Sunday, July 11, 2010

PS427: How facts backfire

From the Boston Globe.

How facts backfire - The Boston Globe

Perhaps this helps explain why sensible debate about policy is so difficult, including issues of budgets.

Is there any chance the solution proposed at the end of the article could actually work?

This Week on ABC has been doing fact checking of guests in recent months. Any indication it has an effect? Can you think of any change that might make the fact checking more consequential?


  1. The thought of going after the source of the facts is a great idea. I can say for sure that I pick what I watch based on my political views. For example, I watch the daily show, clearly a more liberal biased program (while some liberals are poked fun at, it still remain biased). If more programs were less biased and not just share the facts that support their own arguments this problem could maybe dissipate.

    I would have thought in the age of the internet when you can type something into google...or bing if you so choose, and receive an immediate answer. Maybe a system should devised such that those political pundits or politicians should wear a shock collar and when they share warped facts a shock is delivered. This could even appeal to the American public, a new type of reality show. "Tonight on C-SPAN, 10 Senators enter the ring, when they lie, they are shocked, as the lies continue, the shock voltage increases, who will be left standing??" However, even in an age of instant communication just having articles or news clips spread like wildfire is that terrible of a consequence. The stakes need to be raised, maybe a fine, or even if the lie is great enough, removal from office or termination...of employment.

    But really, as the article says something deeper is going on, even when folks are confronted with the correct facts they become EVEN more defensive. Folks should simply take the corrections and think of it as a way to improve them-selfs. And relax, its just a question about welfare, not the end of the world.

  2. Its a shame these candidates are not sitting across from the person pointing out all of their mistakes and misconceptions. I would think the embarrassment of that experience alone would be a deterrent, after all no one likes to be told they are dead wrong, and having to come up with a response right away would certainly up the pressure the candidates would feel for lying.

    While I commend politicians for trying to inform voters about actual plans to save money instead of just taking shots at their opponents, it is obvious that these statements need to be taken with a grain of salt. Voters need to take some responsibility for determining how reliable candidate statements are. While it is nice to see responsible journalism, it can't all be left up to the media. Unfortunately, most voters probably won't take the time to check for themselves, even in light of these mistakes.

    Perhaps the candidates are just more concerned with getting elected than with the actual facts and implementation of their ideas. Politicians will always be able to make arguments about why they were unable to follow through on campaign promises (the economy changed direction, the legislature wouldn't cooperate, etc.) so I doubt that even in the face of fact checking will very much change.

  3. One thing that the article mentioned is that staying current on the news is a process which demands time and effort. This is why our brain creates shortcuts in order to efficiently process the glut of information.

    In the age of information we live in, things like Google and cable TV have allowed news to be transmitted to the American voter at the precise moment it occurs. The pro of this is that we receive a lot of information with which to form our opinions. The negative of all this news is that we receive a lot of information with which to form our opinions. It seems that a majority of voters rely on the talking heads like Bill O'Reilly, Rachel Maddow, or God forbid, Glenn Beck. In addition the formulated OPINIONS of these commentators along with the popularity of soundbytes make it extremely easy for the average person to confuse facts with ideology. This marks a dangerous path because opinions can be manipulated to further political agendas and power rather than the overall success of the nation.

    Oh and Jacob, something tells me your game show idea is exactly what the folks over at Fox are looking for.

  4. The research from the article reinforces the notion that in fact is is nearly impossible for people to change their opinions once they are form. Specifically, the notion that those who are political sophisticated are the least likely to change their minds is not that shocking to me since research shows that these are the people who are least able to be convinced to switch a perspective.

    Once more, ABC's This Week's fact checking is a good idea, but the research shows this actually will have little effect in convincing a person to change his or her mind. This may in fact make someone more prone to believe a lie if they do support the lie. The only way I can conceive of this being consequential as if the missinformation is so bad - like Dan Rather's said about Bush, then maybe people will indeed change their opinion.

    In regards to the above comments, sadly most people enjoy listening and watching opinion, look at the low rating of CNN versus MSNBC and Fox News. MSNBC was once in a distant 3rd place and now it has surpassed CNN.
    By the way on an off note, I've actually met Prof. John Sides at GWU.

  5. I certainly agree that looking at the source of information is a good hypothetical solution, but it is impractical to try to control them. Most people watch shows based on their interests and beliefs, and while shows such as The O'Reilly Factor or The Daily Show are entertaining, they are very opinionated and biased. Information gets to the public very fast and often with the technology we have today; however, it is not necessarily the information that we need in order to form a comprehensive and educated idea of what is going on in the world.

    It would definitely be ideal to limit the number of biased news shows and increase the unbiased news shows that are focused on facts rather than opinion, but it is obviously not realistic. It's a shame that there are so many misinformed citizens who are helping to make decisions for our state and country, but it is also disappointing how many uninformed citizens there are.

    This article was interesting because it focused on the problems with the misinformed public and how they are less easily addressed. Rather, trying to address them may create a huge backfire and give a totally unwanted outcome. The uninformed, I agree, have the most malleable minds because they are not set in their own way.

    Politicians do have the important job of relaying facts to the public; however, I believe that the media may play an even larger part in this. Even if a politician says one thing, it may completely be misinterpreted or spun in a different direction. So, even if there are facts to be shared, the media takes a biased approach much of the time, especially when we are talking about TV shows and talk show hosts.

  6. Well let me give this another shot since my post from yesterday morning apparently didn't work. When I first read this article I immediately started to giggle because all this time I thought I was just being stubborn, but thanks to this article it's nice to know that many individuals have the same thought process going on in their heads.
    In terms of the proposed solution I believe that getting to the source has the best potential to fixing this problem of getting individual to look objectively at their beliefs. While I think Jacob’s idea is entertaining, I agree with Maureen that being put face to face with the facts there is no chance of being able to make an excuse for ones faults on the spot. While I can understand the basic idea that individuals don’t like to be proven wrong, there seems to be something deeper going on here than fear of embarrassment.
    For example, looking at how the degree of defensiveness increased based on how strong the conviction was of the individual and also based on who the facts came from. If a republican was correcting another republican fact then they would be less hesitant to defend their misguided opinion.
    Also another interesting point to note is that it’s not just a difference between ignorant and educated individuals. The article made note that actually those who are educated and have misguided information are less likely to budge from their stance when confronted with the corrected facts. This means that in order to really be able to have an affect we need to be fact checking the sources that are reaching the youth more thoroughly. Lastly, a possible barrier still could be that many of the strongest convictions individuals have don’t always come from media sources but rather family or friends. As a child the first major influence on your rationalization of the world is your parents. Not many people will want to question their opinions. Perhaps fact checking can help this ongoing passage of faulty information; however it may not be able to reach all aspects of the marketplace of ideas.

  7. “No persons are more frequently wrong, than those who will not admit they are wrong.” I think this quote sums up the article pretty well. I think everyone knows people who are extremely opinion based and it’s impossible to shake their cores. My best friend and I agree on 99% of debates but differ on a lot of political questions. Politics, like religion, is something that grows with you as you grow older and makes it that much harder to change your views. I thought it was interesting that even well informed people still stick to their core believes and that sometimes the facts entrench their beliefs even more. It just proves that politics is deeply personal relationship that people have.

    I also think that in the current age of twitter, facebook, youtube and Wikipedia it makes it that much harder to sort facts from fiction. Information goes viral and spreads to all corners of the internet, where the majority of people get their news now a days. TMZ, the ridiculous celebrity website is one of the top ten most viewed websites, and i’d be willing to be theres not a whole lot of truth coming from there. I think it just shows that it’s becoming even more difficult to change what you believe in, even if you’re wrong there will always be some website that looks somewhat credible to back your false beliefs.

    I think that public shame is a workable solution but I also don’t think that it’s very realistic. It’s difficult to publically call people out on being wrong, because people HATE IT, and that’s why it works. I think one of the best solutions to this problem is to expand our political environment. Liberal or conservative are the only true choices in our two party democracy and I think that creates some of the vigorous beliefs people have. If you’re not liberal you must be conservative and take a stance, when in reality we need to give people other options.

  8. I think the important thing to realize as well is that facts can be manipulated. As humans, it is only natural to resort to stubbornness in our beliefs when confronted with facts to the contrary. In order to shield ourselves from the possibility of being wrong, we rationalize why facts can be wrong in order to justify our own opinion. It is key to understand that facts are one thing, but the perception of them is entirely separate.

    For instance, if I were to say that sectarian violence in Iraq decreased by 80% between the fall of 2006 and the winter of 2007, a point could be made by surge advocates that is the fact that the Iraq War was going well. However, in the broader scope of the war, it would be tough to argue that the US invasion was not the catalyst behind the aforementioned violence.

    Bottom line, it is imperative to remember that facts can be used as political fodder, and that our opinions are based in part on facts. Depending on how we perceive them in part shapes our ideas.

  9. Since we can't change the way that information is perceived, we need to change the standards for how information comes to be public.
    Unfortunately, as the author stated, attempting to shame those who transmit false information is not realistic in many ways. Those who are guilty of this, and have done so intentionally, are likely not going to feel remorse. It is also difficult to differentiate between those who do so intentionally and those who have made an honest mistake.
    The problem is that, at times, misinformation can create extreme, horrific problems for an entire country. After Obama took office, Cheney publicly admitted that he had lied about being certain there were WMDs in Iraq. This piece of "information" has landed us in a seven-years-plus war, which has cost innumerable lives and has been a gigantic drain on our resources. It has also helped to shape public opinion on not only Iraq, but on an entire ideology. The implications of Cheney's statement in the mindset of many of the American public will resound for years or possibly generations, despite the fact that it is now public knowledge that he was wrong. And the perpetrator of the "information" has suffered no consequences as a result.

  10. I think the proposed solution sounds like a good idea and it seems like the right way to tackle this problem, but it may not work as well as it should. Television and news articles need to get the facts out, but they also have to do it in a way that will draw people in and get their attention. People may read the headlines and think they know the whole story, but a headline is just a way to draw someone in, they don't know all the facts from that one sentence. We all have our own beliefs and for many people it is hard to listen to and try to accept someone else's opinion. We can all easily find the facts but perhaps we do not want to. We don't want to be proven wrong. Even with facts, we manipulate them and believe what we want to.


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