This morning, I am going to violate my self-imposed admonition against advising billionaires how to spend their money. How to invest it is what I do for a living, but how to spend it is something else entirely.

The basis for this rule waiver/advice was a front page NYT article: After Business and Politics, Mayor Tests Opinion:

“After conquering Wall Street in the 1970s, crushing competitors in the information-technology industry in the ’80s and reigning over New York City politics for the past decade, the ever-ambitious Mr. Bloomberg now wants to dominate a new sphere — the world of opinion . . .

Not everyone inside Bloomberg L.P. is enthusiastic: its news arm is known for bleaching stories of extraneous adjectives, conjunctions and descriptions, adopting a just-the-facts ethos that has earned it a reputation for fairness.”

What I find most appealing about Bloomberg is his modus operandi:  He is a data-driven, nonpartisan, centrist thinking Technocrat. That stands out from the typical modern pol, so dependent upon spin. But Bloomberg can turn that to his advantage, with a little unconventional thinking and a broader approach to journalism, media and opinion-making.

Bloomberg found success in financial data by being the most accurate, comprehensive, and timely source dedicated to that data flow; the competition could not keep up, and now Bloomberg owns the space. But I suspect being merely another source of opinions in a very crowded space is far less likely to achieve much more  than a passing success for hizzoner.

Why? Because Bloomberg LLC is the anti-opinion news source. For the traditional opinion makers, BBerg’s trength is a disadvantage.  That alone makes it unlikely it will attract a broad following.

What Michael Bloomberg should do however, is Jiu jitsu that “weakness” into a potential advantage.

How? Consider the numerous intractable problems facing the nation. When it comes to policy making, there are several issues in particular that lead us astray:

1) Agnotology and the rise of the Flat Earthers

2) The slow demise of competitive Investigative Journalism

3) No penalty for being “Reality Challenged”

As it relates to the opinion making that Bloomberg wants to pursue, I suggest he consider aggressively undertaking the following:

1) Establish a “Round Earth Think Tank:” The goal is to produce definitive research on who is manufacturing ignorance, bad info, propaganda. Create an accurate data driven set of facts. As long as policy makers are debating reality, it becomes impossible to respond to real issues

2) Facilitate Investigative Journalism: Whether its helping organizations such as Pro Publica or using the Business Week platform for deeper dives, Democracy does not work well without an aggressive Fourth Estate.

3) Punish the Agnotologists: Use your platform, celebrity and non-partisan reputation to punish those people that consistently lie to the American people. Call out the political figures that constantly make false claims; challenge the ongoing debasement of knowledge and scientific method.

4) Establish a PAC: Donate money to opponents of these candidates. If you are going to run for public office on a campaign of disinformation, expect to face well-funded opponents.

That is my simple advice for Michael Bloomberg: To influence opinion, you must understand the state of current opinion-making, and how it got that way. To truly influence opinions, one needs to see the flaws in the current process — and fix them . . .


After Business and Politics, Mayor Tests Opinion
NYT, February 28, 2011

Category: Financial Press, UnScience, Web/Tech

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

20 Responses to “Attention Mayor Bloomberg: How to Influence Opinion”

  1. Why “Round Earth Think Tank” ?

    Because Oblate Spheroid Think Tank sounds too technical . . .

  2. Eidesis says:

    This is an excellent line of thinking – in too many cases the institution of punditry has taken complete leave of objective reality. The reason is obvious – why let facts stand in a way of a good story line? Budget deficit debates are prime example – all the focus is on cutting fiscally-irrelevant expenditures whereas the only areas that matter – the entitlements – are left unmentioned for fear of political consequences. Not a way to run a railroad except, perhaps, into the ground.

  3. Jesse the kid says:

    More great advice likely to be ignored.

  4. matt wilbert says:

    I would like Bloomberg or someone to do this, but I’m not sure how their credibility would survive the inevitable smears which would follow. The same techniques that are used to deceive people about the underlying issues would be used to deceive people about the referee.

  5. diogeron says:

    Great post, BR, simply great.

    I’ve been reading “Solar”, Ian McEwan’s latest book this week, as fine a writer as we have in the English language, IMHO. Last night I came across the words, “aggressively low intelligence,” a phrase that seems applicable to agnotologists of all stripes as referenced in Barry’s post.

    The Texas Board of Education comes to mind for continually demonstrating that pooled ignorance is still ignorance.

  6. louiswi says:

    Any journalism professor and any trained journalist will tell you the story is what it is all about. Facts are irrelevant. that thinking extends to talking heads on the 24 hour networks as well.

    When I was a kid, it was explained that NEWS meant a gathering and subsequent presentation of facts from North, East, West, and South. I don’t know if that was true but it sounded logical. I propose today we change the monikor to OFTAA instead of NEWS. OFTAA would mean “One F$%king Thing After Another”. The direct and predictable outcome of having to deliver stuff for a straight 24 hours in a row.

  7. dimm says:

    “Bloomberg LLC is the anti-opinion news source.”

    hmm I guess you skip what caroline baum and some others write.


    BR: But those are clearly delineated as opinion . . .

  8. IS_LM says:

    hmm I guess you skip what caroline baum and some others write.

    Don’t forget Amity Shlaes, the economic historian who’s neither economist nor historian.

  9. Arequipa01 says:

    Here is my contribution to the project- (no thanks necessary):

    “A [naïve] missionary of the Middle Ages even tells us that, in one of his voyages in search of the terrestrial paradise, he reached the horizon where the earth and the heavens met, and that he discovered a certain point where they were not joined together, and where, by stooping [his shoulders], he passed under the roof of the heavens…”

  10. BusSchDean says:

    Imagine how a business educator feels about a world where insightful, fact-based discussions dominate public debate, lies and intentional misrepresentations are quickly debunked, and the Fourth Estate is not embedded with (or in bed with) the stories it tells. Yee Haw!!!

  11. alnval says:

    Great Post!! I’m writing this after finishing a kitchen table discussion with my wife about this very topic. We were talking about how Scott Walker’s decision making process is significantly impaired by his failure to recognize that not getting input (no collective bargaining) from the people who have to implement his decisions will reduce their quality. This discussion was prompted by my having called a national satellite TV provider to get information about the services available only to find that the person answering the phone (think first contact person with potential new customer) can’t answer my questions.

    In both cases there is an information deficit; 1) on the part of the manager (Walker) and, 2) the TV provider management that degrades the level of service resulting in a better than chance probability that costs will go up and/or profits will go down.

    I’m not sure that being part of the mediocre middle is much different than membership in the flat-earth society. Regardless, the failure to incorporate data relevant to one’s job description can easily be described as “reality challenged.”

  12. DSS10 says:

    Model option 1 after the National Academy of Sciences. Eliminate conflict of intrest and be completely transparent with the findings….

  13. beaufou says:

    Good advice BR but I wonder if Bloomberg’s iniative isn’t futile.
    With all the information available at the tip of your fingers, people still choose the constructed reality of 24 hour news, mainly Fox who have done a great job at mocking intelligence and constructive criticism.
    BBerg will be labeled the dweeb network.
    Good luck to them, but I’ll stick to reading the news from different sources.

  14. Julia Chestnut says:

    I would love to see a Round Earth think tank. Hell, I’d just love to see round earthers quoted on TV.

  15. Arequipa01 says:

    “Why? Because Bloomberg LLC is the anti-opinion news source. For the traditional opinion makers, BBerg’s trength is a disadvantage. That alone makes it unlikely it will attract a broad following.”

    I respectfull disagree with the notion that his operation is ‘anti-opinion’. One, not possible. Two, as a daily listener to the live tv feed and a Bahktin devotee, I can hear the voice of the commissar behind all the seeming heteroglossia. So, as far as the project. Great idea. Regarding Bloomie’s no gravy grits, nah. Not so much, tsigele.

  16. CasualObserver says:

    While I agree with you 100% you, the problem butts up with the Dunning-Kruger effect. In short…

    “The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to appreciate their mistakes.”

    When you you have a system where an honest discussion about the merits of Palliative Care becomes impossible, because it gets rebranded as “death panels” by those either have an agenda, or lack the wherewithal to even attempt to understand the difference, then you have a system where truth is incidental to the process.

    The other component to the Dunning-Kruger effect is that ” Competent individuals falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.” It’s one thing to convince those that listen to reasoned, well thought out arguments, and it’s quite another to sway people’s opinions who desperately need to believe in easy answers, who need something to point a finger at, and who idolize others that spew lies in the name of “entertainment.”

  17. Lewis says:

    As a cynical young person, may I just say that sounds f*cking awesome

  18. Mike in Nola says:

    If Bloomberg really wanted to do a service to his country, he would run for President. About the only guy I have confidence in to fix things as much as it is possible to do so at this point.

  19. chris says:

    Barry do you know how Americans view bloomberg ?