Zohnerism and Kevin Annett’s FUD

by Heather Martin

In 1997, a young man by the name of Nathan Zohner raised national attention when he exposed a lethal chemical molecule that has gone previously un-noticed by the scientific community.  His research led him to discover that this chemical is responsible for a myriad of harmful effects that include:

  • is called “hydroxyl acid”, the substance is the major component of acid rain.
  • contributes to the “greenhouse effect”.
  • may cause severe burns.
  • is fatal if inhaled.
  • contributes to the erosion of our natural landscape.
  • accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals.
  • may cause electrical failures and decreased effectiveness of automobile brakes.
  • has been found in excised tumors of terminal cancer patients.
  • as an industrial solvent and coolant.
  • in nuclear power plants.
  • in the production of Styrofoam.
  • as a fire retardant.
  • in many forms of cruel animal research.
  • in the distribution of pesticides. Even after washing, produce remains contaminated by this chemical.
  • as an additive in certain “junk-foods” and other food products.

How this dangerous substance has been allowed to remain unregulated was the subject of Zohner’s study which resulted in 43 out of 50 votes for such regulation to be implemented.

The above, of course, is the DHMO Hoax – where the so-called chemical is… water.  The Hoax, which has subsequently been the subject of numerous high school science fair projects, has been used to test an individuals gullibility to accept new information when presented in a scientific fashion.

It illustrates that by selectively tuning out certain “truths”, the media, advertisers, scientists and even crusaders (like Kevin Annett) people can be led to believe anything. (I’ll call it Zohnerism).

What was more interesting, than the actual Hoax itself, was that people were in support of a ban on the substance and would have likely gone to their town council’s to raise the alarm.  Imagine how embarrassing it would have been to be told while in the middle of a 3 minute presentation on the dangers of DHMO that it was in fact just water.
So how do we fall for such hoaxes?  Most people have fairly high IQ’s, watch Discovery Channel and Jeopardy, and can claim to know quite a lot about the world… We do, after all, have the internet don’t we?  Yet, we still find ourselves falling for quacks and fakeries all the same.

The reason can be explained below via Wikipedia:

An appeal to fear (also called argumentum ad metum or argumentum in terrorem) is a fallacy in which a person attempts to create support for an idea by using deception and propaganda in attempts to increase fear and prejudice toward a competitor. The appeal to fear is common in marketing and politics. [1]

Logic

This fallacy has the following argument form:

Either P or Q is true.
Q is frightening.
Therefore, P is true.

The argument is invalid. The appeal to emotion is used in exploiting existing fears to create support for the speaker’s proposal, namely P. Also, often the false dilemma fallacy is involved, suggesting Q is the proposed idea’s sole alternative.

Example

  • “If you continue to drink, you will die early as your father did.”
  • “If you cannot graduate from high school, you will live in poverty for the rest of your life.”
  • “Voting for him is the same as voting for the terrorists.”
  • “If you tell a lie, then no one will ever believe what you say again.” [2]
  • “If you hold your breath for a long time, you will die”.

Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) is the appeal to fear in sales or marketing; in which a company disseminates negative (and vague) information on a competitor’s product. The term originated to describe misinformation tactics in the computer hardware industry and has since been used more broadly. FUD is “implicit coercion” by “any kind of disinformation used as a competitive weapon.”[3] FUD creates a situation in which buyers are encouraged to purchase by brand, regardless of the relative technical merits. Opponents of certain large computer corporations[who?] state that the spreading of fear, uncertainty, and doubt is an unethical marketing technique that these corporations consciously employ.

Not this FUDD!

As persuasion

Fear appeals are often used in marketing and social policy, as a method of persuasion. Fear is an effective tool to change attitudes,[4] which are moderated by the motivation and ability to process the fear message. Examples of fear appeal include reference to social exclusion, and getting laid-off from one’s job,[5] getting cancer from smoking or involvement in car accidents and driving.

Fear appeals are nonmonotonic, meaning that the level of persuasion does not increase in proportion to the amount of fear that is used. A study of public service messages on AIDS found that if the messages were too aggressive or fearful, they were rejected by the subject; a moderate amount of fear is the most effective attitude changer.[5]

However, I would argue that when a person’s emotional state is already heightened and sensitized, fear messages can be more persuasive as the level of fear is increased.

Take for instance the language used by Kevin in his various articles uses words that we associate with fear:

Rapist, Pedophile, Murderer, Genocide, the State, Cover-up, Abduction, Exploitation, and that ol’ standby: Holocaust

None of these words are without fearful associations and the feelings and images that go with them.

Take for example Holocaust and Genocide… before we’ve seen the picture below, we’ve already formed it in our mind haven’t we?

Children interred at a unnamed concentration camp, circa WWII.

This is an image that Kevin frequently invokes as part of his ‘message’.  What is disturbing is that rather than resting his arguments on the merits of the experiences of the aboriginal children alone he links what happened to children during WWII in concentration camps to Aboriginal children being in the residential schools.  And while some similarities can be drawn, the motive for using the imagery is to instill that feeling of fear.  It is a useful tool for manipulation, because it is not based on the facts of the issue at hand, but draws on the negative aspects of some past event in history.  We could not punish Hitler for what happened at Auschwitz and Dachau, but we can punish the Church that Kevin has been shown to be as evil as Hitler.  At least that is his rationale.

Questioning the information we are given, despite the apparent scientific-ness of what we are being shown, or because someone tells us that we should ‘do something’ or else risk repeating the atrocities of history, we need to separate the emotion from the information.  We need to separate the FUD from the facts in order to see the truth.  We need to be vigilant against Zohnerism and be the watchmen on the wall.

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