News & Politics

Obama Hired a 'Behavioral Science' Squad to Help People Use Government Programs

Last fall, President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing the use of “behavioral science” techniques to expand the use of government programs under the guise of “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.”

According to records obtained by Judicial Watch, the Obama administration unleashed twenty social and behavioral research experts on the public to nudge them into using government programs at dozens of agencies.

The controversial group of experts is collectively known as the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST) and it functions under the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

In 2015 Obama signed an executive order directing federal agencies to use behavioral science to sell their programs to the public, the records obtained by Judicial Watch reveal. By then the government had contracted “20 leading social and behavioral research experts” that at that point had already been involved in “more than 75 agency collaborations,” the records state. A memo sent from SBST chair Maya Shankar, a neuroscientist, to OSTP Director John Holdren offers agencies guidance and information about available government support for using behavioral insights to improve federal forms. Sent electronically, the memo is titled “Behavioral Science Insights and Federal Forms.”

The records, obtained from the OSTP under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), also include a delivery by Holdren in which he insists that the social and behavioral sciences “are real science, with immensely valuable practical applications—the views of a few members of Congress to the contrary notwithstanding—and that these sciences abundantly warrant continuing support in the Federal science and technology budget.” Holdren, a Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate is a peculiar character who worked as an environmental professor at Harvard and the University of California Berkeley before becoming Obama’s science advisor. In the late 70s he co-authored a book with doomsayer Paul Ehrlich advocating for mandatory sterilization of the American people and forced abortions in order to depopulate the country. A head of the OSTP Holdren technically oversees the SBST.

I would encourage the reader to follow the link above and read all about John Holdren’s radical ideas in his own words — and check out this one, too. Obama’s “science czar” is a piece of work. There’s nothing creepy at all about this bizarre Malthusian being in charge of psychological manipulation against the public.

Judicial Watch goes on to note that the “most transparent administration in history” has withheld nearly 100 pages of records that could shed light on the taxpayer-funded group’s secret operations.

The Obama administration cited an exemption—officially known as B5—that applies to deliberative process, which allows government officials to discuss policy without the discussions being made public, or attorney client privilege. In this case it appears that the administration used the deliberative process exemption to withhold the records since it’s unlikely that attorney client privilege applies. B5 is the most abused of the FOIA exemptions and is regularly used to hide material that may embarrass the government.

That appears to be the case in this instance, though we’ll never know for certain because it’s unlikely the SBST records will ever be released since it’s very difficult to challenge B5 exemptions. Americans should be concerned that the government is employing behavioral experts to use psychological techniques in order to manipulate the behavior of its citizens. This makes it all the more imperative that the discussions between these government officials be exposed to the public and not shielded through a specious claim of “deliberative process.”

Obama’s plan to use behavioral science to manipulate the American people first created a stir in 2013 when a document outlining the White House’s plans to create a “Behavioral Insights Team” and engage in “behavioral interventions” was made public. 

The paper made clear that the purpose of manipulating the public was to “nudge” the U.S. population into thinking and behaving in ways that Obama officials deem best, on everything from sustainability and health to education and welfare. Similar schemes to manipulate the public by U.K. authorities, praised by the Obama document for helping to “further advance priorities of the British government,” had already come under fire. Separately, a planetary plot by the United Nations and Obama policy architect John Podesta for a “global partnership” to “encourage everyone to alter their worldview, profoundly and dramatically” also attracted criticism. In other words, even your mind is now in the government’s crosshairs.

Another Obama czar with totalitarian views, Cass Sunstein, appears to be the primary inspiration for the “nudge” agenda. The use of the word “nudge” in the 2013 behavioral science document provided a great deal of insight into the genesis of the schemes — and the real agenda. Indeed, the whole idea of having government “nudge” citizens to obey, believe, and love government came from Cass Sunstein, the Big Government extremist who co-authored Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Sunstein, who styles himself a “legal scholar” and now teaches law at Harvard, has faced intense criticism and ridicule for a variety of ideas that would turn American traditions of constitutional self-government on their head. Among them: pushing the notion that animals should have legal standing in the courts, advocating a plan to have taxpayer-funded shills engage in “cognitive infiltration” of groups authorities disagree with, and even proposing a government “ban” on “conspiracy theorizing.”

The White House hosted an event last September to showcase their “commonsense, evidence-based behavioral insights.” The event, hosted by John Holdren, was attended by none other than “Professor Nudge” himself, Cass Sunstein.