Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide Now!

PR people are depressingly good at manipulating complex public policy issues. A great example of that can be found in this brief Penn and Teller video, in which the magicians make human logic disappear, by talking environmental activists into signing a petition in opposition to water.

The one who talks – Penn? Teller? — maintains that such manipulation of complexity is the strict province of leftist environmental hysterics. But the truth is, people of all political stripes are pretty good at this game.

The left is perhaps more accomplished at dealing with complexity by saying “this issue is complex, so we should trust these experts.” Meanwhile the right maybe has had more success maintaining “this is issue is complex, so we should take no action.” Both approaches have something in common, they ask the audience to make their own logic disappear.

Anyway, it’s a fun little flick that may do something truly magical – get you to question your own methods of processing complex issues.

– Loveland

36 thoughts on “Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide Now!

  1. I’m always amused by this approach of making people look stupid — or at least uncaring. Comedy Central’s “The Man Show” did a similar bit years ago when they got a bunch of women to sign a petition to end women’s suffrage. And I’m sure it’s been done before that, too. Simple but brilliant.

    I love the point Penn and Teller are making here (Penn’s the one who talks, by the way), but I can’t help but think they’d have been so much more compelling if they had given due time to “the other side.” It’s Persuasion 101: Acknowledge the opposition, give it it’s due, and then bring it on home for your team.

    I know these guys aren’t running for office, but they certainly are trying to make a point. And they’d have done a much better job if they’d tried harder to be level. If they would have showed a couple of people laughing at this woman and said, “Sure, a lot of people we asked didn’t sign, but a full third/half/whatever did — without asking any quesetions,” this would have been much more powerful.

  2. jl says:

    This experiment doesn’t prove leftists are morons, though some surely are. Faced with complexity, people look to trusted third parties who they believe share their values. Because this petition gatherer was at an environmental rally, respondents assumed she shared their values. Because of that, they put their trust in her. Too much trust it turns out.

    My guess is that these folks wouldn’t have signed this petition if it were presented to them by a guy in a suit on the doorstep of Dow Chemical. That wouldn’t feel like someone who shared their values, so they wouldn’t look to them for help sorting out complexity.

    I bet you’d also get plenty of takers if you went to a conservative activist event and had a guy who dressed and acted like the attendees seeking signatures for doubling the prison sentence for pushers of the deadly drug methotrexate (a type of chemo therapy used to treat cancer), or cutting federal funding for potassium nitrate (the primary ingredient in gun powder).

  3. This is hilariously horrifying.

    People give no more thought to their presidential vote than this, and the marketers of candidates of all parties pull this kind of shit every day.

    Where’s the critical thinking? We need to ask questions. And I don’t see our education system helping kids learn critical thinking.

    Question of our readers who home school, like Teddy Bear: does critical thinking show up in your home curriculum? Do you teach kids to question, to look for evidence, to know how to find information from many sides, many sources?

    I don’t see much of that kind of education — learning how to learn, learning how to think for yourself — happening in organized schooling.

  4. jl says:

    Another point: When you see how the public struggles to process complex public policy issues, you understand why we need to operate as a representative democracy, where we elect people and trust them to study the complex issues and make decisions on our behalf, rather than a direct democracy, where elected officials refer question after question directly to voters.

  5. Jeremy Powers says:

    What leftists, like myself, are guilty of in this regard, is holding up anything we want to as some terrible environmental problem to get people excited about it to rally general support. It amounts to a corporate sales meeting to rally sales for the next quarter without regard to what this does to the environmental movement long test. They have pie chart they have to color in, they get a stupid T-shirt and there is some insufferable motto or catch phrase. It’s designed to get people off their duffs.

    If we really wanted to to complain about the environment, the two biggest problems are ones we don’t want to talk about — our own cars or other gas-burning hobbies (fishing, motorcycles, snowmobiles, etc.) and general world population. If the world’s population was half of what it is, we could all drive 1957 DeSotos to work and the world would still be cleaner.

  6. bbenidt says:

    Micky2, this is indeed frightening. This may tick you off, but I don’t see a huge difference between this empty dress and George Bush, when it comes to talking off the cuff. George has a couple of degrees, yet he seldom finishes the same sentence he starts. Talk about higher learning!

    I’m not looking for smooth talkers — too many politicians of all stripes have mastered the insincere political word dance. But I do like to listen to someone talk unprepared to see how he or she thinks, what touchstones, experiences or values are referred to, what kind of connections are made, how the person’s thinking and logic flow.

    I’m afraid that, with a good handler, Miss South Carolina might have a future in politics.

    (And think, for a moment, how this young woman is feeling. Her doofy answer is all over the net. Is she mortified? Will she start actually attending classes? Or will she parlay this infamy into a spot on some reality show?)

  7. I’m sorry I read that wrong.
    Spontaneous speach is not what any president should be gifted with. I will wait for a well thought out answer as opposed to telling others what they want to hear.
    Spontaneous reactions have gotten more than this countrys fair share of politicians in trouble.
    You know I’ll defend Bush if I have to , but prison break is back, gotta go.

  8. Well I guess all presidents cant totally master the language. They all have their ups and downs.
    But as far a stupidity goes, I can think of a few that masterd that one.
    Clinton may not be your favorite, but you gotta question a president that tells the whole world what kind of underwear he sports or gets a hummer in the oval office.

  9. Kelly Groehler says:

    Since you mention the standard this country set for its last presidential impeachment, how about we consider spontaneous unilateralism, hubris, and complete obliteration of our country’s reputation as equally stupid as said hummer?

  10. Nothing comes close to insulting Americas intelligence like the expectation on Clintons part that we were actually supposed to believe him.
    That was stupid.

  11. Kelly Groehler says:

    Oh, I don’t disagree with you. I just can’t believe the punishment fit Clinton’s crime, if you will, and yet hasn’t been pursued in the past three-plus years.

    Allow your mind to momentarily float in the gutter, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what reads one of today’s political bumper stickers – the funniest ever, in my book.

    For now, I’ll just continue to cringe every time our fearless leader opens his mouth.

    Together now: “nu,” “clee,” “er!”

  12. Hey ! he even said we should allow OBGYNs to practice their love on women.
    But here we are, and I’m O.K with the end results.
    I’m not really fond of him discussing immigration and saying ” money trumps everything” I’ll take the good with the bad and support him for the better and question the worst. All in all I think he has done the best job possible. Not since Roosevelt has a presidents plate been so full. I can think of much worse leadership from the past that I would not want to be in charge today.

  13. Barry says:

    Someone here mentioned the reputation of the US.

    So what are the reputations of Russia, China, Korea, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, France, Germany, Cuba, Chad, Libya, North Korea or Venezuela?

    To listen to you people one is given the distinct impression that our reputation is somehow lower than these nations. What insecurities deep within you cause you to so desperately seek their admiration?

    Whatever we are or have done, we remain head and shoulders above all these nations combined.

    If you’re on the self-loathing Michael Moore pity pot, you’re not worthy of American citizenship – a privilege most of you think should be optional anyway.

  14. Lighten up man, just having a little fun.

    We could be living in Somalia where its O.K. to rape women in hallways as 10 people watch and do nothing.

  15. Kelly Groehler says:

    Um, that was in Minneapolis last week… and hard for a woman to take lightly…

    And come on! I thought the propaganda dig was light-hearted. I could have easily rapped that post as a showcase of what happens when kids aren’t taught critical-thinking skills…

  16. Kelly Groehler says:

    Thanks, Micky2. Unfortunately, the majority of sexual assaults and domestic violence abuses in our fine country are committed by those who bear U.S. citizenship. This doesn’t excuse those who aren’t U.S. citizens – but let’s keep the idea of warped culture in perspective, and save this particular conversation for a post (or a few beers) at another time.

  17. Getting back on topic… I think this whole thing is both funny and scary. Part of why I am such a global warming (among other things) skeptic is for the very reason shown in the Penn and Teller clip here. People are so willing to jump for a cause before they know the facts (or even what they’re doing) that it’s hard to tell sometimes what’s a legitimate cause and what’s just a cause a’la panic de’jour.

    People need to slow down and really think about things sometimes. Banning water may seem silly, but so do a great number of other things people are trying to do under the name of environmentalism; and it seems that it’s being done in the manner. Ask the average global warming supporter about the facts and I would bet that most wouldn’t be able to quote anything outside of the Al Gore media culture. How many people bothered to research all sides of the topic before jumping on the bandwagon?

    It’s funny, because while we see how absurd and dangerous it is, it just keeps going on and on. Quite honestly, it scares the hell out of me!

  18. jl says:

    On global warming, I have to admit a) the complexity is too high for me to make scientifically valid conclusions, b) I don’t have time to get a PhD to become prepared to make such conclusions; c) I therefore need to look to leading scientists to help me sort it out and d) the leading scientists (or leading anybody, for that matter) are never 100% unified on any topic…and problems can get out of control waiting in vain for 100% unanimity (see medical scientists on whether tobacco causes cancer).

    All of that hardly makes me the equivalent of one of Penn’s lab rats. I look to hundreds of leading international scientists to inform my decisions. This winter, the world’s leading scientists said that global warming is “unequivocal” and that human activity is the main driver, “very likely” causing most of the rise in temperatures since 1950. How likely? In 2001, the experts’ confidence for the projections was rated as “likely,” or 66 to 90 percent. That level has now been raised to “very likely,” better than 90 percent.

    The larger point Arc and Penn make is a very good one: We have to study before we leap to conclusions. But the level of deliberation on dihydrogen monoxide is hardly equivalent to the level of deliberation on global warming. Compare the Penn video subjects to the following report…

  19. careful there, I didn’t compare you to one of Penn’s lab rats there. All I am saying is that we need to be more careful about what we jump for. Not everybody jumps, but many do. Just because you don’t doesn’t mean there aren’t others who do.

    As for the global warming thing, you have to carefully balance what you are being told versus what is not being said. Remember that the media reports one side of a story. You may hear about the better than 90% consensus, but a consensus of who? The scientists they’re using? The first rule of thumb with statistics is that statistics lie. You can take numbers and make them tell anybody anything. At some point you have to just pick a direction and go, which is fine, but my point was simply to say that you (we, us) need to be damned sure we’re choosing the right direction before going that way. A good example is that you and I may see the same data and interpret it differently. I, for one, have my doubts. It would seem that you do not. Is one of us is right and the other wrong? Or is there a third choice in there that we don’t know? If all we know is what we’re being told, we have to be skeptical.

    And please don’t point me to the NY Times. They’re a bit too agenda-driven, and don’t always report both sides. Did they report on the latest NASA findings where they figured out they forgot to carry the 1 and have now determined that the warmest year on record was 1934? It was news, but not sexy news, so we weren’t told the facts.

  20. I dont doubt global warming, I believe it’s real.
    But the pre-emptive measures being taken and the jump to cast blame on unvalidated causes pisses me off to no end.
    I have a family to feed, and due to ethanol and corn relation my food cost has gone up about 15% this year. And whatever the case may be, I hardly see the rest of the world ready to pick up the tab as quickly as American enviromentalist have imposed that burden on us already.

  21. ghornseth says:

    I endorse Arclight’s idea of being careful what we jump for. That makes good sense and I think there’s far too much leaping before looking on all sides of politics.

    But if one remains skeptical about global warming, I wonder. What would convince you? What specifically don’t you see yet that you would need to see to drop the skepticism?

    I don’t mean this in a combative way at all — I’m genuinely curious.

  22. Honestly, it’s hard to say. Part of the problem here is that every time somebody makes a statement, another person comes along and counters it. I mean, you have people saying that the oceans are going to rise x number of feet and kill millions. Then the next guy says that it will only rise x INCHES and that we don’t have to worry. Well, who’s right? I have very little faith in the IPCC, simply because it seems much more politically driven than environmentally driven. To convince me, you would really have to strip away all of the political nonsense and lay out ALL of the facts as we know them (not as we speculate about them).

    Besides, until they can predict what the weather will be like tomorrow with some better degree of accuracy than they do, I have little faith in their being able to predict it over the next 100 or more years. Weather and climate are a chaotic system where it takes very little to change it. I mean, I don’t want to get all philosophical and all, but the butterfly effect certainly pertains to weather more so than anything else. How do we know that a drastic change we make right now won’t have worse repercussions down the road? We don’t. It’s very short-sighted of us to think the way we are.

    I don’t deny climate change, but I do have serious doubts about the predictions and doomsday scenarios that are being fed to us left and right.

  23. While the Penn and Teller video was humor, it does point out how many people have been just blindly following the global warming alarmists without any of their own thoughts. The fact that you can walk up to anybody on the street, tell them that you want to ban something to save the planet and actually get them to sign it without knowing what they are signing is scary. So maybe the video isn’t so funny after all.
    And to top it all off as bbeidt said, people give no more thought to their presidential vote than they do to this. And that makes this whole thing frightening.

  24. The same thing happened with bottled water.
    Enviromentalist went on a spree telling world about all the crap that was in the water and the beverage companies jumped on it and have been hustling us for well over a decade now to the point where we are{not me} buying plain old tap water that got filterd a couple times.
    I dont recall a story about anyone dying because of tap water.
    It all started with that snotty ” PERRIER” crowd.

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