Why Sexy Lies Outperform Truths

How do you use science to propagandize people?  That is easy. You use the military axiom of ‘attack in detail.’

Overall, the science may not be on your side, but that is OK as long as you use only those parts of the science that are on your side, and as long as you can get your side to outnumber the other side in the public sphere, in terms of media articles, censorship of conflicting narratives, and things like that.

As an example, let us say that there are 85 models for climate change, and you want to take the alarmist position that capitalism is destroying the Earth.

To make this argument under the guise of science, you need simply ignore all of the climate models that predict less warming, and focus only on those that predict the most warming.  Should the past 40 years of modeling suggest that the models predicting the least warming are the most accurate, you’ll ignore that to.

You will find scientists willing to write papers about what ‘might’ or ‘could’ happen, should the most radical models be accurate, and should other assumptions not even in those models occur.

Some scientist might write a paper saying that if the most extreme models are accurate, and if on top of those models, we also assume that the warming the models predict will grow exponentially, suddenly within 100 years the oceans might be as much as 100 feet higher than they currently are.  You than draw a map of what the world would look like under those conditions, complete with Kevin Costner sailing on a raft, in an epic search for ‘Dry Earth.’

The headlines read, “Scientist predict oceans could rise 100 feet if we do not curb co2 levels”.

Technically yes – a scientist did predict that if we take the most flawed model and amplify it’s predicted  co2 effect exponentially, that could happen.  But no scientist said it would happen, or even that there are any scientific reasons to suggest that it might happen.

What a scientist said was that if we accept the least predictive model as true, and then if we radically amplify the predictions of that model, the result would be up to a 100 foot rise in sea levels.

In other words, the projected 100 foot rise is a work of fiction. But it is a sexy work of fiction that will be shared like wildfire across social media.

It is exactly as Don Henley wrote:

“We got the bubble-headed bleached-blonde, comes on at five
She can tell you ’bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It’s interesting when people die
Give us dirty laundry”

We love dirty laundry in the news.  The more alarmist the claim, the more it spreads.

If I told you that the most predictive climate models, in terms of the ones that have been the most accurate over the past 40 years, say that while co2 production really is warming the Earth, we have PLENTY of time time make practical, logical, and incremental changes to address it (like getting China and India to join us in moving from coal to natural gas), while some might take solace in that news (that is what the science actually says, incidentally), the message is not sexy, and is not going to spread as well as will a more alarmist message.

If you want to see a message spread virally, you need something like when
Flash Gordon’s love interest said, “Flash – I love you, but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!”

It is a simple truth that ‘We are all going to die in 14 hours unless we act now” sells more copies than does “We will probably all die of old age, well into our 80s.”

Actual science does not have a truth problem, but it does have a messaging problem.  Alarmism is sexy.  Alarmism sells, and as a result, people are easily convinced by alarmism, no matter how weak the science behind it is.

Similarly, during the KKK’s peak (in the late 1920s), it claimed a national membership of more than six million people, out of a population of 116 million people.  That was more than 5% of the US population. When you consider that winning an election by a 4% margin is a landslide, having a devoutly racist organization representing 5% of the US population was a HUGE problem.

Today, a little less than 100 years later, there is no national KKK (it was destroyed by RICO statutes), but the Southern Poverty Law Center, which grossly overestimates membership in such groups, claims there are 6,000 people in groups using that name.  In our current population of 330 million people, that is less than two one-thousandths of a percent.

The media pretends we have made no progress against racism at all, and that 0.0018% of the population has a tremendous amount of political pull.

If we wanted the truth, we might note that The National Association of Lesbian Knitting Societies has more political pull than does the KKK, but again – that message contains no dirty laundry, and would not go viral, whereas images of a racist in a hood behind every blade of grass sells, regardless of how invalid such an image might be.

I could go on with issue after issue, or subject after subject. Abortion rights, gun control – you name the issue, and public perception is not moved by truth, so much as by media frenzy. Increasingly, the public believes what it is told to believe, and increasingly, what it is told to believe is not the truth.

Sexy lies outperform the truth. It is as simple as that.

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