[Update 10/29/2008 2:20 p.m.: A bunch of hits from freerepublic.com and similar sites suggest that Rush Limbaugh picked this story up, apparently in a credulous way, on his show today. I believe that he referenced the AAPS site, not this one, but people are finding their way here via web search.
So for any internet pilgrims who may be reading quickly: There is no credible evidence that Barack Obama -- or any other candidate in the current election cycle -- is attempting to use NLP or any other hypnosis-like technique. The discussion in the item on the AAPS site is a combination of unsupported assertions, transparent falsehoods, and general properties of political rhetoric as practiced by all effective candidates of all parties. The longer anonymous piece at Freedom's Phoenix is no better.
In my opinion, no one should treat this story as anything other than an opportunity for a good laugh at the wilder edges of current political paranoia; and anyone who promotes it seriously is either a fool or a scoundrel.]
At the web site of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons ("A Voice for Private Physicians Since 1943"), there's an unsigned "News of the Day" item dated October 25, 2008, under the title "Oratory — or hypnotic induction?". This article's disturbing message is indicated by the rhetorical questions in its opening sentences:
Is Barack Obama a brilliant orator, captivating millions through his eloquence? Or is he deliberately using the techniques of neurolinguistic programming (NLP), a covert form of hypnosis developed by Milton Erickson, M.D.?
67 additional pages of anonymous evidence and argument can be found in "An Examination of Obama's Use of Hidden Hypnosis Techniques in His Speeches", hosted at Freedom's Phoenix ("Reigniting the Flames of Freedom"), a conservative website based in Phoenix, AZ.
But please don't panic; simply put on your tinfoil hat and continue straight ahead to the end of this post.
Before considering these issues further, we need to help you distinguish between the AAPS whose red-white-and-blue logo has the rod of Asclepius between the two As, and the AAPS whose yellow-green-and-white logo has the it between the second A and the P:
The first one is the "Association of American Physicians and Surgeons", based in Tucson, Arizona. Wikipedia quotes Time Magazine as calling it "an ultra-conservative political action group", and notes that its publication, The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, has published articles arguing that the FDA is unconstitutional, that humanists have conspired to replace the "creation religion of Jehovah" with evolution, that HIV does not cause AIDS, and that vaccination and fluoridation are harmful to public health. Ron Paul is a prominent member. They are against government regulation and in favor of Newfoundland dogs.
The second one is the "American Association of Physician Specialists", with offices in Tampa, Florida, which publishes the American Journal of Clinical Medicine, and is one of the organizations that oversees board certification and re-certification in medical specializations from Anesthesiology to Radiation Oncology. They appear to approve of the FDA, and to have no official position on dog breeds.
As another piece of background, you may need a primer on Neurolinguistic Programming, familiarly (if confusingly) known as NLP, an approach to psychotherapy developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder at Santa Cruz, CA, in the 1970s. The Wikipedia article is a reasonable introduction, or at least it seems that way to me. I'm certainly no expert — I've never quite gotten over being puzzled about the name, since the ideas seem to have nothing at all to do with programming, and very little to do with either neurology or linguistics.
OK, the stage is set for an epic confrontation: the libertarian medical wingnuts of Arizona against the New Age psychological moonbats of California, with Barack Obama in the middle of it all. Can the robocalls be far behind? News at 11:00.
Alas, that's all that I have time for this morning. Keep those tinfoil hats on tight, and in due course we'll take a look at the evidence and the arguments.
[Hat tip: Christian DiCanio]
[Update: Although the cited news item is unsigned, I gather that this web site is managed by Dr. Jane Orient, the Executive Director of the AAPS. Therefore, I'll refer to her as the author, pending better information. She (or the author operating under her guidance) writes that:
A fundamental tool of “conversational hypnosis” is pacing and leading—a way for the hypnotist to bypass the listener’s critical faculty by associating repeated statements that are unquestionably accurate with the message he wants to convey.
In his Denver acceptance speech, Obama used the phrases “that’s why I stand here tonight,” “now is the time,” and “this moment” 14 times.
The most obvious interpretation of the last sentence is that the cited three phrases were used 14 times each, for a total of 42 hypnotic repetitions. Alternatively, you might think that the sum of repetitions across all three phrases was 14 — certainly less hypnotically effective, but still perhaps noteworthy.
However, under either reading, the AAPS claim is simply a lie. According to the transcript of that speech, the sum of uses of the cited three phrases is 9:
|"that's why I stand here tonight"||1|
|"now is the time"||6|
|"this moment"||2 (4)|
(Sen. Obama uses "this moment" twice — but on one of the occasions of use, he repeats it three times because it's the start of a sentence after a big applause line, and the applause doesn't die down, so that he has to stop and start over twice. Thus you could count this phrase as occurring twice, or as occurring four times. Less than 14 in either case…)
[Update: in the comments, Brad pointed out an unfortunate mistake in the earlier version of this post -- I originally counted just one use of "now is the time", not six -- I guess I looked by mistake on just one on-line page. The count is now corrected above.]
Dr. Orient's explanation continues:
Paces are connected to the lead by words such as “and,” “as,” “because,” or “that is why.” For example, “we need change” (who could disagree?)…and…that is why I will be your next President.”
Her rhetorical point may be valid, but again, there is an extraordinary lack of elementary care to stay within the bounds of truth. The phrase as cited doesn't appear in the transcript of Sen. Obama's speech. Nor do any of the three-word subphrases "we need change", "that is why", "I will be", "your next president".
No doubt one can find examples in Sen. Obama's acceptance speech — as in any speech — where universally accepted formulations are coupled with more controversial assertions. What's shocking here is that Dr. Orient didn't even bother to try to find one, but simply made something up. This is even more breathtakingly solipsistic than James Wood's attack on Sarah Palin's pronunciation and use of verbiage.
I could go on, but it would be cruel. Could it be that Dr. Jane Orient is a sort of Manchurian Libertarian, programmed by evil leftists at Columbia Medical School to infiltrate and subvert the movement for free-market medicine, by publishing absurd conspiracy theories full of easily-checked falsehoods?. That's implausible, I know — but what's the alternative? That she's a dishonest polemicist who is used to inventing "facts" out of thin air, secure in the belief that no one in her audience will ever check? Surely that can't be true of a medical school professor.]