It’s been a while since I devoted what is most likely wasted energy into debunking the oft repeated assertion that “people process images 60,000 times faster than text”. If this sounds like something you have heard, seen in a presentation, or book, and it sounds “truthy”, please stop and read my background work.

I forgot what triggered my memory on this earlier this week. In my last round of whacking away at the dragon of BS, I was able to document the assertion to some 18 years before it appeared in the revered 3M Reference (please actually read this before using it as a citation, it NEVER CITES THE SOURCE beyond “internal research”. How many teachers would let their students get away with such a shoddy citation?).

A blog commenter named “Buster” pointed me to a 1982 Business Week advertising insert which featured an executive named Philip Cooper making this assertion.

Here is the smoking gun:

I found that Cooper is currently a Senior Lecturer in Finance at the MIT Sloan School of Business Management. I contacted him twice by email seeking information on where his statement came from.

I got no replies.

I called twice but got recordings that his voicemail box was full. On “>revisiting Cooper’s profile this week, I see they updated the web site a bit, I noticed a contact for an admin assistant, whom I emailed a few days ago asking for help in contacting Cooper.

I do not know what else I can do except make a trip to Cambridge and knock on his door. I DM’ed Justin Reich on twitter because (a) he is a nice guy; and (b) he lives in/near Cambridge and works at MIT.

All I want to know from Cooper is what he based his 60000 times faster statement on back in 1982.

And I have a cash reward on the table for an answer.

Up to now, I have, in the spirit of the number, offered a $60 cash prize for the person that finds a definite source of this myth. That’s right, this cash has been on the table now for 2 years, unclaimed.

So I am taking the bold leap, and personal investment to DOUBLE the prize. That’s right- Philip, Justin, heck Buster, I have $120 to offer to the person that can show me the definitive source of the claim.

Meanwhile it keeps getting repeated in and repeated as if it were fact.


A blog from Hubspot lists it first in 19 Reasons You Should Include Visual Content in Your Marketing [Data]. But surely it is a fact, because it is on a Big Company blog AND it cites its source…


Okay, it’s one thing to link to a source, it’s another one to check it. The link to “3M” as a source does not go to 3M but to Mike Parkinson’s Billion Dollar Graphics — and that link is dead. But you can find it in the Wayback Machine (I guess Mike wised up and removed his site?). Okay Hubspot here is the citation you are basing a baseless assertion on:


I have not idea HubSpot, who “Zabisco” is, your link as a CITATION leads to the Web Marketing Group’s Why Every SEO Strategy Need Infographics

which I guess is supposed to be the “source” for the “90% of information sent to the brain is visual” (I’ll leave that debunking for another decade). Here is the CITATION- a picture of text from an infographic from a source that no longer exists — listed as


And that’s just one of 59,000 Google results (if this goes on we will hit the magic number soon). Third on the list is from Janaury 2016, from Business2Community Visual Marketing: A Picture’s Worth 60,000 Words

The claim is the title to the post, and look how it is backed up — it is so surely the truth, that Business 2 Community need not bother with a citation:


The Boston Globe is not free from guilt either — The Power of Visual Storytelling makes the 60,000 claim linking…. back to Mike Parkinson’s now dead Billion Dollar Graphics. The author has it in their book: The Power of Visual Storytelling: How to Use Visuals, Videos, and Social Media to Market Your Brand… and there it is again – as factually obvious as the sky’s blue color:

power of bullshir

Note from July, 2021, way in the future… I tried to inform the Amazon via a review of this book that they were publicizing fantasy fiction. My review was denied:

Look! “Attention is the new commodity. Visual Storytelling is the new currency.” And repeating baseless facts without any backing evidence is the new truth.

It’s a zombie that will die.

But wait, there’s more. Stay with me.

I was curious of George Station tweeted this as a “here’s a great resource” or “WTF?”

I am pretty sure it is the latter. The tweet links to something from Allen Communication, maybe one of the mega outfits of corporate instructional design– 10 Mobile Learning Terms that Every Instructional Designer Should Know.

Okay, if your corporate instructional designer needs a reference for terms such as “smartphone” “HTML5” “Mobile Application” “Geolocation” and the ever critical “Digital Native” than you have some bigger problems than mobile technology.

But this triggered a memory to this gem from Allen Communication, viewed 20,000 times (skip to slide 5):

There it is. Again. It comes from an Allen Communication March 2015 blog post Why Rich Media Matters.

Methinks the media matters more than the truth.

There it is again, the 60,000 times faster zombie factoid:


But this is Allen Communication, we can trust them, and they have a footnote…

I should add that sometime last year, with some folks at the Debunker call, we had some tweets with an Allen Communication account about this, and there was some promise to verify.

Yeah, well, 2016.

What is in that 1 reference? It says “Study Mode” What is that? Try this link. Study Mode is “a research database“.

statistics on visual leanrners

Could this be it? Could this be THE ONE?

I can’t tell because I hit a login. Study Mode tells me to “sign up for a free acount”. They have the funniest kind of free at Study Mode!

Forget beer! Free as in $19.95 per month.
Forget beer! Free as in $19.95 per month.

But I can see it there in the preview– labeled as FACT

Look at all the FACTS!
Look at all the FACTS!

It looks like there is a 1. footnote, and I will bet a pile of bacon it links back to Mike Parkinson’s dead link.

Just calling something a fact does not make it a fact.

Citing a source that does not exist is not a citation.

Citing a picture of a statement in a graphic is not a citation.

Citing a citation that does not do anything but repeat the assertion without evidence is not evidence.

Why do I care? Someone has to care about doing more than asserting repeated baseless assertions lifted from pictures of text in infographics– might as well be me.

Because I refuse to let go. Because we ought to stop providing such bad examples of information literacy in the name of haste and follower counts.


Anyone else? Anyone in Cambridge willing to see our Philip Cooper? I have $120 on the table for ya

I am going to blow it up. Madness! Madness!

Featured Image: “Madness” was the metaphor that popped into my head when sitting down to blog. I had in mind the ending scene to one of my favorite movies as a kid, The Bridge Over the River Kwai. I searched Google Images (licensed for reuse filter on) for the word “madness” leading me to this party image on stage at a Madness (the band) concert in Glastonbury.

Madness flickr photo by wonker shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

It is a creative commons licensed image from WikiMedia Commons but the source is a flickr photo by wonker shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license.

This leads me to wonder how/if/why Google favors Wikimedia Commons over flickr in its search results. And to wonder too what obligation a person like me has to go back as far as possible to the source?

Does anyone even ready my attribution commentary? Bueller? Bueller?

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. This blog post had lots of pictures so I read it 60,000 times faster than if it did not. In fact, by reading it I traveled backwards in time. I started reading it in July 2016 and finished it in early May 2016. Thanks for the neat trick! I think this may be proof. Can I have the $120?

  2. I read your attribution commentary. No pictures. It took me FOREVER to process. Also, sorry you had to read this text. I tried to communicate my terrible joke with a video of some brass instruments playing the classic “wah, wah…” tone followed by “ba-dum…ching” on a drum set but couldn’t figure out how to get the video in the comment. Also, sorry you had to read that description. I tried to insert a graphic of me having trouble pasting a video….oh nevermind. I just wasted about 120,000x more of your time than I should have.

  3. I contacted Phil Cooper today, and as I expected, he couldn’t remember the source. Here’s what he said: “Sorry, that was 35 years ago-don’t remember the source anymore.”

    1. Thanks Will! At least I know to stop bribing people to knock on Phil’s door. While not finding the source, at least we know he’s not it. I am tempted to paypal you 60 cents.

      This at least suggests there was some source of information, pre 1982, that was not 3M.

    1. Nope, that’s a common dead end. I contacted Doug Vogel directly about his 1986 paper, to which he replied:

      The research that I did as a PhD student at the U. of Minnesota was involved with persuasion and the working paper that you found is actually the most complete description of the work (even beyond that which was ultimately reported in my thesis). I have not seen the 2001 3M publication but my research had nothing to do with visual processing speed.


  4. Deeply grateful for your thorough research. I went down this rabbit hole myself last night until 2am… searching for credible statistics related to graphic design. The circular references had my head spinning and really made me feel like *I* was the crazy one.

    Hell, this “fact” is on the back cover of a design book, published by McGraw Hill Education (“The Power of Visual Storytelling”). There are 10 pages of “citations” at the back of the book… which had me believe that SURELY this Big Time Education Publisher required credible sourcing… but nope. It’s depressing and disheartening.

    1. Welcome to the 60k skeptics club. I bet they cited the 3M PDF? I can’t find the back cover, but it’s right there on the Amazon listing. Shrug. What do I know? I am neither a “social media trailblazer” nor a “thought leader”, just a non-believer in this factless assertion.

      Maybe I will review the book 😉

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