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The Fox Effect

What a curious phenomenon: this is a video of the notorious Fox Effect, in which an actor pretended to be an expert and babbled fluff and nonsense at an audience of psychiatrists, and they sat and swallowed it and came away with an impression that the speaker was competent. I knew the content was going to be garbage, but I have to wonder if my prior knowledge colored my perception, because listening to it now, it all sounded immensely vacuous — I kept trying to catch a cogent or useful point, and he never delivered any.

I wonder if this could be pulled off in front of an audience that deals with more concrete data than psychiatrists — could an actor speak in the language of gels and in situs and sequences and fool an audience of molecular biologists? I don’t think so; it’s too specialized and specific. But I could be wrong, somebody ought to test it.

The video makes a point that this effect could be important in teaching — it strongly affects student evaluations. All you have to do is go to the “Rate My Professor” site and discover that one of the categories for evaluation there is whether the professor is “hot” — and, dammit, I think I’ve failed on that parameter for my entire life (I haven’t actually looked, though: I shudder at the prospect of seeing those weird reviews full of disgruntled students who didn’t pass one of my courses).

(Also on Sb)

Comments

  1. AJ says

    I checked out the RateMyProfessors profile – it seems you are not hot. Also, a few of your students are saying that you are often too busy to help them, even during office hours – too much time blogging perhaps? ;)

  2. says

    I can see how that happens, with the guy supposedly being an authority, and he sounded very authoritative. Someone like him is always a worry in court cases, since if you can sound confident and impressive the jury will believe your lies. He made me try to make sense of what he was saying, even though I never did.

    Berlinski impresses a lot of people with his condescending and authoritative-sounding patter, even though he knows very little about which most of what we’ve heard him speak–maybe he knows something about something, but God issues and evolution aren’t it.

    In areas like philosophy this is a real problem. Heidegger knew a good deal about it, but frankly his whole approach is pretty much nonsense (a lot was more or less theological nonsense barely secularized), although it has some coherence. Tends to sound good, but goes from nonsense to nonsense, and then someone like Derrida works almost entirely off of Heidegger and other philosophical nonsense to reach his conclusions (yes, basically scholastic practice).

    Glen Davidson

  3. says

    I work in R&D for a major multinational corporation, and I will tell you right now that yeah, you kinda can pull it off. Sort of. Managers will often fall all over bullshit. Other engineers might politely listen, and then tell their colleagues your presentation was full of shit.

    I don’t wish to unduly knock cloud-based computing, which (depending on what the fuck you mean by “cloud”) is in many ways the future of how we will do our work. But this Dilbert cartoon… well, I know Scott Adams is persona non grata around here, and with good reason. But let me tell you, I’ve seen exactly that happen in real life. It works. Blah blah blah cloud. Gets ‘em every time.

  4. calliopejane says

    It probably depends on whether the person is within your area of specialty. When I was getting my PhD in Organizational Psychology, I would often attend the Psych Dept colloquia series talks. Most of the time I could follow stuff from other specialties, like social psych or child psych. But once in a while we’d get a neuro-psych person who did not adjust their talk for an audience of diverse specialties, and only the neuro folks would’ve been able to tell if he was giving real information or spouting total nonsense. I sure couldn’t.

  5. Xenithrys says

    A study I saw once (and I wish I could find it again) said that professors got the same ratings after 10 minutes of a lecture as they got after a whole course. The investigators then repeated the experiment with a silent movie of the lecture and got the same results, and then with a still photo. And teaching ability was highly correlated with how attractive people found the professor. It seems too unlikely to be true; maybe it was a spoof.

  6. Ray Fowler says

    This is where skepticism and the scientific method pays off.

    Cons like this simply do not last long as their theories and results cannot be reproduced.

  7. heironymous says

    This is why I did poorly in college. I would have been asleep by the time he said Von Neumann

  8. Dan L. says

    All you have to do is go to the “Rate My Professor” site and discover that one of the categories for evaluation there is whether the professor is “hot” — and, dammit, I think I’ve failed on that parameter for my entire life

    I suppose it would be unethical to pharyngulate your hotness quotient…

  9. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    I’m curious what AJ’s comment has to do with this post.

    And I had not heard of this particular case before but I assumed it was about Fox news using babblespeak to fool their viewers into believing the nonsense they spew.

  10. says

    I wonder if there’s some weird feedback/reward loop going on in the brain. When you listen to someone who’s talking nonsense you occasionally start to think something makes sense, which gives you a little bit of a “zing! I got something!” reward. You might actually reward yourself more for trying to comprehend the incomprehensible than if you were listening to something flat-out boring.

  11. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Bah shit, sorry AJ. Somehow I read right fucking past Rate my professor in the OP.

    mea culpa.

  12. Predator Handshake says

    My experience with chemical engineering professors is that they are not easy to bullshit. There’s a chance that this effect only occurs when the person is presented as an “expert” but every time I had to do a presentation in front of our department faculty, they were very good at finding things I or my group talked about but may not have completely thought out.

    The example that comes to mind is my junior lab project where my partner and I had to build and test a flowmeter. We made an impeller flowmeter and in our presentation included a very complex, very impressive governing equation for impeller flow. During the Q&A the faculty had a great time making us sweat over that equation, asking us where this coefficient or that exponent came from. Our A on the project tells me we were able to figure out enough of it on the spot to satisfy the requirements of the class, but I imagine if we had been actors who only learned the language and not the background our experience would have been very different.

    Now in medical research, I regularly attend Continuing Education seminars where someone comes and presents a paper they’ve authored or talks about their research projects. There are always very specific questions at the end of these seminars and I can’t imagine anyone getting away with presenting results without a full appreciation or knowledge of what they’re saying in their talk.

  13. dunstar says

    It’s pretty much just like the dynamic with any naturopathic/homeopathic “doctor” and the lay people that fall into their misuse of scientific terminology to make themselves sound like an expert.

  14. eric says

    could an actor speak in the language of gels and in situs and sequences and fool an audience of molecular biologists? I don’t think so; it’s too specialized and specific.

    “Fool an audience” may be the wrong concept. “Succesfully rely on the politeness of the audience to give the appearance of acceptance” may be more accurate. I have definitely seen that happen in science.

    Maybe I attend the wrong presentations, but I rarely see scientists calling baloney by that name in a presentation Q&A. Its far more common for a smart member of the audience to ask some telling question in a very understated manner. The other experts in the audience correctly ‘get’ this to be identifying some giant problem with the work, nod their heads, and (in most cases) don’t ask any follow-ups – seeing no need to beat a dead horse. But lay audience members likely will not figure out what that exchange meant, thus saving the person at the podium from at least overt embarasssment.

  15. David Marjanović, OM says

    Where is that xkcd comic which tallies how long you can fake being a specialist in various disciplines…?

  16. eigenperson says

    If they wanted to show that style trumps substance in terms of teaching evaluations, they did a good job. But if they wanted to show that an actor could fool a group of experts, I don’t think they really succeeded, because his supposed area of expertise — teaching psychiatry — was not that of the audience.

    If I went to a talk about education in my field of expertise, I wouldn’t know what to expect. If the lecturer ended up spouting fuzzy platitudes like this one, I would be rather disappointed, but this is so typical of talks in many fields that I wouldn’t actually be too surprised or suspicious. I would simply conclude that maybe education is another one of those disciplines where no one has anything meaningful to say.

  17. Brother Ogvorbis, Hominy Lovin' Hominid! says

    So sounding authoritative while you lie through your ass is an effective strategy? And the guy’s name is/was Fox? Is anyone else seeing a rather obvious parallel here?

  18. eric says

    Oops, hit “submit” too early.

    The general point of my example scenario being, a long and loud Q&A session is often a sign of interesting work, while silence from the audience very often signals uninteresting work. Lay audiences unfamiliar with science may get the opposite impression, thinking silence = acceptance.

  19. Christophe Thill says

    It’s called “the Fox effect” because of the TV channel, right ? It’s because Fox News usually parades so-called experts, who actually don’t know the first thing in whatever they’re talking about (economics, usually) ?

    PS : Derrida : not an existentialist… !

  20. says

    I am evidently “hotter” than PZ. Big whoop. It’s embarrassing that “hotness” is even considered on Ratemyprofessors.com. And “Easiness” — while I understand why students would want that information — is easily misleading. It could just mean that the professor skims over the material and you get a good grade without learning much. (Good luck to you if it’s a 101 class and you’re expected to know its content when you’re in 102!)

    Are people here aware of the “Jedi mind trick” approach to improving one’s ratings on student evaluation surveys? First of all, an instructor needs to know the questions that appear on the student evaluation form. For example: “Provides and follows a comprehensive course syllabus.” The instructor should then pepper his classroom remarks with such lines as, “Okay, class, dig out the comprehensive course syllabus that I provided and check out today’s topic. We’re following the syllabus and today we’re covering topic blah blah blah.” As long as the instructor keeps reminding the students that he is doing all those things he’s supposed to be doing (according to the survey form), the students will be primed to respond positively to each item when it comes time to fill out the evaluation forms. Result: Unusually high rankings!

  21. David Marjanović, OM says

    Maybe I attend the wrong presentations, but I rarely see scientists calling baloney by that name in a presentation Q&A. Its far more common for a smart member of the audience to ask some telling question in a very understated manner. The other experts in the audience correctly ‘get’ this to be identifying some giant problem with the work, nod their heads, and (in most cases) don’t ask any follow-ups – seeing no need to beat a dead horse. But lay audience members likely will not figure out what that exchange meant, thus saving the person at the podium from at least overt embarasssment.

    I asked such a question once. However, I didn’t mean to save anyone from grinding, crushing embarrassment, and there almost certainly weren’t any laypeople in the audience… well, the presenters clearly were laypeople, LOL, explaining why they didn’t seem to feel the embarrassment they deserved.

    There wasn’t any time for further questions. A few people later told me they had liked my question.

  22. Ms. Daisy Cutter says

    I hadn’t heard of this experiment, so I thought the name might be referring to a certain “news” channel.

    Anyway, if a bunch of Ph.D.s couldn’t tell that they were being bamboozled about something in their own field, this explains why the business world is terminally infested with “motivational speakers” and other self-styled “experts.”

    James Sweet mentions managers, and in the corporate world they’re indeed the main culprits, since they have authority to bring the experts bullshit artists into the business. However, “job networking” groups often call these sorts in to give presentations to dispirited unemployed people.

    Barbara Ehrenreich (specifically, in her book Bright-Sided) seems to be the only social commentator noticing that these presenters are also con artists — “motivational speaker” types who divert your attention from political causes of unemployment to your own alleged “shortcomings” in looking for work, usually that you don’t have a “positive attitude” or other victim-blaming horseshit. And they all seem to disagree with one another on just about everything, from how to structure your resume to whether cold calls work.

    Katherine Lorraine, #3: The students who value “easiness” aren’t looking to be taught anything. They’re looking to get a piece of paper that will open doors for them.

  23. Ms. Daisy Cutter says

    Heh, between me starting my comment and me posting it, a dozen new comments showed up, and I see I’ve already been beaten to the joke about Faux Nooze.

  24. David Marjanović, OM says

    a long and loud Q&A session is often a sign of interesting work, while silence from the audience very often signals uninteresting work. Lay audiences unfamiliar with science may get the opposite impression, thinking silence = acceptance.

    Absolutely!

    Notice all the trolls we keep getting who believe scientists or rational people in general can’t have any emotions?

    There’s an xkcd about this :-)

    That’s the one, thank you!

  25. Gaebolga says

    I checked out PZ’s profile on Rate My Professor, and my two favorite reviews both rate him as “Average”; one’s only comment is “Awesome” and the other’s is “way too smart.”

    Mine are a good deal less interesting.

    And succinct.

  26. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Please don’t get me started on the “cloud”. Our company’s president is a member of a group of other company pres / ceos and they’ve got “cloud” on the brain, not knowing a god damn thing about what a cloud is. Mainly because it’s a buzzword with a number of meanings but don’t let that stop them from getting a big thick woody about it.

    Him: We need to move into the cloud.

    Me: Ok, what do we need to move and how are you defining cloud

    Him: Everyone is in the cloud, start looking what it will take us to be in the cloud by next year

    Me: *stab a pen in my eye

    Him walking away: Oh and make sure I can access it from the iPad you’re about to order me.

  27. Brownian says

    There’s something to this phenomenon that transcends fields. Like Randall Munroe in John Stumbles’ link, I can often fool people into thinking I know more about their field than I really do. It takes knowing when to talk, when to shut up, and what sorts of questions to ask. Of course, I don’t do this while lecturing, but more as a way to get people in social situations to open up about what they do and what’s important to them, and to circumvent the “My work? It’s too complicated; you wouldn’t understand. So, um, nice weather we’re having.” effect. Oddly enough, it’s really hard to do with multiple grad students from the same department at the same time—not because they’re more likely to catch on, but because they’re more likely to collapse into a huddle to gossip about who in the department is fucking (over) whom.

    Without more data, I’d hypothesise that people simply like to be treated as if their interests are generally interesting, and they have wider relevance. This desire (along with our general social tendency to not cause discomfort) can override our bullshit detectors.

    Or maybe I’m just talking about the same behaviours and tendencies that cold-reading mentalists and con artists already play on.

  28. Brownian says

    Please don’t get me started on the “cloud”. Our company’s president is a member of a group of other company pres / ceos and they’ve got “cloud” on the brain, not knowing a god damn thing about what a cloud is. Mainly because it’s a buzzword with a number of meanings but don’t let that stop them from getting a big thick woody about it.

    Jumping on bandwagons is what businesspeople do. It’s in their nature. Since they don’t actually know anything about anything, all they can do is reflect what the other business people are doing. I wonder if the same formulae that describe swarming behaviour would govern the proliferation of buzzwords at meetings?

    Here’s some touching footage of what happens when a businessman is taken from his natural environment.

  29. Chayanov says

    I try to avoid looking at the RateMyProfessor site, after I read one of my students complain I spend too much time talking about anthropology (in an anthropology class).

  30. unbound says

    I’ve definitely seen it used effectively in the management layers in corporations. Unless you are fluent in the specific area the person is speaking about, it is difficult to figure out if the person is full of it or not.

    There was a new security senior executive hired a few years ago. Most of the other senior executives thought he was great, but the managers and senior managers that new anything about security knew he was full of it. We were not able to convince the other senior executives though…at least not for a couple of years at which point he was let go.

  31. says

    Please don’t get me started on the “cloud”. Our company’s president is a member of a group of other company pres / ceos and they’ve got “cloud” on the brain, not knowing a god damn thing about what a cloud is. Mainly because it’s a buzzword with a number of meanings but don’t let that stop them from getting a big thick woody about it.

    Him: We need to move into the cloud.

    Me: Ok, what do we need to move and how are you defining cloud

    Him: Everyone is in the cloud, start looking what it will take us to be in the cloud by next year

    Me: *stab a pen in my eye

    Him walking away: Oh and make sure I can access it from the iPad you’re about to order me.

    I’m sorry – that made me LOL.

  32. says

    @RevBigDumbChimp

    I assumed it was about Fox news using babblespeak

    Same here. It turns out that Wikipedia has separate articles on “Fox effect” and “Dr. Fox effect”. I’ve added a disambiguation link.

  33. Joachim says

    I don´t think someone who talks on natural science could do it that easily. A basic principle of science is to question everything you hear or see. That´s why honest scientists are always very, very careful when they present anything new, and if they do not encourage the audience to question what they are saying there´s something wrong. A wonderful example is this webcast at CERN´s website today:

    http://it-multimedia.web.cern.ch/it-multimedia/webcast/
    look for ‘New results from OPERA on neutrino properties’ it may not yet be available, it´s been live just a few minutes ago.

    The measurements that they made may be sensational. But maybe there is a systematic error. So what they do is to present their measuring methods to the public without any interpretation and their results can be verified and anyone in the world who is interested can watch. Honesty and authority are exlusive in natural science.

    Cheers, Joachim

  34. Kemist says

    “Fool an audience” may be the wrong concept. “Succesfully rely on the politeness of the audience to give the appearance of acceptance” may be more accurate.

    Exactly.

    I’ve seen that happen on more than a few occasions. If you’re a young grad student, you’ll probably get grilled by the audience, but the established professors rarely get such pointed questions – but they may be called dingleberries behind their backs.

    During my PhD I worked in collaboration with another grad student whose supervisor would frequently spout nonsense or even lies in front of an audience – everybody knew it and laughed at him, but nobody rose during one of his presentations to accuse him of making stuff up.

  35. Sastra says

    I suspect that you might be able to get away with this in an area which uses more “concrete data” if you’re speaking first in the morning, or right before lunch (and the smells are drifting in from the caterers’ carts awaiting in the hallway.) People often have a tendency to get momentarily distracted in lectures and then pull themselves back with a start and try to catch up (well, okay, I do — and maybe there are some other people, or a lot of them.) If the lecturer seems confident and well-prepared, the first assumption might be that the fault was in the listener: they’re not concentrating hard enough. That could also be the second assumption — especially if the speaker was throwing in a lot of platitudes or common phrases which could make an audience veg out a bit and then feel they’ve lost the thread.

  36. Dr. Strabismus (WGP) of Utrecht says

    John Cleese of Monty Python has double-talk routine he used in his early days in which he would sort of mumble, not using real words but bits and pieces of real words randomly combined, together with real sounding modulation and gestures, all in a classy Oxbridge accent. It was amazing. You could swear he was saying something interesting and intelligent – you just couldn’t quite make it out. The urge to nod one’s head and say stuff like “uh huh” and “right” and “sure” was amazingly powerful.

    So if you take that effect, and have a good actor actually use real words sort of relating to subject at hand, you can get really really far. Which this demonstrates.

  37. Kevin says

    @46…well, if I were CERN, I would have done the same thing.

    Because they’re reporting on a finding that would overturn E=mc^2, if true.

    A particle traveling faster than the speed of light is not something one just glibly announces.

    They have every reason to be spectacularly cautious. If the finding is confirmed, they’re Nobel Prize-winning game-changers. If not, they’re cautious scientists who didn’t leap to an unwarranted conclusion. What they’re not are cold fusionists.

  38. fastlane says

    So this is an example of SoKal (sp?) live?

    Awesome.

    I wonder if one could use the Sokal word salad generator and write a speech similar to the paper. Pick a topic, add enough of the lingo, and you might be able to get away with it in some fields.

  39. says

    The notorious Fox effect is the opposite of another fallacy: “I don’t understand it, therefore it must be very advanced and true” vs. “I don’t understand it, therefore it must be stupid and false.” The former is more common. The latter is more likely to reach valid conclusions in practice. Both are fallacies. But it’s safe to assume a correlation between your own ability to understand a speaker and his actual coherency. Some writers in academia and continental philosophy deliberately obfuscate things so that they will be more difficult to understand and thus appear more sophisticated (or at least be immune to criticism until someone figures out what the hell they are saying). This is an evil practice. I judge writers by their adherence to Occam’s razor and their clarity.

  40. KG says

    “Fool an audience” may be the wrong concept. “Succesfully rely on the politeness of the audience to give the appearance of acceptance” may be more accurate. I have definitely seen that happen in science.

    I was once at a conference on simulation of social phenomena, where a presentation was made that was clearly the most egregious tosh – I need only say that the word “quantum” featured prominently. I was so annoyed that I did not follow the above approach, although I admit I softened the blow by allowing the possibility that the talk might be over my head alongside the possibility that it was complete rubbish. A couple of people came up afterwards to say they agreed with me that yes, it was complete rubbish.

  41. spamamander says

    Bah! Accidentally posted on the SB version not here. Based on the “Rate my Professor” bit on PZ I would have to say he’s doing his job admirably.

    “If you are conservative, you will want to strangle him in the first week.”

  42. calliopejane says

    I admit I softened the blow by allowing the possibility that the talk might be over my head alongside the possibility that it was complete rubbish.

    I do think that may also be part of what’s going on here. We all have our insecurities, and if someone gave a talk within my specialty that I couldn’t follow, I might have those warring conclusions in my head too: Is this total nonsense? Or have I totally missed important recent publications and developments in my field? Worrying that it might be the latter could lead audience members to keep silent or even express approval, out of fear that they might be revealing ignorance or incompetence of their own by expressing their confusion.

    That said, I do think that teaching experience should inoculate one somewhat against this sort of thing. I am now very skilled at seeing through beautifully written answers/papers that are, upon closer examination, totally free of coherent content.

  43. eric says

    @56:

    Worrying that it might be the latter could lead audience members to keep silent or even express approval, out of fear that they might be revealing ignorance or incompetence of their own by expressing their confusion.

    To be clear, that wasn’t what I was really suggesting back in 17 and 22. It was more along the lines that in a public forum, scientists are going to ignore the baloney talks out of politeness or disinterest, and get excited and hand-wavey about the interesting talks.

    I’ve been to many talks where as soon as something crazy is said, the people in the audience start exchanging glances and smiles with the (completely unknown) people sitting next to them. Its not that we aren’t pretty sure if it’s baloney – we are – we just don’t often respond to it by immediately confronting the speaker.

    The times I’ve seen harsh and immediate confrontations, its typically between two researchers who are in a running, multi-year dispute. And they typically come off looking like jerks airing a personal dispute. Which, I guess, is another reason most of us don’t act that way.

  44. Kagehi says

    Oddly, I don’t think I could manage to make it through one of those “lectures” without being crass and pointing out, as part of my own question, or some other way, that someone’s prior question just showed the whole talk to be invalid, and that the reason no one was standing up and shouting was *purely* based on not wanting to embarrass the “expert”, not because anything the man said was rational. I just do not get how the hell it serves anyone’s interests, including those in the audience that are not experts, to be polite to such people…

  45. jamessweet says

    Adding my own emphasis here:

    they’ve got “cloud” on the brain, not knowing a god damn thing about what a cloud is. Mainly because it’s a buzzword with a number of meanings but don’t let that stop them from getting a big thick woody about it.

    Bingo. There are too many different things that are called “cloud”. Some are revolutionary, some are logical steps forward in how businesses do computing, and some are just utter bullshit.

  46. says

    If you really want to see the Fox effect in play, go to a creationist lecture. I’ve attended them with students who have had an introduction to real biology, and it’s always entertaining: the goofball on the podium is riffing total nonsense, the bulk of the audience is sitting there agreeing with every word he says, and my students have their jaws hanging open, finding it hard to believe that anyone would spout such bullshit and get away with it.

  47. says

    Oh God, first year student reviews. Mine all completely contradict each other. The ones from second year or higher students are generally good and quite helpful.

    I get some bitter reviews from the non-science majors, who dislike having to take a couple science classes. The thing is that I teach at a liberal arts university. Why do students go, specifically, to such an institution if they don’t want to learn about a variety of topics?

    Ah well, most students are great and I generally like teaching.

  48. Juan says

    Dr. Fox sounds a lot like L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. They both make up words, use humour, and seem to know what they’re talking about. Even their delivery is very similar.

    Maybe the fox effect explains why Scientologists actually think Hubbard’s talks aren’t gibberish.

  49. says

    the bulk of the audience is sitting there agreeing with every word he says, and my students have their jaws hanging open, finding it hard to believe that anyone would spout such bullshit and get away with it.

    They’re just so far ahead of Darwinist dogma, don’t you know. Amateurs see what the experts don’t (really, they see design where evolution is apparent).

    Anyway, that’s always the sell, that you’re all just such bright people open to God’s revelations in nature, while those evil little people in the lab are scrounging about to deny God. Since the “good ones” know shit about what happens in the lab, why not?

    Glen Davidson

  50. Lynn Wilhelm says

    I recently attended a talk titled “Going Beyond the Resume” at a career fair.

    The presenter spoke for more than an hour and his talk could be summed up as something like, “Be friendly, get hired.” He kept referring to his 3 day seminar which I imagine is just more of the same. I can’t believe I missed anything. I paid attention and tried to get deeper into what this guy was saying, but I kept thinking he really had nothing to say beyond a motivational intent.

    There was a an evaluation to be filled out. Mine was quite low, but I noticed that many others gave him high ratings. I don’t think I missed anything, but this guy spoke well and I think the others couldn’t see past that.

  51. eric says

    If I wanted to try and measure whether a group approved or disapproved of Fox’s ideas, I’d look for measures like this:

    - person-minutes the audience spends checking their cell phones. [Hmmm...what is the unit name for -log(angry bird use)?]

    - # of people leaving lecture before it’s over.

    - % of laptop users still taking notes at end of talk.

    - # of people who mob the speaker at the next break.

    - And as I said before, I’d probably use number of questions asked as a positive indicator of acceptance, rather than a negative indicator.

    None of these metrics are particularly good, but IMO they’re a heck of a lot better than the metric ‘silence must mean they agree.’

  52. Midnight Rambler says

    James @5:
    But let me tell you, I’ve seen exactly that happen in real life. It works. Blah blah blah cloud. Gets ‘em every time.

    It’s pretty much the same in biology. Blah blah blah genomics. Blah blah blah next-gen sequencing.

  53. Brownian says

    Posted in the wrong thread. Here it is again, now that it’s stale.

    Well, there’s your problem, Rev. You’re supposed to jam the pen into HIS eye.

    Some offices won’t let attendees bring potential weapons into a meeting, but innovators can easily turn board tables, chairs, laser pointers, or even powerpoint slide transitions into deadly instruments. The prevailing idea now is to remove all content from meetings, so that individuals that might be potentially dangerous (or useful) are lulled into a state of non-threatening torpor.

    I wonder if one could use the Sokal word salad generator and write a speech similar to the paper. Pick a topic, add enough of the lingo, and you might be able to get away with it in some fields.

    The PoMo generator has been around for quite awhile.

  54. Midnight Rambler says

    The xkcd cartoon gets it completely wrong. All it take to be an expert in literary criticism is to be able to make up obfuscatory nonsense and gibberish, so he actually is an expert.

  55. David Marjanović, OM says

    I ask a question and get it answered 3 times (comments 24, 63, 69)? Cool. Usually my questions aren’t answered at all :-)

    I suspect that you might be able to get away with this in an area which uses more “concrete data” if you’re speaking first in the morning,

    Yeah. One reason is that many attendees can’t make it to the first talk or don’t even bother trying.

    or right before lunch (and the smells are drifting in from the caterers’ carts awaiting in the hallway.)

    Caterers? What kind of conferences do you go to that you have caterers?!?

    …Oh. The Atheist Convention in Copenhagen last year did. So it’s just us scientists, then. *sulk*

  56. David Marjanović, OM says

    It’s pretty much the same in biology. Blah blah blah genomics. Blah blah blah next-gen sequencing.

    Biology? Or businesses based on molecular biology?

  57. Lycanthrope says

    dunstar @16:

    It’s pretty much just like the dynamic with any naturopathic/homeopathic “doctor” and the lay people that fall into their misuse of scientific terminology to make themselves sound like an expert.

    This summer I encountered some idiots pushing “Dr.” Rashid Buttar’s book and hologram bracelets. They tried explaining to me how negative ions were to blame for all that physically ailed me, and how the bracelet was infused with positive ions to counteract them. (Or was it vice versa?…) I am no doctor, scientist, or relevant expert of any kind, but I did pass high school chemistry, and even my hazy knowledge of ions far outstripped theirs.

    How do ions cause the problems you say they do? Is this related to static electricity? Wouldn’t it have to be, if there was as much free electrical charge out there as you seem to think? Where did it all come from? How did they “infuse” the bracelet with ions? Can you even explain what a fucking ion is? Didn’t have a clue…

  58. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    I know the Fox Effect can work in economics. I’ve heard supposed economists do the markets are maximally efficient…economic fluctuations…qualities of resources…econometric investigations…ceteris paribus*…etc., etc., etc shuck and jive without actually saying anything.

    You study economics in order to avoid being fooled by economists. -Joan Robinson, Professor of Economics, University of Cambridge

    *Ceteris paribus means “other things being equal.”

  59. says

    This clip reminds me of an anthropology professor I had in 4th year. His lectures (and writings) were completely incomprehensible. All of us students assumed he was brilliant since we couldn’t understand him. I spent hours trying to decifer what he was saying. It still makes no sense. I think what we needed was a flow chart to accompany his lectures. It might have helped.

  60. OkieExile says

    Let’s be clear about the distinction between Continental philosophy (Heidegger, Derrida, other nonsense) and Analytic philosophy (Quine, Dennett, etc.). Continental philosophy is the “impressionism” of the humanities – it’s more or less just rhetoric. Analytic philosophy aims to tackle problems that don’t admit of scientific exploration with as much clarity and precision as possible. The field has its own technical language, to be sure, but it the very antithesis of vague gesturing and obscuritanist prose. Analytic philosophy is what you’ll find in 90+% of American philosophy departments. Continental “philosophy,” on the other hand, is most talked about in English departments and a handful of American phil depts.

  61. Brownian says

    This clip reminds me of an anthropology professor I had in 4th year. His lectures (and writings) were completely incomprehensible. All of us students assumed he was brilliant since we couldn’t understand him. I spent hours trying to decifer what he was saying. It still makes no sense.

    Back when I was in my first year of university and I thought I might become an academic, I had this all worked out. I’d be the kind of lecturer you’ve described, and so my students would all have to come to my office hours. Which would be at 8 PM. I’d answer the door in a silk robe, and offer the student a glass of sherry.

    It was those sorts of thoughts that made me realise that I’m evil, and should be kept as far as possible from impressionable humans.

    I think what we needed was a flow chart to accompany his lectures. It might have helped.

    If he was teaching cultural anthro, then yes it would have helped, if by ‘flow chart’ you mean peyote. (Only if he was a ‘gone native’ type. If he’s a Chicago school-type structuralist, then the answer was “Boaz and Mead.”)

  62. Rey Fox says

    You study economics in order to avoid being fooled by economists.

    So they’re sort of like mechanics?

  63. Therrin says

    In song form.

    Brownian

    The PoMo generator has been around for quite awhile.

    Bookmarked. (““Sexual identity is dead,” says Sartre; however, according to Dietrich[5] , it is not so much sexual identity that is dead, but rather the defining characteristic, and thus the failure, of sexual identity.” Too awesome.)

  64. Brownian says

    Isn’t it, Therrin? That it generates headings and a bibliography makes it all the sweeter. fastlane, I think you’ll love it.

  65. Dr. Strabismus (WGP) of Utrecht says

    @70 eric:

    All good ideas, though for the record, this lecture was recorded in 1970, I believe. Hence no cell phones or laptops. I used to get through lectures like that back then by sitting in the back (of course) doodling or fooling with my slide rule. I had a beautiful K&E with like 20 some scales on it and I eventually learned how to use every single one of them this way.

  66. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Jumping on bandwagons is what businesspeople do. It’s in their nature. Since they don’t actually know anything about anything, all they can do is reflect what the other business people are doing. I wonder if the same formulae that describe swarming behaviour would govern the proliferation of buzzwords at meetings?

    This is the perfect description of what goes on in their group:

    There is one main driver of “ideas” who is basically a new-technology whore. He then turns out all of the other members, our Pres included, luring them with fancy gadgets (iPads) and buzzwords (the cloud) and mythical cost saving ideas (use web based “freeware” instead of that expensive enterprise software, never mind the pittfalls of freeware and the reliability of the enterprise software) and next thing you know they are selling their asses (the company they work for’s future productivity) for the latest iPad accessible freeware cloud based CRM and messaging suite.

    Meanwhile the underpaid and overworked IT manager (should be titled Director) runs around like a chicken with his head cut off and his pecker tied to a rapidly changing definition of cloud trying to appease the ever changing and always under-informed whims of the president.

    time for beer.

  67. Jim Mauch says

    We commentators have been duped. This was not gobbledygook at all. This was actually a verbatim recitation of a William Lane Craig lecture. Very insightful!

  68. I. Ron Butterfly says

    I wrote several papers in high school in a similar fashion and received high marks on every one of them. Yay for American Education! ;) That was in the 90′s, I can’t speak to how well that technique would work today though.

  69. MadScientist says

    @Fastlane#51: No, older than Sokal’s hoax – try “Cold Fusion”. Come to think of it, long before that there was “Star Wars (SDI)” and before that “ESP”.

  70. DingoDave says

    Another wonderful example of the Fox Effect.
    Behold, the mighty “Turbo Encabulator”
    I want one!

  71. Midnight Rambler says

    Check out the sidebar at the PoMo generator; there are also ones for band names, SubGenius brags (this one seems to have a limited amount of starting material), and TimeCube. My favorite band name was Three Tapirs and Their Mother; not sure where that one came from, but you can see the source material in some others, like Vinnie Claypool and the Jet City Boingers.

    The TimeCube stuff is pretty much indistinguishable, which is unsurprising.

    4-corner Truth – is an evil adult “word scam”
    against children that justifies adult plunder
    of the Time Cube is evil. Schools are
    evil institutions – staffed by religious
    cowards who fear Time Cube exposes an evil
    adult “word scam” against children that
    justifies adult plunder of the viewer. I would
    be too short to wipe your butt. Humans
    are brainwashed and do not exist in
    Nature’s Harmonic Simultaneous Perpetual 4X4=16
    Corner Rotating Principle 4-Day Time Cube
    debate.

  72. DinogDave says

    @Midnight Rambler

    The TimeCube guy is even more off-the-planet than Dennis Markuze.
    Awesome stuff!
    Here’s a link in case any Pharynguloids haven’t yet had a chance to bask in the glow of his wisdom.
    http://www.timecube.com/

  73. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    There’s the obligatory quote from Blazing Saddles:

    Now who can argue with that? I think we’re all indebt to Gabby Johnson for stating what needed to be said. I am particulary glad that these lovely children are here today to hear that speech. Not only was it authentic frontier gibberish, it expressed the courage little seen in this day and age.

  74. First Approximation says

    I wrote several papers in high school in a similar fashion and received high marks on every one of them. Yay for American Education! ;)

    In high school I was quite adamant about not writing bullshit. I suspected that this stance was costing me marks, so I decided to do an experiment. For a religious course I wrote a fluff piece that completely appealed to the teacher’s biases. The paper got an A+ with the comment ‘Your writing has improved’. I actually felt dirty and never did it again. Yay for Canadian Education!

  75. says

    This just reminds me of my time over in a social sciences / humanities faculty. Medicos and especially psychiatrists in those days, who still dealt in Freud and all that sort of nonsense without any evidence base, would have been about as easy to fool as any social sciences faculty these days. Just mix some jargon in with a few catch-phrases.

    One of the science lecturers at uni had to attend a course on education theory last week that was run by humanities people and it sounded like even worse drivel than in that hoax lecture, but unfortunately they weren’t doing a hoax. They seem to manage to maintain whole faculties at the uni doing ‘research’ that’s worse than what the guy in this video is saying. And then expect us to take them seriously.

  76. Hieronymus The Troll Braintree says

    First off, let’s see how much I can comment on this new space for the blog before I get kicked off again for showing up Prof. Myers. After all, we can’t have a little independently thought-out contrarianism interfere with the splendiferous beauty of everyone’s freethinking, can we?

    As an ex-psych major who graduated magna cum laude after acing every single psych course he ever took, allow me to assure you that any idea that psychology is an actual science is pedantic moonshine. As a scientist, Sigmund Freud should have wound up as a long-forgotten quack who was justifiably laughed out of the medical profession instead of becoming one of the most influential thinkers of the last century. I mean, penis envy, Herr Doktor? Really?

    Then there was brutal Bruno Bettleheim who dominated the field of autism for decades by blaming mothers for inflicting what in actuality is a neurological disorder on on some kids by being cold, affectionless bitches even if all of their other kids seemed perfectly fine. His death was probably the best thing that ever happened to autistics (many of whom he is said to have beaten) and their families.

    Small wonder then that feminists have been major figures in the field who themselves have managed to do a shocking amount of damage to patients and their families. Avowed feminist Judith Herman of Harvard was the mother of repressed memory theory, which stated w/o any sort of independent verification, that people were capable of forgetting years of being habitually raped by their families, thus causing them to develop multiple personalities leading lives that their central personality, plus husbands, neighbors, the police, etc., were completely unaware of. In about 15% of them patients were even led to believe that they belonged to the International Satanic Conspiracy. Imagine my surprise when I was actually taught this crap by my abundantly sincere feminist professor.

    People have agreed to forget this shit but back in the late 80s and early 90s it was super big stuff. Get a copy of the January 1993 issue of “Ms.” if you don’t believe me.

    For an excellent dissection of this extremely sordid piece of psychological/feminist history, you could do a lot worse than to read “Making Monsters” by Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters.

    There has been, of course, some useful work done by shrinks. but one should keep in mind that intellectual loyalty/group think is a very dangerous thing. The Fox effect is everywhere you look.

  77. chigau () says

    Hieronymus The Troll Braintree
    The previous comment was almost 32 hours before yours.
    Why pick a moribund thread for your big come-back?

  78. David says

    I’d like to point out on the XKCD comic, that literary criticism people pointed out that he wouldn’t have fooled them for a second; literary critics never say “the deconstruction”.