2003/03/18

Diffusion of innovations


Those who support a cause that they are having difficulty selling to the public would benefit from the study of work in a field called "diffusion of innovations". There is a book with that title by Everett Rogers. See this link Also do a search on that phrase in google.

The initial work was done in the early 1950s at the University of Chicago. It was funded by corporate sponsors who were considering the large sums they would have to spend on national television advertising, and wanted to know how effective such spending might be, and what kinds of advertising would be most effective.

The researchers found that populations tended to divide into distinct groups of adopters: The primary adopters were quick to try and adopt new things. The secondary adopters tended to defer adopting until after enough of the primary adopters had done so and used the innovations for a while. The tertiary adopters tended to defer adoption until a sufficient number of the secondary adopters had tried and used the innovations for a while. Sometimes there was also a group of quaternary adopters, and sometimes a group of holdouts that would never adopt, or even actively oppose the innovation.

It was found that messages like broadcast advertising could accelerate adoption by the primary adopters, but were not sufficient by themselves to get the secondary and lower level groups to adopt. The primary influence, it was found, was among peers within each group, and downward from one group to the next lower group. Examples of satisfactory use are far more effective in winning converts than the kinds of reasoned argument that might be conveyed in broadcast messages. It was also found that emotional messages are far more effective than reasoned ones.

This research also showed the importance of repetition. Except for the early adopters, people generally do not adopt something new based only on a single message or example, no matter how compelling. They exhibit characteristic herd behavior, in which a member only moves in response to its repeated perceptions of the movements of multiple other members of the herd. The timing of the repetitions is also important. Too frequent repetition, or messages that are too intense, can turn the person against the innovation, but too much delay between repetitions can lose much of the effect of previous repetitions.

What works best is a carefully timed series of repetitive messages or examples, neither too mild or too intense, that incrementally move each person along a path from where he is to where the promoter wants him to go, avoiding sidetracks. To the extent possible, it is best to conserve resources by focusing not on those who have already adopted, or who are not ready to move forward, but on those who have been prepared by previous efforts and are ready to take the next step.

Promoters of political causes should also be cognizant of competitive diffusion processes. There are likely to be multiple innovations in the field that will tend to compete with one another, and indeed, the introduction of an innovation may stimulate the appearance of a competing or opposing innovation. The receptiveness of the population to the competing innovations may differ greatly, so that we can speak of a characteristic "coefficient of diffusion" for an innovation for that population.

Thus, we can describe what happened in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war as a competitive diffusion process between the innovations, or memes, of Western liberal republicanism, promoted by the United States, and traditional nationalism, promoted by the North Vietnamese. While the former idea won many converts, the latter had a higher coefficient of diffusion at that stage in the local population's cultural development, with most of the population not understanding the idea and identifying it with foreign intruders. The result was that, despite all the efforts of the U.S. forces to "win the hearts and minds" (WHAM) of the people, nationalism prevailed.

It is useful to examine chains of influence leading to decisionmakers. One who seeks some reform must first describe in detail how it would work, and what resources it would require, then identify who makes the decisions to move forward on implementing it. In most cases the promoter will not have direct access to the decisionmaker, but must work his way up one or more chains of influence, beginning with those with whom he is in direct contact and over whom he has the most influence, and working toward the decisionmaker through those who most influence the next, converting each along the way, or perhaps contriving to replace them with others, including the decisionmaker himself. The key to advancing along the chain is to be able to discern what each wants and will respond to, consistent with what the reformer seeks to do. Such an effort will often be far more cost-effective than attempts to influence the general population in an unfocused way, especially that part of the general population that exerts or is likely to exert little if any influence on the chain of influence to the decisionmakers.

Promoters of a cause must also understand that some causes, however meritorious, will not be adopted by the majority of the population until the conditions for adoption are ripe. The ideas of constitutional republican government adopted by the Thirteen English Colonies in the 18th century were not entirely new. Indeed, they had been developing over the previous 2000 years, adopted by a few leading thinkers, but not adopted by a sufficient number of the general population until the right conditions of a frontier allowed them to flourish. Propagating those ideas beyond that initial frontier environment, even with the compelling example of the United States, is by no means assured within the short to mid term future, and may not even survive in the United States now that the frontier conditions that permitted their emergence have faded. If such ideas succeed, it will take a strong effort by many dedicated people to overcome unfavorable conditions.

It must also be understood that more complex causes are more difficult for the mass of people to understand well enough to adopt, and that a complex cause is likely to have a low coefficient of diffusion, no matter its intrinsic merits. A complex cause or proposal is likely to have to be sold not directly, but by appealing to concern about the problem it seeks to solve, and by promoting the proponents of that solution to decisionmaking positions, where they can carry out the details that the mass of people would never adopt no matter how well it might be explained to them. Most people can be persuaded to have confidence in personalities long before they adopt their proposed solutions.

Sometimes all that the proponents of a complex cause can hope to do is keep it alive, perhaps for hundreds or thousands of years, until the conditions for it to prevail occur. This may require extraordinary conviction and patience.

2003/03/05

Roland interview on BBC World Service March 4, 2003

Jon Roland, President of the Constitution Society and webmaster of http://www.constitution.org was interviewed by reporter Monica Whitlock for a program analysing dictatorship for the 50th anniversary of the death of Josef Stalin March 5, 2003, which aired beginning at 16:30 GMT on BBC World Service March 4, 2003. The 15-minute program may be heard by going to http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/programmes/analysis.shtml and clicking http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/ram/analysis_tue.ram or entering pnm://rmv8.bbc.net.uk/worldservice/analysis_tue.ra. You may need something like RealPlayer to listen to it, which may be downloaded by going to http://www.real.com and clicking on the "Free RealOne Player" link.


Monica Whitlock is noted for her reports on events in the former Soviet Union. She was led to interview Roland by discovering his article, "Principles of Tyranny" at http://www.constitution.org/tyr/prin_tyr.htm.

Remarks on the annversary of the death of Josef Stalin

Josef Stalin has the unique honor of being perhaps the only 20th century figure for whom the anniversary of his death, rather than his birth, is celebrated. March 5, 2003, marks the 50th anniversary of his death, and on that day in 1953 the entire world breathed a sigh of relief when the word came out of Moscow.

Yet Stalin did not die on that day, or at least his legacy didn't. The old Spanish joke was to say every day, "Franco is still dead". The Russian version was, "Is Stalin dead yet?", and the joke was still being told when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

During WWII Stalin discovered, if he didn't already know, that the best way to maintain political control over a country like the Soviet Union was to have an external enemy. Germany provided that enemy, but after it was defeated, Stalin needed to replace it, so he made an enemy of the West.

And it wasn't just for his domestic purposes. He knew that the only way to make the West a credible enemy was to be a real enemy for them, and he set out to become that enemy. He succeeded brilliantly, and the result was the Cold War, the wars in Korea and Viet Nam, and the death and suffering of millions of people.

When Stalin died, he left the Soviet Union in the hands of people with blood on their hands, because he only allowed such people to rise in his system of governance. The result was they were too guilty to immediately reform their corrupt tyranny, and knew no other way to maintain control. It wasn't until Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power, with the sponsorship of Yuri Andropov, someone who had not been personally blooded, that reform could come. Gorbachev first replaced the old Stalinists with his own breed of technocrats, then called for "perestroika" and "glasnost". Today, the Soviet Union is just something on old maps. It fell in a nearly bloodless revolution the likes of which no one could have imagined in the days that Stalin ruled supreme and Orwell wrote his classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

But we still have to ask, "Is Stalin dead yet?" The answer remains to be seen.

2003/02/26

Waco still a burning issue

Friday, February 28, 2003, is the tenth anniversary of the assault by agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) on the Davidian residence near Waco, Texas. After a shootout and several
deaths on both sides, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) took over and there was a 51-day standoff until the final assault on April 19, 1993, which resulted in a fire and the deaths of more of the residents, for a total of 87, including many children. Some of the few surviving Davidians were tried in federal court in San Antonio on several charges in the spring of 1994, but none of the federal agents involved were ever charged with crimes. The result of this incident led to the emergence of the militia movement in the United States.

It is worth reviewing the highlights of some of the issues involved in this case. See http://www.constitution.org/waco/mtcarmel.htm for more details.

First, the assault was for the ostensible purpose of serving a search and arrest warrant for weapons violations. This was done by first imposing a $200 transfer tax (a kind of excise) on certain kinds of firearms, specifically those converted to full-automatic fire, then refusing to accept payment of the tax, and issuing a regulation, under the alleged authority of the Commerce Clause, making it a crime to possess or transfer a firearm that had not been taxed. The unlawfulness of this method was set forth in the opinion in the federal appeals case United States v. Rock Island Armory, Inc., 773 F.Supp. 117 (C.D.Ill. 1991), http://www.constitution.org/2ll/court/fed/fed_case.htm .

Second, the BATF agents did not present a warrant to the residents. Apparently, they didn't bring it with them. After the Davidians resisted the initial assault, however, the agents discovered the original warrant was defective, and got a federal magistrate to sign and backdate a better version, which is the one that was presented for the first time at the 1994 trial.

Third, as it was later revealed, the purpose of the BATF was to stage an "event" in which they could collect a trophy they could use to argue for an increased appropriation. Their budget was then up for review, and there were efforts to reduce the appropriation, due to dissatisfaction with the agency's performance. The BATF agents came ill-prepared for anything but a media event. This was revealed by a film, Waco: The Rules of Engagement, http://www.waco93.com/ .

Fourth, in the final assault April 19, 1993, a tank was used to inject flammable and toxic CS vapors into the buildings, and another tank was used at the rear of the complex, out of sight of news cameras, to push over buildings, run over people, and support automatic weapons fire evidently used to prevent the occupants from escaping. This action also apparently started the fire that burned down the buildings with most of the occupants inside. In private, off-the-record conversations, FBI agents would later reveal that the burnout of the Davidians was intentional, and was primarily motivated by the high cost of the standoff. Apparently, the tank crew and assault personnel used were with the Army Delta Force, and incendiary grenades used by that organization were found in the debris. Such use of military personnel is a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. This was clearly shown in a film, Waco: A New Revelation, http://www.waco-anewrevelation.com/ .

Fifth, in the 1994 trial the lawyers for the Davidians were not allowed to try to impeach the testimony of the government witnesses and their allegations that some of the weapons found in the debris had been converted to full automatic. The judge made a deal with the defense lawyers that if they would not challenge his ruling on not questioning prosecution evidence, he would allow instructions to the jury that they could consider self-defense as a justification for their resistance. Despite blatant judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, the jury found all defendants not guilty of all the criminal charges, and only guilty of some of the enhancement points to the criminal charges. This was the result of confusing instructions to the jury that did not make it clear that they could not find someone guilty of an enhancement if they did not find him guilty of the crime itself. Initially following the law,
the judge ruled that the defendants could not be held guilty of an enhancement if not guilty of the crime, but then he reversed his own ruling, and sentenced them to maximum penalties for the crimes for which they were found not guilty, except for the enhancement.

Sixth, during this entire process, there was egregious fabrication of evidence and destruction or concealment of evidence that would support the innocence of the accused. A good example was the "missing front door" that if produced would have shown all the initial weapons fire came from the agents and not from the Davidians. More than the assault itself, it was the trial that drove the emergence of the militia movement. That trial will be studied in centuries to come as a monument to judicial and prosecutorial misconduct.

This case will continue to burn in the hearts of minds of patriotic Americans until the Davidians are not only freed but compensated, and the agents involved prosecuted and imprisoned. However, this would need to be done in a Texas state court, because federal courts do not have jurisdiction for such a criminal prosecution of federal agents, and almost all attempts to criminally prosecute federal agents in state courts are blocked by federal courts seizing jurisdiction and then dismissing the cases, claiming immunity for the agents if they were on duty during the offense.

2003/02/23

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