President Obama Has Ordered “Behavior Experiments” on Americans-Truth! & Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
President Obama has ordered behavioral experiments to be carried out on the American public through an executive order.
It’s true that President Obama signed an executive order encouraging federal agencies and departments to use behavioral insights when making policy decisions.
And it’s also true that behavioral insights can be gleaned through experimentation, but those two things have been patched together to create a fictional narrative that the executive order authorizes mass “behavioral experimentation” on Americans.
Those rumors spread across blog sites after the president signed the executive order calling for the use of “behavioral science insights to better serve the American people.”
These blog sites replaced the term “behavioral sciences” with the more ominous-sounding term “behavioral experiments” — but that term doesn’t actually appear anywhere in the executive order.
The word “experimentation” does, however, appear in the definition of behavioral sciences in the Psychology Dictionary:
A scientific discipline which studies the actions and interactions of organisms, particularly humans and animals. These activities are monitored through observational and experimental means, and they may be observed under natural or controlled conditions. This branch of science includes studies like psychology, psychiatry, sociology, biology, anthropology, psychopharmacology, etc.
That led websites like D.C. Clothesline to report that Obama had instructed federal agencies to “conduct mass behavioral experiments on U.S. citizens,” and to liken the move to the rise of Nazi Germany:
Obamabots, liberals, and individuals intent on destroying this nation’s republic form of government will cheer for the “behavioral experimentation” on everyone. It’s a way to use behavioral altering methods to brainwash the populace to accept the socialist/dictator agenda. Face facts friends, the citizens of this nation are nothing more than mice in a maze, Pavlov’s dog, or mice in a glass cage to study to the ones occupying elected positions and positions of power in Washington, DC.
Through the executive order, however, Obama “encouraged” federal agencies and departments to “identify policies, programs, and operations where applying behavioral science insights may yield substantial improvements in public welfare, program outcomes, and program cost effectiveness.” There’s no mention of behavioral experiments. The overall purpose of the executive order is stated:
To more fully realize the benefits of behavioral insights and deliver better results at a lower cost for the American people, the Federal Government should design its policies and programs to reflect our best understanding of how people engage with, participate in, use, and respond to those policies and programs. By improving the effectiveness and efficiency of Government, behavioral science insights can support a range of national priorities, including helping workers to find better jobs; enabling Americans to lead longer, healthier lives; improving access to educational opportunities and support for success in school; and accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy.
The executive order also states that the behavioral insights policy will be unrolled through the National Science and Technology Council’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST), which was launched in January 2014 to “better serve the nation while saving taxpayer dollars.”
The SBST has carried out a number of pilot projects over the last year, many of which have used behavioral science to make government communications more effective:
SBST had a successful first year, launching a wide variety of evidence-based pilots with objectives ranging from connecting veterans with employment and educational counseling benefits to helping struggling student borrowers understand their loan repayment options.
In one recent pilot, SBST collaborated with the Department of Defense (DOD) to help members of the Armed Forces continue contributions to their Roth Thrift Savings Plans. Due to a change in the military pay system in January 2015, nearly 140,000 members needed to re-enroll in their plans online, or else their contributions would be suspended indefinitely. SBST worked with DOD to redesign their planned communications to better serve our service members, by making the language clear and concise, charting out clear action steps for service members to take, and personalizing the emails.
Results from the first week of the pilot indicated that the redesigned email led 22% more service members – 3,770 individuals – to re-enroll compared to the original message. Since the redesigned email was more effective at prompting re-enrollment after just one week, DOD sent a version of the redesigned email to the entire population in follow-up messages, demonstrating the rapid scalability of insights from these types of low-cost pilots.
So, it’s true that Obama has “encouraged” federal departments and agencies to use behavioral sciences when possible, but claims that the president has ordered behavioral experiments on Americans are fictional.