Monday, July 11, 2005


In previous installments of “The Counterpoint,” we’ve seen examples of how Mark Hyman often uses propaganda techniques to make his arguments. Given the central role these tactics play in his rhetoric, I thought it helpful to come up with a way of A) pointing out that nearly every edition of “The Point” makes use of standard propaganda techniques, and B) comparing individual “Point” commentaries to each other in terms of how much they rely on propaganda techniques.

The result is what I’m calling the Hyman Index.

The basic formula is to count up the number of statements in a given commentary that are examples of propaganda techniques (P) and divide this number by the length of the commentary in words (W), not counting the obligatory signoff (i.e., “And that’s The Point.”). The result is then multiplied by 100 and rounded to the nearest one hundredth (P/W * 100).

This allows us to get a fairly objective read on how much of the content of a given commentary is devoted to propagandistic appeals.

The major variable is what one counts as propaganda techniques. There are any number of lists of emotional appeals and examples of misleading or faulty logic that we could use. I think the best approach, however, is to keep things simple. In my count, I’m using the list drawn up in the 1930s by the Institute
of Propaganda Analysis. Their list of different types of appeals is fairly short, and some might argue that the categories are overly broad as a result. However, I think using an abbreviated list will make things easier to understand and will allow us to more easily discriminate between persuasive appeals and true propaganda (some lists of propaganda techniques are so vast and detailed that almost any statement more subjective than a mathematical equation would fall under one of the categories).

The IPA list is as follows:

Word games

Glittering generalities

False connections

Special Appeals
Plain Folks

Logical fallacies
Bad Logic or propaganda?
Unwarranted extrapolation

For our purposes, logical fallacies will include fairly standard examples of bad logic, such as post hoc reasoning and “slippery slope” arguments.

So let’s see the Hyman index in action! Here’s the text of a “Point” commentary from a week ago that I didn’t comment on at the time because it was taken off of the Newscentral website, then suddenly reappeared. I’ve placed the names of propaganda appeals in brackets after the relevant statements. I’ve tried to be as generous as I can with Hyman’s rhetoric; you might feel I’m being a bit stingy in what I’m labeling propaganda. You might also not agree with my particular label, given that the IPA categories are broad enough that there is bound to be some overlap. However, I’ve tried to be as reasonable and careful as I can in making my calls.

Earlier this month the Portland, Maine School Committee adopted a policy that advocates discrimination. [NAME CALLING]

The committee voted 6-3 to direct its lawyer to rewrite the policy regarding the distribution of fliers to students. Their intention is to ban Boy Scouts literature. The reason? The Boy Scouts do not allow openly homosexual Scouts or leaders. The city of Portland has an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

You know those nasty old Boy Scouts. They've been the scourge of American society for years. [PLAIN FOLKS]

So what's next? Banning evangelical Christian, Catholic and Muslim students because of their religious views on sexual orientation? Will servicemen and women family members be banned from attending school functions because of the military's policies? [UNWARRANTED EXTRAPOLATION]

The city's website proudly displays a colorful boast that "Portland [is] where diversity works." But this is code meaning that only a narrow set of views are accepted. [NAME CALLING] Fail to embrace them and you are banished forever. [FEAR]
You don't have to agree with the Boy Scouts' policy on the exclusion of openly homosexual Scouts and leaders to recognize theirs is but one viewpoint. In other words diversity. [BANDWAGON]

The irony is that tailoring a policy to ban certain groups - groups such as the Boy Scouts that have accomplished more good than most - is just an officially sanctioned form of discrimination. [NAME CALLING]

You can share your views with the Portland School Committee at (207) 874-8100 or at

Dividing the number of propagandistic appeals Hyman uses (7) by the number of total words in the commentary, multiplying by 100, and then rounding to the hundredths place, we get a Hyman Index of 2.98. After doing a number of test runs on other editions of the commentary, this seems to be about average (the range being from about 1.5 to 4.5).

I’ll include a Hyman Index, whenever applicable, to future Counterpoints and comment on them when they reveal something particularly interesting.


At 5:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It might be more revealing to compare the number of propagandistic statements with the number of sentences in the entire text. That would reveal what portion of the commentary is unsupported rhetorical button-pressing in a number that's more easily grasped than the proposed statements-to-words ratio.

And in this case, the number is, by my count, 7/18, or about 39%. So I guess it isn't so bad; Hyman's propagandizing less than half the time.

At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ted, I like the idea of quantifying Hyman's excesses. There is clearly an opportunity here to make comparisons of his propaganda rate vs. famous predecessors.

Didn't your fellow Fringe Thinker, Michael Ball, get the Wrath of Hyman because of his interest in this topic?

I'd probably agree that the actual quantification can be tricky. Should statements be stripped of their grammatical excesses to only examine "meaning units", or should the rhetorical flourishes (such as a string of adjectives) be all quantified? What would Noam Chomsky do?

At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the Hyman Index is a great idea Ted. Granted, it will be difficult to be totally objective. It's kind of like asking someone to rate the stench level of individual piles of faeces. But, there is one thing that I am reasonably sure of. So much excrement passes over his tongue and through his lips, that his breath must have the odor of flatulence.

P.S. Please don't parse this comment through the 'Hymanometer'.

Thanks, and keep bustin' Hyman!
Mike B. in SC


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