Monday, June 26, 2006

The Culture of Fear

It is amazing how a single book can change my mindset and yet research shows it's almost impossible to change someone’s mind, even with the "truth." I am fascinated with The Culture of Fear by Dr. Barry Glassner. It's not just about the news media, unless you mean just the part of the media that sensationally exploits fear. Glassner argues that just as many reporters debunk fear-mongering.

I guess I’m most fascinated by how fear has been and is being used to perpetuate prejudices. Glassner notes a book that documents that, in fourteenth-century Europe, the dangers of impure drinking water were recognized long before it became convenient to accuse Jews of poisoning wells and people became preoccupied with clean water. In other words, it took people preying on a prejudice like anti-Semitism to get the general public serious about the real life and death fear of illness and death from impure drinking water?

Does it still happen today? Is the obsession about crime, during a period when it is and has been in sharp decline, a perpetuation of bigotry, either intentional or unintentional? Glassner points out that fears are "perpetuated by excessive attention to dangers that a small percentage of black men create for other people, and by a relative lack of attention to dangers that a majority of black men face themselves." He notes that "many more black men are casualties of crime than perpetrators."

Or is it a means to motivate us to do something about the "elephant in the room" called poverty?

Glassner is thought-provoking. I can see his point that there is a lot of money and power underlying our society’s obsession with misplaced fears. Activists use it to draw support to agendas. Editors use it to draw readers. Politicians use it to rally support. Parents use it to reinforce obedience. TV uses it for ratings. Advertisers use it to sell products.

Equally disturbing is why are we so gullible? What is our responsibility as individuals? Are we just pawns or lemmings?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Information - Just In Time Delivery?

Much is made of supply chains now that work with "just in time delivery" vs. warehousing or stockpiling.

Many now argue that, as communication intensifies and access to information is uninhibited, paradoxically opinion-makers and decision-makers like elected officials, members of boards and commissions and others no longer "read." Many believe that, rather than staying current and building a body of knowledge upon which to hinge major decisions, the majority of opinion-makers and decision-makers rely instead on "just in time delivery" of information upon which to make decisions.

What’s wrong with that?

If true, I guess the benefit is saving time. But the risks seem staggering. If true, it would mean that incredibly important decisions are increasingly shaped only on the information and perspective available or presented at the moment of decision or controversy.

If true, it also means that opinion-makers and decision-makers could be easily buffeted by prevailing "winds" or "who’s asking" or "partisanship and divisiveness" and "ram it through" politics rather than what’s best for the long term or for the most people involved.

That’s truly chilling.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sports Event Analysis Fails to Account for Redistribution

For CVBs that pride themselves in sound performance measurement, a recent comment attributed to a Clemson professor in another community's newspaper really made me cringe.

In response to hearing some unlikely economic impact estimates for major sports events held in that other community, Dr. Raymond Sauer is quoted as saying "numbers thrown out by tourism groups and chambers of commerce have a 'whiff of boosterism' associated with them."

For years there have been warnings that if "all" community groups don't shift to more credible models, it will undermine the credibility of those like Durham that have.

There are five basic pitfalls into which some communities continue to fall:
  • Using data from another city that held a similar event without first vetting how it was computed and making adjustments. This also often results in an exaggeration "arms race" of sorts, with communities vying to outperform others.
  • Using national formulas without re-calibrating them with local inputs.
  • Including residents in computations. Residents are never included in economic impact estimates because they would have been spending money elsewhere anyway and going to the sports event is considered redistribution, not new impact.
  • Failing to distinguish that events create losers and winners. For example, if fans go to the game or stay home to watch it on television, they benefit certain businesses at the expense of others in which they would be spending.
  • Using gross spending and failing to adjust for input-output leakage or dislocation. Not all spending is "value added" to that economy.
In this day and age, why would communities still use numbers that are suspect? Unfortunately many fall victim to trying to please the news media or local officials, both of whom get caught up in the euphoria and believe the numbers must be "stupendous." Ironically, both quickly turn on the source when numbers prove incredible.

Fortunately things are going in the right direction, and more and more CVBs are being very conservative. But it will take years to restore credibility. In the meantime, many of us will need to send messages that people will resist.