Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bad Argument: Poisoning the Well

Poisoning the well tactic is often used by scammers on the victims to "pre-condition" them to ignore any objections from critics and "people with negativity". Unfortunately, many MLM "coaches" adopted this same strategy as motivational speak mumbo-jumbo to preclude any questions. It is a part of overall strategy of "avoiding negativity".

This is best illustrated by citing an actual article:
My next approach was to question the fundamental premise of multilevel marketing, the sketchy business of selling not a product, but a dream. The conversation was making Mark uncomfortable. I saw a flash of panic in his eyes before they glazed over. Then he said this: "They told us there'd be ripe apples who are ready--who see it. They told us there'd be green apples that weren't ripe yet. And they told us there'd be rotten apples. ... You're a rotten apple," he said. There was an uncomfortable silence. I smiled thinly and suggested we both go home.
Note the part where "Mark" replied "They told us there'd be rotten apples... You're a rotten apple."

Those who sold Mark the MLM dream already told him about "rotten apples" that won't "get it" (understand the appeal of MLM).  They have succeeded in "poisoning the well" (of Mark) that Mark now is predisposed to not believe anything MLM critics said, even if it's reasonable, logical, and supported by evidence.

Poisoning the well generally comes in the following way
I will present some negative information/motivation about X.
(therefore, whatever X said cannot be trusted)
Poisoning the well can be thought of as a specialized version of "ad hominem" personal attack against the speaker instead of against the argument itself. It is done before the "audience" has even HEARD the other side's argument.

Poisoning the well is an exploitation of the cognitive bias called "anchoring" or "focalism", where the mind relies too much on the first piece of evidence encountered, instead of evaluating all of the evidence. If the first piece of evidence turned out to be false / fraudulent, and subsequent evidence contradicts the first piece of evidence, the mind, focused on the first, will tend to ignore the the rest of the evidence. In case of poisoning the well, the other side exploited this by simply being first and said negative things about the other side, not about their argument. 

Poisoning the well generally involve emotional appeal, often words with negative connotation. One of which often encountered is "dreamstealer", an epithet among people pitching "income opportunities". To them, any critic of their whatever pet project at the moment, or anybody who examines their scheme in detail, is a dreamstealer. In the first example, "rotten apple" was used instead, but it's the same thing. 

You are exposed to all sort of information at all times, and some people may be influencing your thoughts even without you realizing it through both deliberate and accidental "poisoning the well". That's why when you examine any issues, you should do so by listing the proper null hypothesis, then the argument for both sides, then evidence for both sides (verify each if possible), without dismissing anything yet, THEN evaluate both arguments from both perspectives with all of the evidence available. That way, you examine the ARGUMENT, not the presenter. 

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