Monday, June 30, 2008

Repetition ≠ Truth

Cheating 'Scheme' Confirmed at Ultimate BetThere is a term often used in advertising called the “truth effect.” The idea has been around for a long, long time, as long as advertising has existed, I’d imagine.

Academics in the fields of sociology, psychology, and marketing research have investigated the concept extensively from the late 1960s onward, producing numerous studies trying both to define it and explain what causes it. I’m not sure who actually coined the phrase “truth effect,” though a trio of researchers named Hasher, Goldstein, and Toppino are frequently credited with having first advanced the idea in an academic context back in 1977.

The idea isn’t that complicated. Basically, “truth effect” refers to the idea that repeated statements are more often believed than true statements.

That is the gist of it, anyway. There are other factors such as source credibility (i.e., the ethos or past reputation of the person delivering the statement) and source variability (i.e., whether the statement comes from different sources) that tend to matter here. But you get the general idea. People often believe something after hearing it repeated over and over and over again, regardless of the truth of the statement or other criteria by which we might otherwise choose to verify the statement’s validity.

If you have happened to listen to any episodes of The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, you’ve heard glaring examples of advertisers relying on the “truth effect” in the old cigarette ads that pop up in just about every episode of those old radio shows. (Each episode of the HBPRS contains an entire old time radio show complete with the original commercials.) Probably even more obvious there, as it sounds quite jarring to our twenty-first century ears to hear someone earnestly professing over and again that doctors energetically recommend their brand of cigarette.

I sometimes get readers landing here at Hard-Boiled Poker after having searched for information about the “super-user” cheating scandal over on UltimateBet, simply because I’ve written several posts on the subject. I was glad to see that late last week John Caldwell of PokerNews interviewed Annie Duke, paid spokesperson for UltimateBet, specifically to get her take on what happened at UB. You can reach that interview here.

As I’ve been spending most of my waking hours at the Rio covering the WSOP the last three days, I only had the chance to watch the interview earlier this morning. Unfortunately, it reveals very little in the way of new information. For a terrific breakdown of the interview, go read the PokerGrump’s response. He smartly analyzes just about all of Duke’s responses and gives the online poker player a lot of food for thought regarding whether or not one should ever play at UltimateBet.

I’m about to head back over to the Rio again this afternoon, so I haven’t time myself to produce such a thoughtful analysis, though I will say a couple of points stood out for me on listening to the interview, both of which are related to the “truth effect.”

One, in responding to Caldwell’s questions about UB’s handling of the matter, Duke correctly points out that the site did issue two interim statements along the way and, as Duke puts it, “they both basically said the same thing: there’s a problem, we’re investigating it.”

Yep, that’s what happened. I’d add that their final statement on the matter pretty much amounted to a third instance of the same statement, only the tense had changed; i.e., there was a problem, and we investigated it. Not much in the way of concrete info, and a clear reliance on the “truth effect” to get the idea across that UB was doing what it should be doing.

Secondly, early in the interview Duke says she believes UltimateBet “handled this particular issue not only with grace and integrity, [but]... management stepped up to the plate in a way that they actually didn’t have to from... a legal standpoint.”

Anyone who has paid any attention at all to the UB matter and how it was handled will instinctively cringe at all three of these observations, as none of them -- “grace,” “integrity,” or “stepping up to the plate” -- seem to apply whatsover. The communications with customers were awkward and indirect, not graceful. The vagueness and non-responsiveness of UB throughout hardly bespoke integrity. And the entire “we’re completely new; it was the old guys who did this” routine certainly sounds more like disowning the problem, not “stepping up to the plate.”

In any event, at the very end of the interview Duke is asked once more about UltimateBet’s handling of the affair, and Duke’s response has a weirdly uncanny ring to it. She says there at the end that she thinks the scandal “was actually handled very gracefully... and with integrity, and they stepped up to the plate in a way much more than they really had to by any letter of the law.”

Again, the instinctive cringe. None of these observations are at all true. Not if measured by other criteria for determining validity.

But they are being repeated. And I assume we’ll be hearing them again and again. Like an advertisement.

Respond accordingly.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What confuses me about the whole thing is...If stealing is a come the law hasn't been involved? If they come no one has been charged? Why have no names have been released? etc...

6/30/2008 8:24 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The repetition in advertising is very similar to the concept of "talking points" in the political realm. Multiple people on one side come out and say the same thing, and very often by the end of that very day, unquestioning news organizations are passing along those talking points as fact.

The 2+2 podcast had what I thought was a pretty good interview with a rep from UltimateBet where they hit him with good questions, such as the fact that after the whole thing went down at Absolute, Scott Tom and AJ Green were not fired, let alone prosecuted, but instead were kept on as consultants for a while afterwards, and no charges were filed in exchange for complete knowledge of what happened and how. I guess this isn't that different from a hacker breaking into a website and then selling his services to the website's company to help them beef up security.... oh wait, yes it is, COMPLETELY different, because in this case it was done by senior management of the company, and stole money from customers in the process.

But of course Seif, and now Duke, are toeing the line. I hope they can justify to themselves that it's not putting a price on their integrity.

7/01/2008 10:25 AM  
Blogger Random Table Draw said...

Duke is the only person that has elicited the same unprovoked response from 4 different interviewees that I've spoken with, even her former best friend and that persons then boyfriend:
"She is not a good person."
You don't have to dig far to find out why.

I submit this to you...thanks to the guys at LaB:

7/01/2008 2:02 PM  

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