The Woozle Effect

The Woozle Effect is a concept coined by Beverly D Houghton in 1979.[1]

The Woozle effect, also known as “evidence by citation[2] or a woozle, occurs when evidence from earlier sources, academic studies or publications are misused, often applying an improper weight. This misleads individuals, groups such as governments and the public in general into accepting claims made using the woozled evidence.

“Results of a weak study may be repeated so many times in different sources (e.g., professional journals) that they (undeservedly) achieve the status of a law.”

Eileen Gambrill – Propaganda in the Helping Professions[3]

Woozles become accepted as real, often becoming  “Urban Myth[4] and “Factoids[5]. “..fiction is converted into scientific evidence that will be cited over and over.”[1] The woozle effect has also been linked to Confirmation Bias, Groupthink, Belief Perseverance, False Paradigm.[4]

Red flags for hiding competing well-argued views include phrases such as “Every one knows …” “It is clear that …” “It is obvious that …” “It is generally agreed that …” This kind of unchallenged repetition encourages the woozle effect; if we hear something enough times we assume that it is true.

Eileen Gambrill; Amanda Reiman 2011
A Propaganda Index for Reviewing Problem Framing in Articles and Manuscripts
[6]

Woozles are often created by changing language to express a level of certainty that an original source does not contain. Changing Language from “The evidence may show..” to “The evidence shows..” would result in a woozle.[4] Firming up of language by removal of qualifiers and qualification of content as well as removing data, information and opinion from their context – “contextomy” or “quote mining” – can be the cause of Woozles.

Gelles has observed conflict between standard scientific methodology and advocacy; “Advocacy efforts are often governed by the ends justifying the means. Many advocates have little patience with the timetable of research or social policy – they see the harm inflicted at ground level and strongly feel the need to do something.”[7] Gelles has linked this to the pattern of basic rules being changed and rules of the fictional game TEGWAR[a] used instead. It has also been observed “Results are routinely miscited in a direction favoring activist ideology,..”[8]. In 2010, Allison and Cope, two researchers in the field of obesity and nutrition reported similar behaviours:

bias leading to the distortion of information in the service of what may be perceived to be righteous ends[9]

Cope and Allison (January 2010)
White hat bias: examples of its presence in obesity research and a call for renewed commitment to faithfulness in research reporting

This “White hat bias” has been;”…found in both the peer reviewed literature and popular press, towards publishing and reporting on research that seems to support some righteous idea (e.g., breastfeeding or the evils of sugar-sweetened drinks).”.[10] Other’s authors have linked the White hat bias, and the fallacy “of righteous ends” to food additives being made legally required, such as Mandatory flour fortification with folic acid (MFFFA).[11]

Researchers in areas such as prostitution and human trafficking have found that there are links between the term woozle and the term “Quantifact” – “.. a figure whose “value and veracity accumulates as it circulates,” despite its uncertain basis.”.[12] The term Quantifact is most often found linked to social sciences, violence and racial issues, including sterotyping, in post apartheid South Africa.[13]

The terms woozle and woozle effect are most frequently found and used in the field of “interpersonal violence” (IPV) and “domestic violence“, where the term originated. Other academic papers and publications have used the woozle as a motif and to show the presence of the woozle effect in many areas, such as school management,[14] nursing and gerentology,[15][16] public sector-governmental decision making[17] and construction industry.[18]

For Further details see Woozle Effect


Notes

[a] In the 1970s movie, Bang the Drum Slowly , two of the main characters—a star pitcher and a team coach—engage in a small-scale swindle in the lobbies of the hotels the baseball team stays in during road trips. The pitcher and coach sit in a conspicuous spot in the lobby and begin a heated card game. Pretty soon a few observers gather to watch the game. Even- tually, a curious observer, thoroughly confused by watching a game that he has never seen played before, asks the pitcher and coach what they are playing. “TEGWAR,” they respond. After a few more minutes, the onlooker asks if he can play and is invited to sit in. The new- comer wins a few hands, but still has no clue what he is doing. The hands get faster and faster, the cards fly, and eventually the newcomer gets on a losing streak—still completely befuddled by the game and what exactly is happening. When another teammate asks about the game and asks what TEGWAR stands for, he is told it means, “That Exciting Game Without Any Rules.”

From – Gelles, R. J. (2007). the Politics of Research: the Use, Abuse, and Misuse of Social Science Data – the Cases of Intimate Partner Violence. Family Court Review, 45(1), 42–51.


References

[1] Houghton, Beverly (7-10 November 1979), Review of research on women abuse, Annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology, Philidelphia

[2] Straus, Murray A. (2007-12-01), “Processes Explaining the Concealment and Distortion of Evidence on Gender Symmetry in Partner Violence”European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 74 (13): 227–232,doi:10.1007/s10610-007-9060-5

[3] Gambrill, Eileen (20 February 2012), Propaganda in the Helping Professions, Oxford University Press, p. 316, ISBN 978-0-19-532500-3

[4] Dutton, Donlad G. (2011), “6”,Rethinking Domestic Violence, UBC Press, p. 110,ISBN 9780774859875

[5] Gelles, Richard J.; Straus, Murray Arnold (1988), Intimate violence, Simon and Schuster, p. 39, ISBN 978-0-671-61752-3

[6] Gambrill, Eileen; Reiman, Amanda (May 2011), “A Propaganda Index for Reviewing Problem Framing in Articles and Manuscripts: An Exploratory Study”Plos one 6 (5),doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019516, archived from the originalon 20 May 2013

[7] “THE POLITICS OF RESEARCH: THE USE, ABUSE, AND MISUSE OF SOCIAL SCIENCE DATA—THE CASES OF INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE”FAMILY COURT REVIEW 45 (1): 42–51, 1, January 2007

[8] Dutton, Donald G.; Corvo, Kenneth (2006), “Transforming a flawed policy: A call to revive psychology and science in domestic violence research and practice”,Aggression and Violent Behavior 11(5): 457–483,doi:10.1016/j.avb.2006.01.007,ISSN 13591789

[9] Cope, M B; Allison, D B (2009). “White hat bias: examples of its presence in obesity research and a call for renewed commitment to faithfulness in research reporting”.International Journal of Obesity 34(1): 84–88. ISSN 0307-0565.doi:10.1038/ijo.2009.239.

[10] Timothy Caulfield (24 April 2012).The Cure For Everything: Untangling Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness, and Happiness. Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0-8070-2206-1. Retrieved 29 May 2013.

[11]  Mark Lawrence (3 January 2013).Food Fortification: The evidence, ethics, and politics of adding nutrients to food. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-166341-3. Retrieved 29 May 2013.

[12] Weiner, Neil A., Nicole Hala, and Vera Institute of Justice. (2008).MEASURING HUMAN TRAFFICKING Lessons from New York City.

[13] Comaroff, J. (2006). “Figuring Crime: Quantifacts and the Production of the Un/Real”. Public Culture 18 (1): 209–246.ISSN 0899-2363.doi:10.1215/08992363-18-1-209.

[14] Soder, Roger; Bentzen, Mary (1989), “Looking for the Woozle and Other Tales: An Examination of “The Myths of School Self-Renewal””Curriculum Inquiry(Wiley) 19 (2): 207–219,doi:10.2307F1991,JSTOR 1179411

[15] Fox-wasylyshyn, Susan M.; El-masri, Maher M. (2005), “Handling missing data in self-report measures”Research in Nursing & Health 28 (6): 488–495,doi:10.1002/nur.20100

[16] Manthorpe, Jill; Watson, Roger (2002), “Editorial”Journal of Advanced Nursing 38 (6): 541–542,doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.2002.02265.x

[17] Kinchin, Niamh (20 MAR 2007),“More than Writing on a Wall: Evaluating the Role that Codes of Ethics Play in Securing Accountability of Public Sector Decision-Makers”Australian Journal of Public Administration 66(1): 112–120, doi:10.1111/j.1467-8500.2007.00519.x

[18]  Seulkee Lee (2007),Understanding and Quantifying the Impact of Changes on Construction Labor Productivity: Integration of Productivity Factors and Quantification Methods, ProQuest, p. 72, ISBN 978-0-549-52984-2


-Further reading-

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“Houghton Woozle Fallacy” or “Idiot’s Woozle”
"As one works towards the resolution of a primary Woozle the probability of another person defending the primary Woozle by use of a secondary Woozle approaches 1, resulting in an "Idiot's Woozle",

"As one works towards the resolution of a primary Woozle the probability of another person defending the primary Woozle by use of a secondary Woozle approaches 1, resulting in an "Idiot's Woozle",

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Heffalump Conjecture
Heffalump Conjecture - Politicians, independent of ideology, in the presence of multiple verified facts and one Woozle will seek to fund Woozle related activity where either Woozle or funded activity emotively leads to increased votes and tenure in office.

Heffalump Conjecture - Politicians, independent of ideology, in the presence of multiple verified facts and one Woozle will seek to fund Woozle related activity where either Woozle or funded activity emotively leads to increased votes and tenure in office.

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