Tags: Barack Obama | Education | Money

Feds Slow Discovery of Old Tech Nothing New

Friday, 16 October 2015 03:35 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Politico had another gee–whiz Obama story this week: “For the past year, the Obama administration has been running an experiment: Is it possible to make policy more effective by using psychology on citizens? The nickname is “nudging” — the idea that policymakers can change people’s behavior just by presenting choices or information differently.”

It was ominous enough to sound the Liberty Klaxon. The program initially looked like totalitarianism with a pocket protector.

A brief, subsequent investigation of the program found additional proof that if Capt. Obvious left civilian life to join the feds, in no time at all he would be Field Marshall Obvious — regardless of how badly Joe Biden wanted the job.

Only in the federal government can ignorant bureaucratic functionaries discover procedures the private sector has employed for decades and call it science. The Social and Behavioral Science Team (SBST) isn’t all paper pushers.

Many are “researchers holding a Ph.D. in a social science field who take leave from their university, government agency, etc. to serve in this position.”

Sounds great until one recalls in an earlier column (found here) 75 percent of the behavioral science studies published in peer–reviewed journals were false, since findings could not be replicated in subsequent experiments.

Fortunately, the Obamaists aren’t employing behavioral science. Their research combines common sense and advertising techniques used in the private sector since the 1970’s.

The only difference is if the Obama administration stumbles across private sector technology it suddenly becomes “scientific” and “cutting edge.” Not to mention “on the right side of history.”

The level of pretentiousness used to describe mundane readability changes in government communication approaches parody: “When behavioral insights — research findings from behavioral economics and psychology about how people make decisions and act on them — are brought into policy, the returns are significant.”

This is the glowing description of a test that discovered what any mid–level ad agency copywriter could have told you in the 1980’s: If a form is complicated and difficult to understand people won’t finish or will complete the form inaccurately.

The test itself tells us the entire SBST office missed the introduction of TurboTax.

Another breakthrough was finding coercion and inertia improve participation in government programs: “switching from an opt–in to an opt–out enrollment system dramatically increases participation rates.”

Meaning enrolling people without asking does expand membership. Book of the Month Club did it for years and the feds could have borrowed the idea for free.

This obvious fact is why unions and the IRS both use mandatory payroll deduction instead of politely asking for payment.

The SBST innovation with the biggest potential for mankind was the brainiacs discovery of fire, a sudden heat–producing chemical change that has important ramifications with respect to food preparation.

No, wait, that was North Korean scientists.

SBST discovered copy testing — in use since the era of "Mad Men." “DOD launched an email campaign [with] nine variants designed using behavioral insights.”

It would’ve been cheaper to call Chris Ruddy and ask to borrow a direct–response writer.

Newsmax runs copy tests on multiple direct response marketing efforts. It’s an indictment of the sloth, insularity and somnolence of the federal workforce that Uncle Sam is just now getting around to it.

Other minutia that passed for progress includes:
  • Asking seniors to copy a 72-symbol long web address from a collection letter to pay overdue Medicare bills was a bad idea. Shortening it to 28 symbols improved response. No word on if SBST used tinyurl.com to do it.
  • Even behavioral scientists have problems convincing citizens to call telemarketers. Giving marks a set time to hear a sales pitch only increased calls 2.4 percent with no boost in completed transactions.
  • Amusingly the feds discovered more government employees had drifted into the office by lunchtime than were behind their desk at the start of the business day. A nooner email survey had a two percent higher response rate than the reveille version.
The test that caught my eye involved the General Services Administration (GSA). A team of Mr. Wizards added a checkbox at the top of an online form that calculated fees vendors owed on sales to the government.

By clicking “yes” the vendor promised the self–reported figures were accurate.

Three months after the test fees increased by $1.59 million. This sounds outstanding until one learns it’s only a 0.02 percent increase in the total collected.

A useful follow-up would have been to cross–reference the forms with increased revenue payment with previous forms from the same vendor and investigate any discrepancies. That might have collected real money.

All this hype and hoopla proves is combining the terms “science" and “Obama administration” will result in an immediate 85 percent increase in credulous behavior among mainstream media reporters.

Michael R. Shannon is a commentator, researcher (for the League of American Voters), and an award-winning political and advertising consultant with nationwide and international experience. He is author of "Conservative Christian’s Guidebook for Living in Secular Times (Now with added humor!)." Read more of Michael Shannon's reports — Go Here Now.


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Only in the federal government can ignorant bureaucratic functionaries discover procedures the private sector has employed for decades and call it science.
Barack Obama, Education, Money
Friday, 16 October 2015 03:35 PM
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