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The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.

Fighting Propaganda

Don't let yourself be fooled by propaganda - Parts 4 - 7 of 10


Propaganda is the primary way people create polarization in our society. It avoids full exposure in favor of promoting agendas. There are a variety of ways of doing it, and this series explains how it is done so that you can recognize it for what it is.

Misuses statistics and studies to support its own view, and destroy another view. - 4 of 10.

People who create propaganda stack the deck in their favor. It's sleight of hand meant to deceive you with what seem to be statistics that support their position. The statistics may not favor them at all, but they don't care. All they care about is getting you to support their agenda. There are statistics and damned statistics, as they say.

Studies are done endlessly by people from every walk of life, and the news services report them like they are golden fonts of wisdom. A kindergartner who doesn't like peanut butter can do a study on how many people dislike peanut butter, even though the product is probably banned from use their due to allergies, and make the study about not liking it with orange juice. The study can have so many things wrong with it that it could even give the opposite results of reality. And then people will try to apply the study to the entire population, even though it was only a small group of students. "Only 10% of the population likes peanut butter...."

I view all studies and statistics with skepticism. They commonly suffer from a number of problems. The first problem many of them suffer from is the bias of who is funding it or who is doing it. Don't like peanut butter? Do a study about eating peanut butter with orange juice - you will get the results you want. Own a peanut farm and want to sell more peanuts? Do a study in the local high school about how well peanut butter goes with bread, and report the results as, "95% of people like peanut butter."

There are many ways to bias a study. Observe results over too short a time frame, or eliminate results after the time that they start to go south. Ask questions that leave no answer other than the one you want: "Would you rather eat peanut butter or die of starvation?" Report the result, "Studies show that 100% of people eat peanut butter." Sells peanut butter.

Most studies are correlations. Correlations tell us that some factor might be causing a result, but we don't really know what that factor is, and people guess. Example: "People who take vitamins and drink water live longer." Report: "People should take vitamins if they want to live longer. The more vitamins they take, the longer they may live." Sells vitamins. Also: "You should drink a lot of water on your diet if you want to live longer." These results are obviously bogus, but in many studies the correlations look like they are authentic. But they are very commonly shown after millions of dollars in research not to be the cause. Other factors turn out to be the cause, such as the study was done in an area where people live longer for other reasons.

Medical research that is peer reviewed and has been repeated by others, usually is done at very high standards and is relatively reliable. But even with medical correlation studies, reports seem to contradict other studies. On closer examination, they usually just further clarify some aspect of another study.

To determine if a study and the resulting statistics are reliable, look who sponsored (funded) the study and what their biases are, who did the study (and how reliable they are, and what their biases are), find out if it has been repeated by other professionals, and read the results to see what the real implications are. If in doubt, ask other professionals.

- Dorian

Next: Attempts to discredit the other side of the argument with bogus or distorted facts.

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Attempts to discredit the other side of the argument with bogus or distorted facts. 5 of 10.

One of the ways propagandists try to make themselves look good is by making others look bad. Discrediting others is a common tactic. It's a liar's game.

People are easily led to think things that they suspect are true, but don't understand, are true... or not true. For example, studies indicate that sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children. Parents and teachers observe children being hyperactive after holidays on which sugary foods are passed out in quantity. Which is right?

Hyperactivity disorder is a medically defined condition that is chronic (continues), and sugar is not the cause. Temporary hyperactivity is often observed in children after eating a lot of sugary foods. Both are correct, but are talking about different things. But if you want to sell candy, you can accurately, but misleadingly state, that sugar does not cause hyperactivity. The sugar industry is a major "studier" of the effects of sugar.

If you see that sugar is getting a bad rap in the market, and suppliers of fructose (and other plant based sugars) are beginning to get the market, you can publish results that say, "Fructose is bad for you - worse than sugar," and publish some skewed survey results that tell that story. It's likely that both are equally harmful when used in substantial quantities in diets - but don't quote me on that - I don't want attacked. This is an example of using propaganda to discredit your opponent.

Will the TV news bother to tell you who sponsors the research or whether or not it might be biased? No, the news works on headlines, not truth or full stories. It is not in the news media's best financial interests to inform you, only to get you to watch.

Next: Uses sound bytes or slogans to encapsulate their view.

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Uses sound bytes or slogans to encapsulate their view. 6 of 10

Propagandists often treat people as if they were stupid by handing them slogans. Unfortunately a lot of people are either stupid, or just want to believe. They use slogans not so much to change people's opinions, but to solidify the opinions of those who already believe. These help polarize the base.

Propagandists use pithy slogans that carry their message without content. These slogans often appeal to emotions, and not rational thought. They basically are a substitute for thinking. They essentially say, "We've already thought this through for you, so you don't have to think, just keep reciting this slogan."

Examples of slogans are: "Eat the Rich." "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." (The same people say God made everyone just as they are.) "Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many kids you kill today?" – Anti-Vietnam War. "Lips That Touch Liquor Must Never Touch Mine," the Anti-Saloon League, US temperance movement. "Don’t swap horses in midstream," 1864 U.S. presidential campaign slogan. "Ma, Ma where’s my Pa?" 1884 U.S. presidential slogan referred to the candidates illegitimate child. "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion," U.S. presidential election, 1884, attack oppositions views against prohibition. "Give ’Em Hell, Harry!" 1948 U.S. presidential campaign. "In Your Guts, You Know He’s Nuts" parodying "In Your Heart, You know He’s Right," Goldwater campaign. "It’s Time to Change America," campaign of Bill Clinton, similar to Obama's "Hope and Change."

Gun propagandists uses such slogans as, "If we outlaw guns, only criminals will have guns." and "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," as if these issues can be boiled down into slogans.

It isn't very often that a complex issue can be summarized in a short sentence or slogan. Doing so is an attempt to prevent people from really thinking about an issue and coming to a conclusion that has any unwanted impact on the propagandist's agenda.

Next: It misquotes authorities.

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It misquotes authorities. 7 of 10

Propagandists trick you into thinking famous or authoritative people spoke in their favor about an issue.

Authority figures speak volumes. But they never said a lot of things you think they said. At the start of this series I wrote, "George Washington and Albert Einstein shared the view that propaganda is the most harmful challenge affecting our nation. If you believe this, you just became the victim of propaganda." Washington and Einstein are two of the more popular figures through history to attribute sayings to... that they never said. Einstein is often used to both support and oppose religious belief and belief in God. Even his own words are twisted to mean something that he didn't mean.

On Facebook, every day you are likely to see a new picture of some famous or authoritative person, with a caption printed on it of some pithy saying. Much of the time, the person never said these things. Nearly daily you see posted on email or Facebook a quote from some famous or authoritative person. Sometimes it builds on something they said, and often they never said it at all.

One of the anchors of opinion and attitude change is the use of authority. People tend to believe authority figures much more than others. So propagandists use this to trick you into believing what they want you to believe by attributing words to these people, knowing that you aren't likely to check them.

Some propagandists will even misquote or reinterpret religious writings to try to put the power of religion behind what they think. The Ku Klux Klan was infamous for this.

If it seems the propagandist wants to discredit every agency, like all government agencies, or all news agencies except maybe a favorite, they are definitely spreading propaganda. The entire world is not against anyone, and no agency is that good at keeping such a conspiracy secret. Only paranoid schizophrenics believe the entire world is against them and lying to them.

Next: Outright lies (disinformation). 8 of 10.

First of the series of 10 - articles 1 - 3.

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