Shrinks Think Earth's at Brink, Raise Stink, Get USA Today Ink and Pun Salad Link

The story in Wednesday's USA Today (which would, I guess, make it USA Day Before Yesterday) is headlined "Psychologists determine what it means to think 'green'".

Those who make human behavior their business aim to make living "green" your business.
Uh oh. Those who mind their own business, and think others should do the same, should read on.
Armed with new research into what makes some people environmentally conscious and others less so, the 148,000-member American Psychological Association is stepping up efforts to foster a broader sense of eco-sensitivity that the group believes will translate into more public action to protect the planet.
Yes, an organization that bills itself as a "scientific and professional organization" is looking to spur "public action" in an area in which they have no expertise.

In other news, the Association for Computing Machinery will soon be offering diet tips and movie reviews.

"We know how to change behavior and attitudes. That is what we do," says Yale University psychologist Alan Kazdin, association president. "We know what messages will work and what will not."
Ah, Professor Kazdin? Here's what doesn't work: telling people you're on a mission to improve the bad behavior and ignorant attitudes of the masses, to make them more like… well, you.

You gotta keep such arrogant pronouncements sotto voce, lest the rubes get wind of your scheme.

People have wanted to mold the "behavior and attitudes" of the unenlightened for years and years now. Does Kazdin really have some new social-engineering tools he can bring to bear on us? Reading on, here's some of the "new research" that promises to deliver us into eco-utopia:

Walking outside rather than inside — even for just 15 minutes — makes you feel happier, more energetic and more protective of the environment, found two studies involving 220 students conducted by psychologists at Carleton University in Ottawa.
If your local psychologist starts demanding that you walk outside 15 minutes per day, this is why. It's all part of Professor Kazdin's plan, and has been proven effective by studies of 220 Canadian college students.
Negative feedback can backfire. In two studies, psychologist Amara Brook of California's Santa Clara University and colleague Jennifer Crocker of the University of Michigan asked 212 undergraduates about their ecological footprint. For those not heavily invested in the environment, negative feedback about their ecological footprint actually undermines their environmental behavior, they found.
Translation: Nagging people, at least American undergraduates, about their eco-piggery does not work.
News stories that provided a balanced view of climate change reduced people's beliefs that humans are at fault and also reduced the number of people who thought climate change would be bad, according to research by Stanford social psychologist Jon Krosnick.
Translation: the masses cannot be trusted to hear skepticism. If Professor Kazdin's plan is to come to fruition, these voices must be silenced!

Also interviewed for the story was "social psychologist" Jessica Nolan, who, like the psychologists above, had a captive research flock of undergraduates. She looked at "global warming, recycling and improper disposal of used motor oil":

She found that students are not particularly inclined to disapprove of the non-sustainable behavior of others.

"People showed strong approval for other students who recycled. You would hope to see people disapprove of people who don't recycle, but they didn't disapprove," she says.

But, she says, the response was stronger if the activity was perceived as more harmful: More students said they would scold someone if they saw that person improperly disposing of motor oil.

So another part of the strategy is, apparently, to turn Americans into a bunch of neighbor-eyeballing nags and scolds. Great. But what about Amara's and Jennifer's research findings on negative feedback?

I know, it's USA Today, and that was fifteen whole paragraphs ago.

To paraphrase Lincoln Steffens: I have seen the future, and it's tedious, strident, self-contradictory, and stupid.

Caught in the Spam Filter

I got an amusing e-mail a few days ago. First, let's look at some relevant header lines.

From  Sat Aug  2 09:40:03 2008
Return-Path: <>
Received: from ( [])
        by (8.13.8/8.13.8) with SMTP id m72DcGfs003417
        for <>; Sat, 2 Aug 2008 09:38:18 -0400
  • The subject line might as well say: If you've been gullible in the past, you're probably a prime target to be swindled again!

  • The envelope's From says it's from '', which is Germany. And the message was received from some German server. OWL Tipps is (as near as I can tell) a travel site for the East Westphalia-Lippe region. I smell a hacked account.

  • Ah, but the message has its own From: line, which is the BRITISH HIGH COMMISSION. Sounds official. But why would the BRITISH HIGH COMMISSION have a Gmail address,

  • Best of all, the message has a Reply-To: (Many mailers will send your reply to the Reply-To: address without asking.) It's in India.

  • The To: line doesn't contain my address; which means my address was probably in the Bcc: line of the message, along with (almost certainly) a few hundred others.

On to the message itself:

Metro Plaza, Plot 991/992

Maimalari Street

Cadastral Zone AO,

Central business district

This is the most accurate part of the message. That's actually a valid Nigerian address, but it currently appears to be a Visa Application Center for the UK, run by VFS, a commercial partner of the British High Commission. (Google indicates the address used to appear on the BHC website, but doesn't any more.)

Needless to say, it's unclear why the GMail-addressed BHC in Nigeria might be sending this important e-mail out through a German travel site server with an Indian reply-to address.



The BRITISH High Commission in Nigeria, Benin Republic, Ghana and Bokinafaso received a report of scam against you and other British/US citizens and Malaysia Etc. […]

Right. The 'Etc.' is a nice touch. A New Zealander receiving this message might otherwise think it was bogus.
The Countries of Nigeria, Benin Republic, Ghana and Bokinafaso have recompensed you following the meeting held with the Four countries' Government and various countries' high commission for the fraudulent activities carried out by the Four countries' Citizens.Your name was among those scammed as listed by the Nigeria Financial Intelligent Unit (NFIU).
A skeptic might note the unusual wording, dodgy punctuation, non-standard capitalization. And then there's the spelling: "Bokinafaso" is probably "Burkina Faso" and "Nigeria Financial Intelligent Unit" is probably meant to refer to the "Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU)", both of which actually exist.
A compensation has been issued out to all the affected victims and has been already in endorsement to all the victims. Yours was among those that was reported unpaid as at on Friday and we wish to advise you to see to the instructions of the Committee to make sure you receive your compensation immediately.
Ooooh! Compensation! And it's coming immediately! What do I have to do?
We advise that you do the needful to make sure the NFIU endorse your payment on Monday. Contact the office of the consular for an advise on how your recompense will be effected to you.

I need advise on how to do the needful to get my recompense effected to me? And I thought you said the compensation was "already in endorsement to all the victims." I'm confused!

I'll give the author this, however: they get the distinction between 'affect' and 'effect' right, a feat that eludes (or "alludes") many American college students.

Be advised that you should stop further contacts with all the fake lawyers and security companies who in collaboration scammed you.
"Don't talk to all those other fakers! Talk to us!"
Immediately to check if the endorsement date suits you.
Um, sure. That was "Monday", right?
Yours in Service,

Joy Daniel

I'll be in touch, Joy!

(Other versions of this: here, here, here.)