The Dr. Fox Lecture

In 1970 three American researchers, John E. Ware, Donald H. Naftulin and Frank A. Donnelly, designed an experiment to find out whether a brilliant delivery technique of a talk could so completely bamboozle a group of experts that they overlooked the fact that the content was nonsense. The result was the hilarious Dr Fox Lecture and the answer was: yes! The experts didn’t notice a thing.

More on this from Weird Experiments:

The lecture that Myron L. Fox delivered to the assembled experts had an impressive enough title: ‘Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education’. Those responsible for running the University of Southern California School of Medicine’s psychiatry department’s continuing education programme had taken themselves off to Lake Tahoe in northern California for their annual conference and a continuing education program. There, Fox – who was billed as an ‘authority on the application of mathematics to human behaviour’ – presented the first paper. His polished performance so impressed the audience of psychiatrists, family doctors and general internists that nobody noticed that the man standing at the lectern wasn’t really Myron L. Fox from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine but Michael Fox a movie actor who though having considerable experience in playing doctors in TV shows didn’t know the first thing about game theory. (According to the Internet Movie Data Base Michael Fox was the reason Michael J. Fox from back to the future fame inserted the ‘J’ into his name, as the Screen Actors Guild only allows one person of each name to be registered).

Fox was trained to give this talk only the day before. He was given an article from „Scientific American“ on game theory and worked up a lecture from it that was intentionally full of imprecise waffle, invented words and contradictory assertions.

5 Comments

  1. Hard to know what this experiment proves. I’m sure many of the people in the audience probably thought he was a smart guy, but his talk was incoherent and they didn’t get much from it. Whether they thought he was a fraud is a different matter.

    To put it another way, the audience probably categorizes speakers into three categories: (1) people who taught them something, (2) people who seem smart and know what they’re talking about, but are rambling and difficult to understand, (3) people who are bullshitting. The audience seems to have miscategorized the speaker as being in category #2 instead of correctly identifying him as category #3. Also, it’s not uncommon for smart people to have odd affect or go off on tangents, and a lot of people would rather say the guy is smart than admit they didn’t know what he was talking about (because that would make them look dumb).

Comments are closed.