I caught a nicorette advert this evening on the TV. I did not pay any attention to it – I never do, of course, but a phrase caught my ear. I can’t remember the words because they involved some verbal trickery. It was something like: “You are 100% more likely to quit smoking by using nicorette”. What would an awful lot of people misinterpret that statement to mean? Would they not think that success is 100% certain? But what does that statement actually say? What it says is that, if you actually succeed in stopping smoking using nicorette, you will have been 100% successful. Anyone who succeeds in stopping smoking, by whatever method, is 100% successful.
The trick is to use the word ‘more’. ‘More likely to’. The words ‘likely to’ are themselves indeterminate. They import the possibility of of a bit better that the word ‘may’ would suggest.
Nicorette ‘may’ help you to stop smoking.
Nicorette is ‘likely to’ help you.
Nicorette is ‘more likely to….’
Well, the fact is that nicorette is an abysmal failure. It is true that nicorette is 100% ‘may’ be of help. Note the weirdness of the construction. If I put: ‘nicorette is 100% likely to help’, that also is true, but is still a bit weird. When I say: ‘nicorette is 100% more likely to help’, the verbal weirdness disappears.
Only when you ask: “More likely than what?” does the verbal weirdness reappear. More likely than patches? More likely than determination? More likely than ecigs? They do not say, and without that statement, the claim is meaningless.
But they get away with it. Imagine an airline saying: “You are 100% more likely to have a pleasant flight if you fly with us”. The problem with that statement is not easy to spot. The problem is that the words ‘100%’ are superfluous. The statement merely says: ‘You will have a more pleasant flight if you fly with us’. Even the slightest improvement (in what?) is a 100% improvement. Five is 100% greater than four. That is simply because any number greater than four is greater. 100 is 100% greater than four.
The phrase: “If it saves the life of one child…..”is exactly the same thing. Who could argue against saving the life of even one child?
The problem revolves around the philosophical idea of ‘saving the life of…’. The important thing is to get away from the emotion of ‘child’, and not the idea of ‘saving the life of….’. A dialog might go:
“Children might drown in that pond, so it must be fenced”
Response: “Children might drown in the sea, and so the sea must be fenced”
“Children are always with their parents when at the seaside”
Response: “Children are always with their parents when near ponds”
My point is that GENERALISATIONS rarely reflect REALITY. But sometimes they do. We get the impressions that generalisations are the norm because most of our laws in the UK used to reflect what was generally applicable. I suppose that there was a time when traffic on roads was undisciplined – no ‘left’,’right’ rules. Horse-drawn waggons rolled along, and if they met others coming in the opposite direction, they steered around each other willy-nilly. I do not know when driving on the left in the UK was established, but it was an obvious general idea.
The problem with modern political life is that GENERALISATION has been taken too far. The problem with the EU, UN, WHO, IPCC, etc is that they have generalised. Thus, as far as the UN is concerned, postponing millions of old age deaths due to smoking is more important than thousands of young people’s deaths, here and now, from Ebola. That comes to the same thing as ‘100% more likely’. It is ‘100% more likely’ that old people will die. Note how I have not said, ‘more likely than young people’. All I have said is just ‘more likely’. You have to be less receptive to the propaganda to work out the ‘more likely than what?’ question.
Is that questioning not supposed to be what education is for? It seems to me that University courses about marketing are all about teaching student how to manipulate the masses. Is it appropriate for Universities to teach young people how to manipulate other citizens? Ought they not to be studying how to stop the manipulation?
Ought they not to be cosidering the ethics and philosopy of propaganda, rather than learning how to use it?