[ExI] Don't confuse me with the facts!

BillK pharos at gmail.com
Wed Jul 28 19:43:32 UTC 2010

Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human
tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of
information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to
change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite.

Full article here:

In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University
of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political
partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they
rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more
strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing
misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually
make misinformation even stronger.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re
wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on
the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a
natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

And if you harbor the notion — popular on both sides of the aisle —
that the solution is more education and a higher level of political
sophistication in voters overall, well, that’s a start, but not the
solution. A 2006 study by Charles Taber and Milton Lodge at Stony
Brook University showed that politically sophisticated thinkers were
even less open to new information than less sophisticated types. These
people may be factually right about 90 percent of things, but their
confidence makes it nearly impossible to correct the 10 percent on
which they’re totally wrong.


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