Al Gore smiling - 90This is outside of my usual geekery beat, but it fascinates me nonetheless: an excerpt from Al Gore’s new book, The Assault on Reason. I haven’t read the whole book yet, so I can’t necessarily recommend it. (Caveat lector.) But the excerpt is great, discussing, among other topics, how the manipulation of public opinion has been turned into a science.

A key anecdote from the former veep:

I vividly remember a turning point in [my first] Senate campaign when my opponent…was narrowing the lead I had in the polls. After a detailed review of all the polling information and careful testing of potential TV commercials, the anticipated response from my opponent’s campaign and the planned response to the response, my advisers made a recommendation and prediction that surprised me with its specificity: “If you run this ad at this many ‘points’ [a measure of the size of the advertising buy], and if Ashe responds as we anticipate, and then we purchase this many points to air our response to his response, the net result after three weeks will be an increase of 8.5% in your lead in the polls.”

I authorized the plan and was astonished when three weeks later my lead had increased by exactly 8.5%.

I bet that it’s actually pretty unusual for public opinion projections to be so spot on. Most polls have a margin of error of at least 3 percent, so Gore’s experience is probably a bit of a fluke. Still, it’s an interesting illustration of what seems to be Gore’s larger point: manipulating public opinion via television advertising is a science—but it ain’t rocket science. It’s actually pretty straightforward.

And the unfortunate result is that, with television being the dominant “information” source for most people, it’s astonishly easy to substitute emotion for reason and evidence in public discourse.

Hey, that sounds a lot like the climate debate for the past couple of decades, no?