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Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion – Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, Robert B. Cialdini ****
This is a rarity I’ve only seen once before (Your Money and Your Brain) – a business/popular science crossover. It contains fifty examples of ways to persuade
your customers, co-workers or others to change their behaviour, but instead of being a typical business book, driven from experience, this is driven from experiment.
It starts with the classic example of the use of our need to conform to what others do, looking at the little sign in a hotel that requests you re-use towels to save the environment. The sign is changed to say that most guests re-use towels to save the environment, resulting in significantly more re-use. The book goes on to catalogue the many ways that we can influence others, often with very subtle changes of approach. The way, for instance that adding ‘even a penny will help’ will increase giving to charity – recognizing that we don’t like to make large commitments, and that once we’ve overcome reluctance to act at all, we will go significantly further than you might expect. (It’s just a shame this message isn’t properly understood by those charities who say ‘just give £2′ but then consistently pester you for more to the extent you never give to them again don’t have the same idea.)
There are two reasons that the book doesn’t make a full five stars. Firstly, the examples rather tail off. You get the ideas they set out to have 50 secrets first, then tried to fill the slots. They didn’t have enough great material, so padded it with ‘persuasionish’ stuff – so some of the ‘secrets’ feel a little flimsy. The other issue is that this is a business book that does science, rather than a science book covering business. There is rarely enough detail of the studies to know about how they really worked, and it’s rarely stated (for instance) how large the study was, or whether it was duplicated, which may mean that a fair number of the results lack true scientific validity.
However, these are relatively small issues in a book that manages to combine some very practical and effective lessons for business with some real insights into how people behave. If the writers were setting out to persuade me they knew their stuff and really could make a difference, they’ve succeeded.
Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.
The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …
What we have here is a feast of assertions some people make about space that are satisfyingly incorrect, with pithy, entertaining explanations of what the true picture is. Matt Brown admits in his introduction that a lot of these incorrect facts are nitpicking - more on that in a moment - but it doesn't stop them being delightful. I particularly enjoyed the ones about animals in space and about the Moon.
Along the way, we take in space exploration, the Earth's place in space, the Moon, the solar system, the universe and a collection of random oddities, such as the fact that Mozart didn't write Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Sometimes the wrongness comes from a frequent misunderstanding. So, for example, Brown corrects the idea that Copernicus was the first to say that the Earth moves around the Sun. Sometimes there's some very careful wording. This is used when Brown challenges the idea that the Russian dog Laika was the first animal in space. What we discover is that, i…
I did my PhD in galactic dynamics - which is an awkward subject when people want to know what its relevance to the 'real world' is. So I was excited when Clube and Napier's book The Cosmic Serpent came out, around the same time, because it provided me with a ready-made answer. It argued that the comets which occasionally crash into Earth with disastrous results - such as the extinction of the dinosaurs - are perturbed from their normal orbits by interactions with the large-scale structure of the galaxy.
I was reminded of this idea a few years ago when there was a flurry of media interest in Lisa Randall's "dark matter and the dinosaurs" conjecture. I was sufficiently enthusiastic about it to write an article on the subject for Fortean Times - though my enthusiasm didn't quite extend to purchasing her hardback book at the time. However, now that it's out in paperback I've remedied the situation - and I'm glad I did.