Monday, June 14, 2004

Golden Flackery 

This note is a diversion from the usual thoughts about public relations. It is, however, about spin -- mathematical spin.

There is a wonderful piece on the Golden Ratio that is worth reading simply because it debunks long-held notions in academia and elsewhere about the magic and irrational number starting 1.618. The story is here. Take your time reading the essay because it turns out the Golden Ratio does occur in nature but not throughout buildings and paintings and art and poetry as many would attest.

The question that I have is who started this piece of puffery that continues to endure in every art class from high school through postgraduate university courses? The essayist seems to think that it is such a good story that people simply repeated it without checking too closely. And isn't that the way of many myths broadcast through organizations -- stories about an individual's heroic deeds (Jessica Lynch) that aren't true? Or, stories about the CEO that have no basis in fact but everyone knows they are accurate?

It seems to me that the role of the PR person is to debunk myth in favor of facts, but that is naive. Sometimes, it is better to live with the myth because the public prefers it that way. Debunking it would do more harm than good. For example, would you be the first person to tell a five-year-old that there is no Santa Claus and no Easter Bunny and no Tooth Fairy? For adults, the same holds true and the Golden Ratio is one of those harmless academic myths that are convenient to foster and pass on.

If it isn't true, it should be.


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