What the Heck is a Distractor?

Anyone who has ever taken a multiple-choice exam has experience with distractors. Every question has one or more answers that look good, appear to be logical and just feel right. But they are wrong. Students that don’t really understand the question will choose them every time. Only those with in-depth knowledge of the subject can resist them and choose the correct answer. The teacher is thus able to minimize the chance that students will guess the correct answer. Politicians have traditionally been the grand masters of using distractors. They say one thing but do another while we are distracted by their rhetoric. Many people erroneously attribute the Law of Unintended Consequences to laws that really work just as intended but were promoted using good distractors thus leading people to think the distractor was actually signed into law. Even politicians with honorable intentions but slow reading skills get hoodwinked into voting for distractors because they don’t read what they are voting for. The radical environmentalists are giving the politicians a run for their money though. (Yes, I know it is really our money!) They have a whole litany of distractors that they have inculcated into our brains. They range from little green lies to great green whoppers but they are so well crafted and repeated so often that most folks treat them as proven theories. Meanwhile, the real agendas slide in the back door on the coattails of sympathetic or gullible politicians. Ever heard of the “Salmon Recovery Plan?” It makes Bill Clinton’s firing of a couple cruise missiles at an aspirin factory to get us to forget about Monica—what the heck was her name—pale in comparison. We don’t even think about the billions of dollars subsidizing commercial salmon fishing. If you want to know what is really going on in our world, get better at spotting and ignoring distractors. They are everywhere.

March 31, 2010