I love the reflexivity of this study (described by Ben Goldacre):

[A] set of experiments from the March 2008 edition of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience… elegantly show that people will buy into bogus explanations much more readily when they are dressed up with a few technical words from the world of neuroscience. Subjects were given descriptions of various psychology phenomena, and then randomly offered one of four explanations for them: the explanations either contained neuroscience, or didn’t; and they were either good explanations or bad ones (bad ones being, for example, simply circular restatements of the phenomenon itself)….

[T]he bogus neuroscience information had a particularly strong effect on peoples’ judgments of bad explanations. As quacks are well aware, adding scientific-sounding but conceptually uninformative information makes it harder to spot a dodgy explanation.

An interesting question is why. The very presence of neuroscience information might be seen as a surrogate marker of a good explanation, regardless of what is actually said. As the researchers say, “something about seeing neuroscience information may encourage people to believe they have received a scientific explanation when they have not.”…

More clues can be found in the extensive literature on irrationality. People tend, for example, to rate longer explanations as being more similar to “experts’ explanations”. There is also the “seductive details” effect: if you present related (but logically irrelevant) details to people, as part of an argument, that seems to make it more difficult for them to encode and later recall the main argument of a text, because attention is diverted.

But any meaningless filler, not just scientific jargon, can change behaviour: studies have found, for example, that people respond positively more often to requests with uninformative “placebo” information in them: office warriors will be interested to hear that “Can I use the photocopier? I have to make some copies,” is more successful than the simple “Can I use the photocopier?”

I hope that my Future 2.0 piece doesn’t fall in this category. Of course, if it does, I just need to sound extra-confident and certain, and throw around some more scientific-sounding terms.

[To the tune of The Cranberries, “Zombie,” from the album The Cranberries: Stars – The Best of 1992-2002 (I give it 2 stars).]