back to article Nudge Unit flies into Nesta's arms: Is the hype justified?

No 10's controversial "nudge unit" has been spun out into a company - but it hasn't fallen far from the nest. The 16-strong Behavioural Insights Team (as it's known) will become a private entity and will be able to tap into cash originally set aside for fledgling inventors. It will then sell its services back to the government …

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Normal advertising is nudging?

Surely there is more to it than this?

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Maybe they can nudge themselves into humility, hard work, and a healthy scepticism about popularised science now they are semi-detached.

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Shaun Ryder - took me a minute

Or Richard Hammond presumably. Or Clint Boon might have been a bit more obvious.

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Re: they really do think we're stupid

Of course, or how could they not realise, as their use of this 'nudge' approach has been public knowledge for some time now, that we're aware of their attempts to manipulate us and always resist where their desires are not in harmony with our own. This sort of thing is why the only reason I vote now is out of respect for all of those people who lost their lives to ensure that I could. With the contempt in which the electorate is held by politicians (neatly illustrated by this article) of all sides I'm well aware of the fact that voting is otherwise pointless.

</rant>

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Unhappy

"why politicians often appear to think we're stupid"

No, it's because they *know* that the majority of people are either too lazy to actually *do* something about the crap that our lords and masters come up with or are so cynical about the whole political process that they realise that it really doesn't matter what we try and do, the politicians are going to do it anyway in their usual "completely divorced from the real world" manner.

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Anonymous Coward

More like the coercion unit

Stop smoking or we'll deny you health care, that sort of thing? The Demos guys will be advocating fridges that spy on you soon, if they haven't already.

Big statists, whether left- or right wing, meh.

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Re: More like the coercion unit

Err .. no.

Their biggest success - which effectively paid the cost of the unit for it's first 3 years - was looking at how to encourage people to pay their tax bill on-time. The research - which was all about what is the best 'design' so the article kinda seems to have missed the point here - looked at various methods and came up with some slightly personalised messages that pointed out the fact that 90-odd % of people in whatever location the recipient lived, pay their taxes on time.

Nothing really creepy or weird about it: it simply trying to find the least intrustive but effective way to resolve problems.

Having said that, I'm not sure how many other successes they've had, but presumably as an independent body, they could now be paid on results .. they won't be, coz that would set a very bad example for government initiatives, but in theory, they could.

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Anonymous Coward

The unit improved organ donor rates and payment of court fines? Does it matter which techniques they used if it worked (and was cost effective?)

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So ...

the end justifies the means ?

Heard that before somewhere

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re Does it matter?

@AC

Yes, it does. If the results were due to chance, further spending in that direction is likely to achieve nothing. Wasted, in other words.

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"The unit improved organ donor rates and payment of court fines? Does it matter which techniques they used if it worked (and was cost effective?)"

The article is challenging the assertion that the Nudge unit is achieving this happy outcome because of it's wannabe Seldon (as in Asimov's Hari Seldon) plans.

The fact the outcome is happy is nice, but is irrelevant to the point, RTFA.

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Try again, re Does it matter?

Yes it does. If the original result was due to chance, the next attempt will probably achieve nothing. A waste, therefore.

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@AC: "The unit improved organ donor rates "

"The unit improved organ donor rates "

No, that was a claim was made in a press release last year. It is not possible to support or disprove this claim, as it's too early to tell. To see how much of a difference the new advertising has made to registrations will require new research. If signups have increased it could be for a number of different reasons.

What has happened is that the marketing for donor registration increased. Is the ROI on that effective? We don't know. But there is no magic behavioural woo, here.

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@1st 2nd 3rd

In that case, if you want improved donor rates, why not run an online ad campaign featuring the passport pictures of people who aren't donors calling them selfish and greedy.

After all, you've just said the end justifies the means.

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Re: @1st 2nd 3rd

There has been a misunderstanding here. When I typed in my comment "Yes, it does", it was meant to appear under the original comment "Does it matter?"

But there was a delay in my comment appearing on this website, and it finally appeared under "Means justify the ends?"

I share your opinion that the ends do not justify the means, and sympathise with your comment.

But I do agree with the basic premise of the original article: that the "work" of the Nudge Unit is pseudo-scientific nonsense. On that basis I expect it will waste a lot of my taxes before it is finally killed off. Its future demise will probably be because a different fashionable thought has caught the minds of the essay-writing classes, rather than any scientific reason.

Well done, the Reg, in publishing the article.

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Innumerates

Willets, Letwin, Finkelstein. All essay-writing arts graduates, nobody with the remotest grasp of statistics.

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Try again

David Willets, Oliver Letwin and Danny (now Lord) Finkelstein. All essay-writing arts graduates, nobody with a solid grasp of numbers and statistics. PM Cameron is equally unqualified.

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Whaddya mean you've never heard of midata?

We should remember the Behavioural Insights Team's magnificent contribution to the soaraway success of midata, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills initiative to empower the consumer and make the economy grow.

Back in 2012 BIT and BIS jointly published a review of midata and a consultation document. Based on the results of which Whitehall legislated to make compliance statutory.

It is that crucial insight that if you want people to behave in a certain way then passing a law is probably the best way to proceed that NESTA are buying, with money that would otherwise finance mere innovation.

I am often asked about the genealogy of behavioural psychology. There is no doubt that the discipline owes everything to King Canute and his understanding of the behaviour of the sea.

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