Marketing ‘knowledge’ and ‘propaganda’

An imaginary scenario by Kaushik Basu, Chief Economist at The World Bank on the challenges in marketing knowledge, explaining why the mistrust for polio vaccines in some parts of the world are not surprising.

In North Korea, a team of scientists under central government supervision develops an oral vaccine that enhances the intelligence of children. Years of research in Pyongyang show that the medicine works wonders and has no side effect. This mystery drug that, despite the best effort of North Korean researchers, has a strange purple color, arrives in American drug stores with pamphlets endorsed by North Korea’s leader urging all responsible parents to administer this to their children at the earliest opportunity.

We can be sure that parents will not queue up for this drug. Indeed it will be viewed with great suspicion. Stories in Pyongyang Daily News of how the country’s leader told his wife that politics must not stand in the way of the happiness of children and he is going to spread this drug to all nations, beginning with the United States, will be dismissed as propaganda

The widely publicised Osama-hunt using doctors has definitely made matters worse. It would be good fun to see a purple coloured brain-drug turn up in a couple of American stores though!

Now, how about this imaginary scenario, about marketing ‘propaganda

Imagine for a moment that the Iranians kidnap an American citizen from a third country. (If you prefer, feel free to substitute al-Qaeda or the North Koreans or the Chinese for the Iranians.) They accuse him of being a terrorist. They throw him in jail without charges or a trial or a sentence and claim they suspect he might have crucial information 

Over the weeks that follow, they waterboard him time and again. They strip him, put a dog collar and leash on him. They hood him, loose dogs on him. They subject him to freezing cold water and leave him naked on cold nights. They hang him by his arms from the ceiling of his cell in the “strappado” position. I’m sure I really don’t have to go on. Is there any question what we (or our leaders) would think or say?

No one in the U.S. government, on reading CIA intelligence reports about how that American had been treated, would wonder: Is it torture? No one in Washington would have the urge to call what the Iranians (al-Qaeda, the North Koreans, the Chinese) did “enhanced interrogation techniques.”… 

If asked whether the Iranians who committed such acts against that American and their superiors who ordered them to do so, should be brought before an American or international court and tried, the president would surely not suggest that this was the moment to “look forward, not backward,” nor would his justice department give them a free pass

As they say, what you want to believe depends on which side of the table you sit and the view from where you are looking. 

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