Discovered: The Amazing Dr. Fox Video

One famous speech in public speaking history is the Dr. Fox lecture. Researchers hired an actor to pose as an expert, and he gave a meaningless, but complex sounding, jargon filled speech to a group of true experts. The result? The majority of them were fooled into thinking they’d learned something, despite there being no substance to the lecture.

From the researchers:

The authors hypothesized that given a sufficiently impressive lecture paradigm, even experienced educators participating in a new learning experience can be seduced into feeling satisfied that they have learned despite irrelevant, conflicting, and meaningless content conveyed by the lecturer… The authors conclude by emphasizing that student satisfaction with learning may represent little more than the illusion of having learned.

It’s a canonical reference on how vulnerable to B.S. we all can be and how much power a good speaker has, power than be used for good or bad.

The problem is the lecture was impossible to find. During research for Confessions of a Public Speaker (Chapter 8 explores the implications of Dr. Fox for speakers and audiences), I couldn’t find a single person who had seen the video, much less had a copy. Thanks to Mikhail Simkin, it’s now online.

Here is the Dr. Fox video and the paper describing the study (with data).


6 Responses to “Discovered: The Amazing Dr. Fox Video”

  1. Sean Crawford

    Back in the late 90’s at university a sessional professor showed a disorganized animated documentary about politics and Gaia that had us all baffled. As I watched I wondered if it was a Dr. Fox trick. (It wasn’t)

    I used to treasure two speakers at my community hall self-help meeting because as they spoke I would go into a learning reverie, kind of an altered state, in which I felt I was learning about life. I probably wasn’t learning, but it felt good.

  2. Tim

    I think Dr Fox’s talk – his words, not his mannerisms – are the most convincing, exquisitely crafted set of deliberate nonsense I’ve heard for a long time. He drops the right names, and explains most of his jargon, much of it correctly!

    His talk is supposed to be an inactive placebo, living on style alone, and it’s not. Sure, it’s a little incoherent, bounces from topic to topic, and occasionally seems to assert things which are flat-out false, but in isolation many parts seem to make sense.

    In the interests of prevention of meta-bullshit – ie. jumping to incorrect conclusions about how people fail to identify bullshit:
    1. There should be a transcript of Dr Fox’s words.

    2. … and those words need reviewing by someone who knows more Game Theory than I do.

  3. Surge

    Scott, I really learned alot from this post.. Thanks. I also read #44. I have been wrestling with these topics for some time and it was good to see something written so that I could understand and learn some direction in accepting, overcoming and preventing future problems… opportunities… I will be back to read more. Thanks again!!



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