‘Cognitive Infiltration’: the Dark Side of the Nudge

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2 Responses

  1. Will Howe says:

    For some reason my first comment didn’t show up, so I’ll try again (more briefly).

    1. Sunstein didn’t author some secret “memo” that was sniffed out by Greenwald. He wrote an academic paper with Adrian Vermeule about “Conspiracy Theories” that anyone can read here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1084585

    2. Writing from an academic POV, the authors address conspiracy theories of a particular type: those that are demonstrably false and that incubate in closed echo chambers. Their recommendation that, within certain limits, the government might consider injecting some “truth” into these echo chambers is far less controversial than this article makes it appear. When you use the quotes “cognitive infiltration” of “anti-government groups” you are (perhaps unwittingly) citing Greenwald’s fears, not Sunstein’s position.

    3. As to the substance of your point, it’s not clear to me that the publicity principle “assumes officials and the public will be on the same page.” Is it not possible that an official could recognize the public might object to something, even if he personally doesn’t? Why must they be “on the same page”? There is an assumption there, but it’s one that’s baked into our representative democracy: that politicians can roughly assess public preferences.

  2. Ryan Calo says:


    This is a valid correction. Thank you. My claim, of course, was that “according to reporting” but I appreciate the context you have rightfully furnished.

    As to your substantive point: the publicity principle assumes that officials will be in a position to anticipate public reaction. I’m saying they often will not be. I don’t see this as a particularly controversial, and indeed it echoes criticism of libertarian paternalism by Rizzo, Whitman, Schlag, Glaeser and others to the effect that officials, too, have cognitive biases.