Do Facts Matter to Persuasion

Understanding People Who Don’t Think Like Us

I really wanted to like Scott Adams’ Win Bigly. What is Adams seeing that I’m not seeing?

The problem is that I’m still a bit confused. Adams describes himself as historically socially liberal in his views and so it is very surprising that he is such a big Trump supporter. I was left wondering what he really thinks is important and, as far as I can tell, it seems to be that he doesn’t want estate taxes to increase. He seemed remarkably calm about many things that could hurt other people but got super passionate about him not paying estate taxes. By the end I must confess that Scott Adams did not win me over.

Explaining Trump’s Win

That said the basic premise of the book is a good one — he wants to explain how Trump could win. He does this pretty well by suggesting that commentators focused too much on what Trump was saying rather than how he was saying it. He suggests, rightly I’m sure, that we all suffer massively from confirmation bias — we see the world that we expect to see. Ignoring Adam’s lax use of terms — cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias etc.. — this argument is plausible. Indeed, he seems to suffer himself a lot, interpreting evidence to fit his world view. He has a get out though; he tells us that we shouldn’t really think of what he says as facts just his view. His view being that he is a brilliant political analyst.

Glibness

What annoyed me most was the general glibness of the book. He seems to have abandoned not only the idea that facts matter in persuasion (a disappointing but defensible view) but also that facts matter at all in reality. (Except the most important “fact” to him that estate taxes are “confiscation”). Adams doesn’t just argue that because Trump is a “master persuader” he won. Adams seems to believe it is good that Trump won because he is a master persuader. “Never mind that his initial deportation plan was mean, impractical and — many would say — immoral. Trump’s position gave him plenty of room to negotiate back to something more reasonable after he was in office” (Adams, 2017, page 8).  Even if you believed it would be negotiated back (and I’m not sure this is turning out to be true) is using something mean, impractical, and immoral really okay as a negotiating tactic? Scott Adams thinks so.

I was left thinking Adam’s view of the world is close to something I’d associate with an ill-informed kid who has just read about post-modernism on Wikipedia  — nothing is real (apart from estate taxes obviously). Being good at persuasion doesn’t change that facts exist. Adams has some solid advice on how to improve your persuasion but surely it still matters what you are trying to persuade people to do.

Read: Scott Adams (2017) Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter, Portfolio