3 Ideas in 2 Minutes on Questioning the Evidence
Woozle Effect, Ad Nauseam & the Semmelweis Reflex
I. Woozle Effect
The Woozle Effect, aka evidence by citation, describes a common phenomenon: Repeat a claim often enough, and people will believe it. Even though there’s no evidence for its validity.
More specifically, the effect refers to articles making unfounded claims, which are then cited by other articles. The idea continues to be cited until the false impression is created that there’s evidence to support it. In reality, all citations relied on the same flawed source.
II. Ad Nauseam
Ad Nauseam is a term from debating but is also used as a propaganda technique. It takes advantage of our tendency to believe an idea if it’s repeated over and over and over and over and over and over again. Up to the point that it causes unease and discomfort (nausea).
In North Korean propaganda stories, for instance, one theme is repeated ad nauseam: The leader’s competence and benevolence juxtaposed with the utter helplessness and lack of agency of everyone else involved. Here’s how one of them goes.
A group of diplomat’s children is stuck in an African country with no way to get back to North Korea in time for their first day of school. Officials are at a loss as to how to resolve the situation. It’s hopeless. And who cares about a few children anyway?
However, the dear Comrade Kim Jong Il thought otherwise. He thought he could not bring himself to sleep if they, though not many, failed to attend the cheerful opening ceremony.
He suggested in a firm tone that a special plane should be sent for them so that they might start school at the same time as the children at home. Then he saw to it that an immediate measure was taken. A special aircraft bearing his love and affection was flown.
Source: The Great Man Kim Jong Il
III. Semmelweis Reflex
This is going to sound like I’m crazy. But what if surgeons disinfected their hands before an operation? That would prevent patients from getting infections, right?
Ignaz Semmelweis, a surgeon from Hungary, made this claim back in 1846. Long before germ theory was established. His colleagues were outraged and rejected his idea despite the empirical evidence. Reportedly, they even went as far as to commit the pesky hand-washer to a mental asylum.
When we fall for the Semmelweis Reflex, we reject new evidence because it doesn’t fit our current belief system. 🐘
Have a great week,