Mislabeled sushi proves experts easier to fool

September 4th, 2008 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General

Photo courtesy Lars Klove, The New York Times

Are you scared of the skeptical spectators? The questioners? The ones burning your hands? Do you think the more attentive or smart a spectator is, the tougher they would be to fool?

You’d be proven wrong by a couple of girls who bought a lot of sushi.

Kate Stoeckle (pictured, left) and Louisa Strauss, two New York City high-school students, conducted a painfully easy science project and discovered, through genetic fingerprinting, that about a quarter of restaurants and markets sold mislabeled sushi. Expensive tuna turned out to be cheap tilapia. Several red snapper samples were actually everything from cod to Acadian redfish.

NYT columnist Edward Dolnick, in this column, revealed the arrogance behind a restauranteur’s bold assertion that his restaurant did not have any of the mislabeled fish. “It is impossible to mislead people who have knowledge,” said Eric Ripert, the chef at Le Bernardin, in the column. Dolnick continues:

Few statements could do more to gladden a con man’s heart. In the art of the con, magicians and swindlers and forgers insist, the ideal victim is not an ignoramus but an expert. Any magician would rather take on a roomful of physicists than of 5-year-olds. “When you’re certain you cannot be fooled,” wrote the magician Teller, “you become easy to fool.”

Dolnick’s column goes into a little bit of detail about the phenomenon. In a nutshell, a more aware, educated person makes assumptions about what they are actually seeing; ergo, they trick themselves. That means you shouldn’t fear those skeptical, quizzical, eagle-eyed spectators. Perform boldly for them, because they will be even more stunned. And think about how you can use this sushi psychology to set up your audiences for even more amazing, impossible effects.

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