Turns Out, Rick Perry Loves Science After All

Governor Perry’s reliance on science
Seems counter-intuitive, don’t you agree?
He’s oftener known for denying, or lying,
To hold the positions his base wants to see
His stances on, say, evolution, pollution,
Or greenhouse effects of traditional fuels,
He quickly, as soon as he spies them, denies them,
So “science is wrong” appears one of his rules

But now he has “eggheads” controlling his polling
And visits to rallies that might make the news
His skeptical take on campaigning is gaining
Advantages over traditional views
With randomized campaign conditions, their mission’s
To optimize use of his money and time
It’s science that gives the most power per hour
It’s science that gives the most impact per dime.

From the New York Times’ “The Caucus” blog, a preview of an upcoming book: The Victory Lab. Turns out Rick Perry loves science–experimental social psychology, though, not evolutionary biology or climate science. The “soft” sciences are where he can see the power of the scientific method, and his opponents need to pay attention now.

The good news (from my perspective): Obama has been on board with scientific approaches to campaigning for some time now. His advisors include behavioral economists, including some big names from within experimental social psychology (Robert Cialdini’s book, “Influence“, is a classic in the psychology of attitude change and persuasion, for instance).

The bad news (again, my perspective): Perry’s team appears to be the only one actually applying experimental control to his on-the-ground campaign events. It is one thing to know that the literature predicts X, Y, and Z, and to make campaign recommendations based on that literature; it is quite another to test your own campaign (through random assignment and control of variables) to be certain that the literature (often experiments on undergrads) applies to your own populations (less likely to be undergrads).

So, yeah, Rick Perry loves science. He knows it works. He has seen its power, and has put it to his own uses. And he is applying it directly, not abstractly, which makes a very real difference–I can’t emphasize enough, general findings may not apply to any given subset of the population. It is important to test the actual operations on actual populations. Rick Perry (or his people) know this, and the rest of us ignore it at our peril.


  1. says

    I’ve been thinking lately how odd (& sad) it is that marketing is the one area where our politicians have fully embraced the scientific process—I recall hearing that Karl Rove leveraged market research very effectively, though I don’t know how these campaigns compare to one another. Your description of Perry’s campaign is frightening though.

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