Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cite Your Sources!

By Steven S. Vrooman

Accuracy is still a thing. It still matters. A social-mediated Internet makes it easier than ever to share crap statistics. But it also makes it even easier to find out that they are, in fact, crap.

And citing your sources is how you persuade the small percentage of people who are really paying attention to you. They will check. Because we change our minds so rarely we surely don't want to be duped.

I talk about this in the Zombie Guide. Most speakers (teachers, pastors, even TEDs) don't cite their sources. How are you going to make me change my mind if I think you are manipulating me by making things up? I have a smartphone in my hand. I can look it up if you tell me to. Pro tip: tell me to. I just might. Right then. Speakers, that's how you know you are winning. 

The Internet is both better and worse at this. It is easier to cite, but it is also easier to cite crap.

So here's my two accuracy pet peeves for the summer:

1. Ghost Statistics

You know that when they use a picture like this to represent their idea of audience, only truth will happen next, right?
These guys cite the great source called "sources," which is a hypertext link to this place, which is a series of excerpts from other studies, studded with links, none of which work. Seems legit.

They use stats about what percentage we remember when we see versus hear versus read. I'm sure you've heard that stuff or seen a VA like this on that, right?
Well, somebody, in this case, Dr. Will Thalheimer, did an exhaustively researched takedown of this kind of pseudoscience. You should read it. There are numerous examples, like this one, of all the places this junk research pops up:
Twitter is a great place for bad science. Bet you've retweeted some yourself.......Hmmmm.... I KNOW! I'll just Google "Percentage of statistics false"! to find out. Some blog that gives a 504 Gateway Timeout when I go there says 85% of statistics are misleading. Seems legit. (When you tweet this for me, but sure to #irony it).

2. Everyone Slept Through College But Me

....and this guy. Or at least he kept his Intro. to Public Speaking textbook. 

His recent blog post is a list of 5 attention-getters for opening a speech. It so far has this many shares:
That's a lot of shares, given the terrible stock photo there at the beginning of the blog and given that none of this is new or even his. These are the same basic attention-getters in every basic public speaking textbook published since the 80s, including Lucas, Sprague & Stuart, Beebe & Beebe and many others.

On my syllabus, that is defined as plagiarism. 

So find a list of stuff that was a multiple choice question on a midterm as an undergrad, turn it into a list, because, as we know, ALL BLOGS MUST HAVE LISTS!!!! Then don't cite it. Maybe no one looks behind the wizard's curtain on your consulting website, but is that really the best way to stand out in a crowded market?

I could cite the research that tells us about credibility and source qualifications and the way people process information. But, nah. You're right. People don't care about plagiarism anymore! No one cares about your sources! No need to do that..... I'm sure you'll just totally trust me. This is on the Internet. When was the last time you read something untrue here?

Avoiding these mistakes is the right thing to do. It's also the smart thing to do. Persuasion is hard to accomplish. If you are really trying, you will not create the next blog post I complain about. Because I will cite you.

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