“The Mad Science behind what the candidates say” is an article written by Nicholas Lemann that published in the New Yorker in October of 2000. In the article he details what he calls the “Word Lab” and how it plays into political strategy. The article was published just weeks before the controversial 2000 elections and it references both the controversial presidential race and the New York Senate race between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rick Lazio.
The article’s focus is on the work of Frank Luntz and the word lab. Luntz is a “republican pollster” who conducted various research projects to help shape political strategies. Lemann observed these projects and documents the focus groups participants’ reactions, backgrounds, and behavior. He speaks to Lutz during and after these experiments about the results and methodology of his research. He then interviews the creator of focus groups, Joseph Merton, who believes that Luntz misuses focus groups. Then he speaks to a University Of California, Berkley linguist who describes Luntz’s work as “framing” and details how the connotations certain words and phasing affect what politicians say and how they say them.
Luntz was working as a staff writer for The New Yorker, at the time the article was published. The New Yorker is a widely respected and esteemed magazine. It is not solely a political magazine; it features art like cartoons, poetry, and short stories among other things. The New Yorker, has a focus on New York’s culture and news, but it’s note solely focused on New York because of its broad audience. Since it’s creation, the magazine has been renowned and popular because of it’s diverse content. The audience for this piece is adults, specifically voting citizens. The New Yorker is widely distributed and events, such as debates and speeches, leading up to Presidential elections are widely reported on because they affect everyone in America and many people outside of America too. The article remains fairly balanced; there are multiple perspectives from reputable people and counterpoints to many issues.
Lemann’s primary goal seems to be to shed light on “The Word Lab” and describe how it has affected his thinking. He writes “To venture inside a Word Lab is to lose your virginity: life isn’t quite ever the same again. It becomes impossible to listen to prominent politicians speak without being aware of how much what you’re hearing is Word Lab product.” That’s Lemann’s opinion and he uses an analogy most adults can relate to, losing their virginity, to personalize it and connect with his readers. Lemann spent much of his career in journalism; he was a reporter, staff writer, and editor at various publications.
I believe this should be read as any article should be read, it should be seen as one part of a puzzle and it’s the readers job to determine what fits and where. It should be read and whether you disagree or agree with what is written you should then think about language and what certain words connote and if you have noticed this in lectures, political events, and in your everyday life.