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'There's No Good Way To Kill a Bad Idea' (qz.com) 281

The world is filled with bad, baseless, factually inaccurate ideas that refuse to die. From an article: Philosopher Russell Blackford, a lecturer at the University of Newcastle in Australia, tweeted about this phenomenon earlier this month: "The momentum behind bad ideas can be enormous -- they can plunge on, gathering force, long after receiving devastating criticism." If you've ever found yourself unable to halt someone else's idiotic plans once they were already in motion, you're not alone. Whether you're a politician trying to make congress see sense or simply a manager trying to halt an atrocious team-building plan, there's simply no foolproof way to kill a terrible idea. Blackford blames the momentum behind bad ideas on cascade effects. Yes, individuals are prone to making poor decisions for emotional or biased reasons (known as "cognitive heuristics") and this irrationality is part of the problem. But there's also a broader sociological issue, in that others' opinions carry a huge amount of weight in influencing our views. A cultural consensus -- even without proper evidence -- can form pretty quickly. If one person convinces a second, says Blackford, then a third person will be far more likely to agree with the majority view. This effect exponentially increases with each person who agrees with the others. "We soon have a sociological effect whereby everyone knows that, say, a certain movie is very good or very bad, even though everyone might have 'known' the exact opposite if only a few early voices had been different," says Blackford.
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'There's No Good Way To Kill a Bad Idea'

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  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Monday May 01, 2017 @12:02PM (#54333867) Homepage Journal

    thereÃ(TM)s simply no foolproof way to kill a terrible idea.

    Like, for example, unicode?

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Indeed.

  • Like... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thadtheman ( 4911885 ) on Monday May 01, 2017 @12:02PM (#54333871)
    The previous story about "Modern Languages"?
  • ... Come up with a better idea.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Nope. We have great examples after great examples of people doing what "sounds good", which ends up fucking up everyone else. See Venezuela and Bernie's pride in that country's socialism (before it collapsed) ..

      “These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger.”

      Socialism is a proven failure, time and again.Yet it "sounds good" and that is enough to keep in propped up on college campuses and dens of Liberals everywhere.

      • ...We have great examples after great examples of people doing what "sounds good"...

        Obviously, no one came up with something that was better. Thanks for making my point so eloquently.

      • "Socialism is a proven failure"

        Cue the 'but-fire-departments-are-socialism' people.

        The REAL questions is: HOW MUCH socialism is enough?
    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      Coming up was a better idea is required, but is not sufficient. People tend to get invested in the ideas that they've accepted, and refuse to change even for something better. The next generation will usually adapt unless they've been massively propagandized against it.

  • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Monday May 01, 2017 @12:10PM (#54333937)
    We would see this all the time in the big company I used to work at. Management would get all fricking excited about the latest fad the consultant industry had sold them. 5S. ISO. Justintime. Lean. When the actual scientists and engineers heard the plan, they would sigh. Management has discovered the scientific method. Oh good. There was no standing against the tsunami of these ideas. They had been mandated to succeed. Metrics which reinforced the vision of management would be collected. Nay sayers would be reduced to ash. The corporation would dump money and time into the effort until it burned itself out. Promotions and bonuses for management. Wait six months. Repeat cycle.
  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Monday May 01, 2017 @12:10PM (#54333939) Homepage Journal

    This effect exponentially increases with each person who agrees with the others.

    Y = 1/(X-1) doesn't look like an exponential to me.

    • This effect exponentially increases with each person who agrees with the others.

      Y = 1/(X-1) doesn't look like an exponential to me.

      If each person who is convinced goes on to convince N others, this is exponential growth.

      • That's not how I interpret it. From TFA:

        If one person convinces a second, says Blackford, then a third person will be far more likely to agree with the majority view.

        The third person is outnumbered 2:1, the fourth 3:1 and so on.

        If it was a chain reaction of individuals going off evangelising the "victim" wouldn't even be aware that there was a majority view.

  • by neilo_1701D ( 2765337 ) on Monday May 01, 2017 @12:10PM (#54333947)

    This concept is also know as "escalation of commitment", where you feel you're welded to an idea and backing down will cause you to look bad. It's especially common in groupthink scenarios.

    The Challenger disaster is one that comes to mind almost immediately. Plenty of people thought the launch was a bad idea, but groupthink set in and the launch proceeded.

    • by sycodon ( 149926 )

      From what I recall, it wasn't group think, it was Management Think/Political Think.

      The "group" caved to pressure imposed from the top as opposed to the group pressuring for the action.

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      I'm not sure about the Challenger disaster, but I think a major component is buy in. When enough people have invested themselves emotionally on the bad idea, there is no amount of showing why it is a bad idea that will sway them to reconsider. It is similar to voters, once they have emotionally invested themselves, there is not much one can say to dissuade them.

      There was a recent article on (I think) NYT or Wash Post about championship wrestling and the current political climate. We all know championship wr

      • There was a recent article on (I think) NYT or Wash Post about championship wrestling and the current political climate. We all know championship wrestling is fake. Even the people who watch it admit it is fake. One bright spark admitted that and then added, but it is real for me.

        People watch fictional dramas all the time. How is wrestling any different? It's all entertainment.

  • Certainly not w/o the Secret Service getting really upset.

    • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Monday May 01, 2017 @12:18PM (#54334027)
      Well, we did derail the whole Clinton train for a while. That has to count for something. But whether we successfully killed it, time will tell.

      BTW, it looks like the Internet Archive now has most of the "Shattered" book online if you're feeling ghoulish.
      https://archive.org/details/ShatteredInsideHillaryClintonsDoomedCampaign
      • by Rakarra ( 112805 )

        Why can't we ever go from a bad idea to a good idea? Why does it seem like when faced with a bad idea, we'll implement a worse one?

        I suppose when a bad idea results in a disaster, it's highly visible. Everyone can see the awfulness. But a good idea is a little more boring, and nothing breaks in a spectacular way.

  • I guess that the flip side of this is that there's also no good way to kill a good idea, too.

  • You can't reason someone out of an idea they didn't reason themselves into.

  • âoeA lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.â
    C. H. Spurgeon

  • Two Big Factors (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tsqr ( 808554 ) on Monday May 01, 2017 @12:35PM (#54334171)

    The unkillable idea owes its invulnerability in large part to two phenomena: the sunk cost fallacy, and the Abilene paradox [wikipedia.org].

    In short, once a group of people have agreed (even very reluctantly) on a course of action and expended resources in pursuit of the goal, nobody wants to openly admit it was a bad idea to begin with, and everyone will fight to defend it.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      In short, once a group of people have agreed (even very reluctantly) on a course of action and expended resources in pursuit of the goal, nobody wants to openly admit it was a bad idea to begin with, and everyone will fight to defend it.

      Sound very much like Trump, the Brexit, etc. The funny thing is that for most people explaining and even demonstrating this effect to them will have absolutely no positive effect.

  • good and bad are matters of opinion. a majority of such opinion might become part of a subculture or country. Only a person biased against an idea that stands the test of time will say it's "bad and hard to kill"

  • I don't really see anything new here. You can't kill any idea, good or bad. Even if you 1984-style destroy all evidence of the idea's existence and everyone who's ever thought the idea, and everyone who ever knew anyone who ever thought it, someone can just come up with the idea again. If you're attempting to fight an idea you believe to be bad, the trick is to come up with a better idea, and give it more spreadable characteristics. This is marketing, propaganda, and rhetoric 101. The techniques involved ar
  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Monday May 01, 2017 @12:53PM (#54334343)

    there's simply no foolproof way to kill a terrible idea

    Sure there is. In business just ask for a fully costed proposal. (This also works for killing perfectly sound ideas, too.). if the proposer ever gets that finished, just tell them it's "interesting" and then shred it.

    Outside of the company, in real life, you can associate the idea with something that invokes moral outrage: when someone blurts out a mind-numbingly stupid idea, just whisper in their ear "I wouldn't suggest that, you know the person who came up with it was a child-molester" (or Nazi, or whatever group is currently demonised).

    If we're talking about FAKE NEWS, there really is no reason to try to kill it, so long as you are able to insulate yourself from the effects of other people's stupidity: buying gold, taking a contrarian investment, simply ignoring it or just get into the game and come up with something even more fake or exaggerated - it can be great fun if you don't take it seriously.

    if you have an evil streak, you could even encourage the FAKE NEWS promoter that it is a really good idea and that they should invest in it - big time. Maybe even telling them that you know a guy and if they just give you a cash payment, you'll pass it on ...

  • Red Forman had it right.

    When someone creates or perpetuates a bad idea, you slap them upside the head and yell "Dumbass!"

    Lather, rinse, and repeat as necessary until the stain of ignorance fades to an acceptable level.

    • The problem with this is that EXACT formula works to spread bad ideas...and is extremely painful if you are in the minority opposing the bad idea(s).
    • Red Forman had it right. When someone creates or perpetuates a bad idea, you slap them upside the head and yell "Dumbass!"

      The problem is that stupid people, and people with dumb ideas, really love that approach and will adopt it enthusiastically.

      They have discovered that they can't convince people with logic and facts (because logic and facts don't support their stupid ideas in any way.). But slapping people and shouting "dumbass"? That is something that they can do! Repeatedly!

      In general, you can safely assume that anybody who tries to shoot down an idea by "slapping people upside the head and yelling 'Dumbass'!" is stupid,

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Monday May 01, 2017 @12:59PM (#54334401)

    People are generally stupid. In groups, they become even more stupid, because they do not evaluate the ideas of others on merit, but on what they think the insight-level of the person is. As they screw up that evaluation as well, this whole effect has zero surprise value. Add to that that most people prefer to live in a bubble where they surround themselves with others with the same (usually bad) ideas, and you understand where the utterly moronic decisions some groups have made come from. It also becomes clear how to manipulate these groups and people that have no real skills beyond that manipulation can acquire immense power, which they then are unable to wield competently.

  • I'd really like to read it. Unfortunately the summary contained most of the information contained in this Quartz "article". Seriously, there was nothing there. It seems to have been made by tracking down a philosophy professor who made a tweet and asking him three or four questions.
  • The caveat here is that just because you don't like an idea as a politician (or individual) doesn't mean that is a bad idea, it is entirely possible that you are an idiot and it is you who are wrong. There is an entire section of the population who are like this. They have a set of beliefs that they FEEL are right, regardless of facts or statistics, and they believe that they hold the moral high ground, so they must be right and anyone who disagrees is not only wrong but evil. They live in their little echo chambers where all their friends parrot back to them the same beliefs, and they shout down the opposition wherever it pops up. If they don't get their way, they violently riot (i.e. if someone is going to speak who they disagree with, or if an informed jury of citizens decides in a way they don't like). I will let you figure out who I am talking about, but it shouldn't be difficult if you are paying attention.

  • There is a way that often works: You join in and improve the idea until it becomes absurd and dies by itself. Then you blame the original inventor for the failure.

  • /end dog whistle

  • "Take off and nuke them from orbit, it's the only way to be sure..."

    SD

  • by orgelspieler ( 865795 ) <w0lfie@ma c . com> on Monday May 01, 2017 @01:58PM (#54334995) Journal

    I use this example when talking to people about anti-vaxxers. You can't just say vaccines don't cause autism. You are much better off talking about how bad the diseases are that can be cured by vaccines. Alternatively, you could talk about the research on the efficacy of vaccines in preventing diseases, or even just discuss the history of vaccines and Jonas Salk. What you can't do, is tell somebody "not X." All they hear is "X." Then I tell my friend who I am explaining this to, "Did you know that JFK was not a homosexual?" And whoever I'm talking to, no matter their political bent, instantly starts thinking, "wait... was he?"

    By stating the opposite of a thing, you reinforce the original thing -- even if they weren't thinking about it in the first place! Imagine how much stronger that reinforcement is, if they already had that notion.

    I forget where I first learned this trick. Probably on this godforsaken forum. But it always causes people to realize they have been arguing with others the wrong way. If you know somebody is wrong, you can deflect to something you know is right. You can ask them to elaborate on exactly how they know the thing they say they know. You can try to find common ground. You can state facts that support a counterargument, and let them connect the dots. But if you just say the opposite of their argument, you will not succeed.

    It's a hard lesson to remember and use in real life, because human nature is to say "nu-uh." But if you can do a little verbal jujitsu, you are much more likely to succeed in getting people to see your point of view.

    (I just noticed this whole post is sort of meta, since I'm disagreeing with the premise of the article without actually saying so.)

    • I use this example when talking to people about anti-vaxxers. You can't just say vaccines don't cause autism. You are much better off talking about how bad the diseases are that can be cured by vaccines.

      There are two types of people: Anti-Vaxxers not interested in science and those more interested in science. The latter know that you can't entirely rule out the possibility that vaccines cause autism: all you can say with absolute certainty is that there is no evidence that vaccines cause autism and no know

  • by jcbarlow ( 166225 ) on Monday May 01, 2017 @02:14PM (#54335195)

    religious brainwashing early in life. Innocent children are taught that they should be unquestioningly accepting of wacky ideas just because their elders seem to believe them. Their natural scepticism is denounced as heresy.

    The whole idea that anything should just be accepted as a matter of faith is a threat to democracy. Sunday school is clearly a form of child abuse. (even when it's done on Saturday)

    • >Innocent children are taught that they should be unquestioningly accepting of wacky ideas just because their elders seem to believe them. Their natural scepticism is denounced as heresy.

      It's not just religion - that's how you raise your kids, mostly. Because there's way too much stuff to let them question you about every little thing if you want to finish raising them before you die of old age.

      And you may not have noticed this, but if you let a kid question you once... it rapidly escalates until they q

  • I was thinking about this issue recently in a workshop and I think one major component of this problem that doesn't really get talked about is the idea that the brain is designed to make associations. When you link two concepts together the brain creates a link, and the more times t you hear that link, the stronger it becomes, INCLUDING when someone tries to refute a relationship; the brain still links the two concepts. It doesn't really have a mechanism to de-link concepts except through the passage of tim
  • There are ways to kill bad ideas, but it just is no longer socially acceptable to kill the originator in a novel and particularly gruesome manner. My favorite was always hanging, drawing and quartering.

  • Some ideas are great in the context of where they apply, but are terrible if tried outside of that context. People tend to think that if X was a good idea for problem Y then it must also be a great idea for problem Z. Some ideas don't scale well. Some break down if you try to expand them to new applications. Solar panels might be the perfect solution to powering your cabin far from the grid. That doesn't automatically mean that they should power everything in the world. Maybe they should, but maybe they should not. It's when tons of money are thrown at something before it's time or to a poorly managed project (Solyndra for example) that they really break down.
  • There are two different kinds of "bad ideas". Some have been tried and failed, others we have not found a good way to test yet.

    The reasons that failed bad ideas are still believed is poor education. We don't teach people about science, so they don't understand how to test ideas or waht an idea failure looks like. Nor do we teach them how tell the difference between good information sources and bad information sources, so they trust Jenny McCarthy, Donald Trump, Glenn Beck, and Rod Blagojevitch.

    We don't s

  • Against stupidity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday May 01, 2017 @02:56PM (#54335689) Homepage Journal

    ... the gods themselves contend in vain, Schiller said.

    But maybe not. I just finished Hanah Arendt's famous Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, about the abduction and trial of the former SS officer who was in charge of "evacuating" Jews to the death camps. Eichmann claimed -- probably truthfully -- to be horrified and distressed when he saw what was happening in the extermination camps. But his horror was greatly mollified at the a conference in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee in which many important and respectable people discussed the Final Solution frankly and unabashedly, as if it were no big deal.

    Arendt also points out something interesting about Denmark, a country which was under total military domination by the Third Reich but in which society from the King down resisted the expulsion of Jews. Not only were the Germans unable to expel even stateless Jews from Denmark, confirmed SS officers posted to Denmark would suddenly become unreliable on the Jewish Question.

    This suggests to me that when you feel like you're powerless against stupid or even evil ideas, there is always something you can do that can be very powerful: you can set an example.

"For the love of phlegm...a stupid wall of death rays. How tacky can ya get?" - Post Brothers comics

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