How good are you at discerning fact from fiction, and seeing when someone is trying to fool or take advantage of you?
You’re probably pretty good at seeing through distortion and evasion, trickery and deception, right? Not many folks think of themselves as chumps. But even if you’re a diehard skeptic, there’s an awful lot of deceptive tactics used in our world. (Delve into them here.)
Here’s an example of a simple and common situation. Check it out, and then we’ll start the test.
Let’s say you come across an organization that claims to be a free provider of health and wellness research. It says:
Research shows that your health depends on [whatever].
You see that the company also sells a fancy flavored water:
Specially formulated by physicians to contain health-boosting additives. Scientifically proven to help you with [whatever].
I’m sure you’re perceptive enough to see through a fairly obvious ruse. So now let’s get started with the test.
Question #1 What do you presume to be the motive of this organization in sharing a free research summary about a health topic?
Got your answer? I know… this is too easy. It gets harder. Let’s review Question #1 before we move on. Was this your answer?
The company’s motive is probably to make money selling it’s fancy water.
Bingo! For most of us in the modern world, that motive is so obvious that you don’t think twice about it. Everybody’s selling something. so you’re accustomed to going into things with your eyes open.
So as long as you avoid impulsively buying the fancy water, it’s fine to review the free research summary, right? There will probably be a hard-sell on the water, but that’s to be expected. Since this is so obvious, you certainly don’t feel like you’re being taken advantage of. Okay, let’s move on.
Question #2: In what ways might this organization be deceptive as it strives to meet its objective of selling its product?
Here’s a hint: sometimes when things seem obvious, that’s when they’re the most tricky. So, take a moment more to consider your answer. Got it?
Okay. Was this your answer? The company may show research that supports their sales pitch, but not share the existence of contradictory research that doesn’t support their message.
Whether or not that was your answer, I imagine that doesn’t surprise you all that much either. You’d probably agree that this is also par for the course in our consumer society. While we’re on this topic, though, let’s remember that it’s not wise to read what a particular company publishes without also consulting other sources because (of course) they’re likely to provide only the evidence that supports their claim. Be sure to search out more reliable sources that you know you can trust. And please note:
Reliability and trustworthiness are not synonymous with showing up on the first page of an Internet search.
Nor is it meaningful if a resource has a neutral-sounding name with words like “research” or “association” in their title. It’s extremely common for biased corporate and political organizations to create companies with neutral-sounding names.
And as we come to learn, credentialed “experts” can be suspect. (Learn more here.)
Okay, assuming you search out other quality sources, the problem is solved, yes? Maybe not. What if there’s an even deeper level of deception? Did your answer include this:
The company may publish research that appears to be from a neutral source but that it secretly commissioned through a third party so that it would sound neutral.
Now, hold on a minute. That’s pretty sneaky. It indicates that not only was there bias in selecting which research to highlight, but that the very research itself is suspect. If the organization commissioned the research, then we can no longer assume they are publishing neutral information as would be expected by the words, “research,” “physician” and “scientifically proven.”
And let’s be clear here: “research” undertaken without neutrality isn’t really research at all.
To be neutral would mean an investigation is based on a desire to learn the truth and a willingness to accept all findings. It doesn’t mean to pick and choose the study components based on desired results, to cherry-pick findings to meet a predetermined message, or the ability to toss out research that doesn’t reach the desired conclusions. Therefore, this data is invalid until rectified.
And if that’s not unethical enough, here’s another consideration. Did your answer include this?
The organization might pay credentialed experts and customers to spread disinformation about individuals who are publishing information that contradicts their sales pitch.
This corrupt practice is much easier to spot once you know to look for it. The people responsible for manipulating opinion like this are skilled at hiding. They’re experts in the use of financial and organizational sleight-of-hand to make paper trails difficult to trace. That makes it difficult to pin down just how often this occurs and who is commissioning it.
And since this tactic is well-suited for those who already have money and power, it is one of the many Power Abuse options providing little risk to the perpetrator.
That’s it. The test only had two questions! How did you do? Did you think about the organization potentially using any or all of these deceptive practices? Even if you did well, that may not be particularly satisfying… who wants to be reminded that corruption and manipulation are potentially everywhere?
It can be quite disappointing to see the degree to which deception and manipulation are built into the economic and social structures around us. But over time, the disappointment lessens because we realize that awareness give us more power. With the truth in hand, we can make smarter decisions. (And, if we’re interested, we may find ways we can fight back against the disinformation.) When we’re ignorant of the truth, we’re more easily manipulated. In contrast, knowledge is power.
There’s no need to be overly cynical. But it’s wise to temper your confidence until you’re well acquainted with the enemies of truth.
The point of this illustration is that the wool can be pulled over your eyes quite easily if you’re fooled by words like “research” or “science” and if you think that there’s a “reasonable” limit to the depth of deception and corruption. Learn more here.