading a story on Salon.com the other day, when I came across a word with which I was unfamiliar: agnotology, defined by WordSpy as n. The study of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.

As one who makes his living from content creation, I was intrigued: culturally-induced ignorance or doubt? Strong stuff!

The authors of the article, Bill Moyers and Michael Winship provided some examples:

  • Believing that global climate change is a myth
  • The insistence by the tobacco industry that harm caused by smoking is still in dispute.
  • The conviction that Pres. Barack Obama is a closet Muslim, who was born in Kenya.

To which I was able to add an example of my own:

  • The 9/11 hijackers were all from  Iraq.

Agnotology: origin of the term

The word agnotology was coined a few years ago by Stanford researchers Robert Proctor and Londa Schiebinger, who have since written a book on the subject,
Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance.

Actually, though, there is nothing new in the use of agnotology in the furthering of some political or social agenda:

Continue reading Agnotology: Ignorance by design

A simple test

Roger Scime | Scribe Site | A simple test
A perfect score?

The following is a corollary to Following instructions: A (sort of) defense. I remember this particular test from my elementary school days, back in Long Beach, NY, and did some Googling until I found a copy. Many of you probably taking this test or a similar one, but I thought I’d include it here, anyway, just in case you knew somebody who hadn’t.

Anyway, here is that test—just as I remember it:

 

 

Instructions:
Use a blank sheet of paper. When everyone has finished, you may compare answers. Read everything before doing anything, but work as fast as you can.

  1. Write your full name in the upper-right-hand corner.
  2. Write the name of the place where you live.
  3. Draw a circle around the answer to item 2.
  4. Write the name of your birthplace
  5. Write the name of your favorite superstar (sports, film, etc.).
  6. Draw a triangle on the lower left hand corner.
  7. Underline the answer to No. 5.
  8. Write down your age in months.
  9. State whether you are married or single.
  10. Multiply your age in years by 8 and write down the product.
  11. Draw an equilateral (equal-sided) triangle on the upper left hand corner.
  12. Draw an X inside this equilateral triangle.
  13. When you reach this point, shout, “I have!”
  14. Whisper your first name aloud.
  15. Put your hand on top of your head, close your eyes, and count out loud from 10 to 1.
  16. Keep your hand on top of your head and write down your favorite number.
  17. Complete only item No. 1. Put your pen or pencil down and if others are taking this test, wait for them to finish. Do not talk!

How old were you when you first came across this little bit of misdirection? So, how did you do? Comments (and answers) are always appreciated. Just remember to follow the instructions.

Related posts:

A scribe for the 21st century

Roger Scime | A scribe for the 21st Century
Changing the focus of this blog

Some of you might have noticed that the title of this blog has undergone a transformation: Whereas it was (until yesterday) “The Critical Journalism Blog,” today it has become “SCRIBE+SITE,” with the tagline, “Content creation for the 21st century.”

There are a couple of reasons for the change:

  • For one thing, it was becoming apparent the journalism community had little interest in the concept of applying informal logic techniques to journalistic research, analysis, writing and reporting.
  • For another, I often found myself writing on topics other than informal logic, critical thinking, or even journalism—a practice that made the blog a hodgepodge and unfocused.

As I tried, each week, to come up with topics that referenced the blog’s title, I became increasingly frustrated: even though it wasn’t all that difficult to find those topics, other subjects  just kept on getting in the way, and I realized that all I really wanted to do was write—uninhibitedly, spontaneously, prolifically. Not with a great deal of erudition, nuance, and flair, perhaps; but at least a few paragraphs strung together with decent syntax, proper spelling and grammar, and an occasional soaring phrase that would make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

So, there it is. This blog will attempt to highlight my writing talents in as many areas that interest me, and perhaps, you, the reader. Plus, it seems that there’s a market for creating original content in these social media days.

I’ll still post on topics that deal with critical journalism (I’m enamored of the name), but that will no longer be the sole focus of the blog (as if it ever was). I promise to complete the series, “The 9-second election”; with the 2012 election cycle coming up, I should have no shortage of subject matter.

In the meantime, though—as they used to say—Watch this space.

Following instructions: A (sort of) defense

Roger Scime | The Critical Journalism Blog | Instructions
"Parade Magazine" January 18, 1994

This is a companion piece to my previous post, This guy walks into a bar  . . .

Some years back, I was the point man on a bid to build a VA hospital in Las Vegas. The primary investor on the project was a multimillionaire with prior experience with this type of construction, and the team included several of the more prominent Las Vegas businessmen. The RFP (Request For Proposal) included the requirement that there be 16 parking spaces per floor (or, something like that), a requirement the RFP was specific about.

One of the group members was adamant that he needed more space for other projects than the plans allowed, so he finagled his way into having the proposal submitted showing only 14 spaces per floor.

We didn’t get the bid. And, we were informed later, the two fewer parking spots had disqualified us from any further consideration.

We had failed to follow the instructions.

More recently, I had the opportunity to read and critique a business plan that had been submitted to a prestigious competition. The rules for the contest were many and specific, but there was a large cash prize, which would seem to make any effort worthwhile.

Some of the instructions made sense, while others seemed arbitrary. One rule, in particular, had to do with formatting and laid out—in specific detail—what item(s) had to be addressed in each plan, in what order, and what type of support had to be included. The business plan I was asked to examine ignored many of the categories, and when they were addressed, failed to include the specificity the rules demanded. Needless to say, the business plan was rejected and the $50,000 prize went to someone else.

The business plan’s author had failed to follow the instructions.

In almost every instance, in every action created by someone other than ourselves, we are told how to do something by someone who—supposedly—knows better than we do. They are called “instructions”—and we ignore them at our peril.

  • Do not take internally.
  • Place a checkmark beside your choice.
  • Fit Part A inside Part B.
  • Don’t spam your FaceBook friends.

That isn’t to say that all instructions should be followed blindly: we filter instructions though our powers of reasoning, moral code, experience, and commonsense. Based upon what we know, we can modify or decide not to follow instructions entirely. But, as I mentioned, we ignore them at our peril.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to VCR instructions written by that guy in China.

 

This guy walks into a bar . . .

Roger Scime | The Critical Journalism Blog
"There's something I want to discuss with you . . . "

So, this guy walks into a bar, spies me at a back table, nursing a double. He walks over to me like he owns the joint, pulls up a chair, sits in it without being invited. I take a pull off my rye and soda, let my eyes drift over his 5’4″ frame.

Soft, I say to myself: A thinker. An arguer. Just what I need on a Saturday night that’s been as empty as a politician’s promises. I stare at him, daring him to say why he’s there. Finally, he breaks:

“There’s something I want to discuss with you,” he says to me, tossing off the words like a challenge.

What follows is a narrative version of a flowchart by Brandon Scott Gorrell, from his blog, The Thought Catalog, via Critical-Thinking. The actual flowchart follows at the end of this post. To continue:

I pause for a moment, as if considering what to say next, although my words are as familiar to me as the lyrics of a favorite song or a long-recited Act Of Contrition.

“So, you wanna discuss something, eh?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he replies. “I do.”

Now for the part where these so-called Arguers usually slink away:

“If you wanna discuss something with me,” I say, emphasizing the last word, “there are certain rules I insist on: First of all, no sermons, no lectures or diatribes.” He nods his head absently, as if he expected something like this.

“Also,” I continue, “discussions are a dialog between people in which the participants are willing to alter their position if it makes sense to do so. I don’t care what you want to discuss. Here’s the kicker, though: ‘Can you envision anything that will change your mind on the topic’?”

If he answers no, then I’m done with him and I think he knows it. He knows I’m not about to waste my time otherwise. He nods a silent “yes,” starts to open his mouth.

“I’m not done yet,” I say.”There are a few other ground rules to this so-called “‘discussion’.”

The guy sits there, waiting for me to articulate those rules. I know I’ve got him, though. By the time I finish laying them down, he’s gonna either agree or slink away. I wait.

Finally, he nods again and I give him the bad news:

Continue reading This guy walks into a bar . . .

A personal note about this blog

Roger Scime | Critical Journalism Blog
Fractured

I would assume that some of you have noticed that this blog has often diverted from its stated purpose as being “The Critical Journalism Blog,” into areas involving politics, personal opinions, cultural trends, and even business. There is a reason for that, one which it is difficult for me to control: I am a lifelong sufferer of ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, sometimes jokingly referred to as ADOS, or: Attention Deficit . . . Oh, shiny!

Approximately 4 percent of the population suffers from this very real affliction, and I am one of them. When on my meds, I tend to do just fine, but when off them I tend to be easily distracted from one subject to another. I also tend to be impulsive and lack patience. These are all symptoms of ADHD, and most of the time the results are relatively innocuous. In fact, they often lead me to periods of extreme creativity, as they have done other successful individuals. Thus, the slogan: “It’s not a disability, it’s a superpower.”

Lately, I haven’t been taking my prescribed medications: Adderall, amphetamine salts, dextroamphetamine, and Vyvanse due to their high costs and lack of insurance. However, through a patient assistance program offered by one of the manufacturers, I expect to be back on Vyvanse by this time next week. At that time, I plan to refocus this blog on Critical Journalism, and to separate my posts on other topics to new areas of the blogsite.

As I inferred previously, ADHD doesn’t always mean having to say, “You’re sorry.” In fact, for most of my life it’s been a boon and has, in fact made that life far more interesting than it might have been otherwise.

I just thought you might like to know.

 

4 obvious rules many new entrepreneurs ignore

4 rules entrepreneurs often ignore | Roger Scime | Critical Journalism BlogWhen I started my website design company in the mid-90s in Las Vegas, most of my clients were small-to-medium sized entrepreneurs who had little or no experience in the business world. They believed the then-new Internet mantra that: If you build it they will come. Few of them had had any experience working for, much less running, or even managing, a business. Worse, some of them were so certain of their so-called “business ideas” that they had a great deal of difficulty considering the simplest business concepts.

Because a successful website-based business would be the best testimonial for my services, I had a stake in their success. Accordingly, I offered a free 1-hour consultation to anybody who was kind enough to express interest.

I noted the 4 most egregious (bull-headed) mistakes that these “entrepreneurs” were bound-and-determined—by God!—to make. I then turned them around and created the following set of rules that  hung in my office until I moved to Reno, 10 years later. The examples are of clients (and potential clients) In no instance did they accept my advice.

NOTE: This is my very first attempt at creating this type of blog post (“The List”). Although The Rules actually exist, the anecdotal examples are drawn from my (admittedly) foggy memory. But, here goes anyway:

Make it as easy as possible . . .

  1. . . .  for customers to do business with you. Client A [1995]  wanted to start an online newsletter offering subscribers “inside information” on which casinos offered the best slot machines, the best odds on craps, etc. He had registered a moderately descriptive domain name (albeit long and plagued with hyphens), and believed that having this domain  would insure him enough visits to make his business a success. However, he had no idea what other marketing channels he might employ, offered no way for people to contact him (other than via an AOL email account), and would only accept checks as payment.
  2. . . . customers to find you. An additional note regarding Client A: This client thought that he could rely entirely on his domain name to pull customers into his website and nothing I suggested to him could change his mind. When I started The Internet ADvantage™ in early 1995, the web was something new (Netscape was still in beta), but that there was a buzz going around about the so-called “digital revolution (as Wired called it).” So, the first thing I did was to work a trade-out for desk space with a graphics-design company that worked out of storefront in a busy part of town. This, whenever any of his business clients came to discuss their display ads, I was right there to pitch them on adding a website to their mix. Initially, I priced my services low enough that I converted enough of his customers that I was able to set up my own offices. I selected the location of my first office very carefully: It was at the intersection of two busy streets that had an annoyingly long stop light, and, rather than list “The Internet ADvantage” on the outside billboard, I had it list merely “Website Design” and my phone number. So, as people sat and waited for the light to change, they would be forced to look at my billboard, the service I offered, and how to contact me. Plus the location had the obvious advantage of being easy to find when given directions over the phone.
  3. . . . give you money (buy your product). Client B [1995]  wanted to sell a niche product online. As with Client A, he would only accept checks as payment. I suggested that he also set up a Merchant Account with his bank so that he could accept credit cards, or at least work with a credit card service bureau—both of which suggestions, he ignored.
  4. . . . give you the money and resources needed to run and/or increase your business. Client C [1997] had an existing website that he wished to expand, but had very money with which to do so. I knew very little about her market; however, I knew several people who might be interested in investing in her venture, either with capital or with manpower. I spoke with my contact (who expressed interest) and gave the potential client the contact information. Checking back a week later, my contact told me that C had never contacted him. When I called C, she told me that she had not contacted the investor, because she had “other things to do.” The upshot was that C never did contact my friend and subsequently dropped the idea of expansion due to “lack of resources.

Reading back over this post, I realize that a great deal of editing and formatting are needed; however, I unexpectedly discovered the Rules I had written down almost 10 years ago, and was compelled share them immediately.

Sometime in the very near future, I plan to return to this, edit it, tighten it up, and let you know.

Do you see what you really see? Or, what you expect to see?

Getting it wrong | Roger Scime | Critical Journalism Blog

Take a moment to read what’s in the three triangles above, then read the rest of the story.

I once knew a television reporter who told me about a feature she was writing: The story had to do with corruption in a union local to which we had both belonged at one time. She told me she had been given some financial documents the previous evening that seemed to prove it, and that she was going to run with a story to beat that afternoon’s deadline (and the competition).

Knowing that this reporter’s math skills were as challenged as mine, I asked her if she had shown the documents to a financial analyst or other reputable expert before concluding that the union was corrupt. She told me she hadn’t, but that it was obvious from what she had read that something fishy was afoot.

Then I asked her how much time she’d spent going over the papers, herself. “About an hour,” she replied. I looked at stack in her hand: about an inch’s worth of complex financial spreadsheets.

“Do you think that was enough,” I asked. She said she just knew that the union was corrupt, and she was happy to finally have the proof. She’d skimmed enough of the report to nail the SOBs once and for all.

So, she took her story to her editor and explained her findings. Her boss—wise man that he was—had the station’s financial correspondent vet the reporter’s documents—and subsequently spiked the story.

It seems that she had made a major error when skimming the financials: the printer’s ink cartridges had run low and what appeared to be red ink was actually black, and vice-versa. Consequently, she had assumed that the union was running a deficit and hiding the fact from its members. Because of her past experience with the local, she had expected to find corruption, when none actually existed.

The above is apocryphal: No such reporter existed, nor was any such story contemplated. I just wanted to illustrate the “tyranny of expectations.” The reporter saw only what she wanted to see, not what was actually in the documents.

Here is that image again:

What do they say? | roger scime | critical journalism blog
What do they say?

Done? Okay, now here’s what they really say:

  1. King of the the Jews
  2. Wind in the the willows
  3. Paris in the the spring

So, how did you you do? Did you see what you saw—or what you thought you saw?